Interview with GreenMarketingTV on Sustainability

Hi all – I was pleased to be featured on GreenMarketingTV in late May, and wanted to share the article with you.  Here’s a link.  I have also included the text of the interview below:

Green Entrepreneur Interview: Ben Grossman, Sustainable Direct Mail | Green Marketing TV

http://www.greenmarketing.tv/2011/05/24/green-entrepreneur-interview-ben-grossman-sustainable-direct-mail/

Award-winning green entrepreneur, Ben Grossman of Grossman Marketing, talks about how to develop a sustainable direct marketing campaign and what it takes to transform a fourth-generation business into one with a strong environmental focus.

What was your inspiration for starting Sustainable Ink? When and how did you get started?

I started my blog, Sustainable Ink, in 2007.  I had joined my fourth-generation family business, Grossman Marketing Group, the previous year and was often thinking about sustainability and green business issues.  Our business was founded in 1910 as Massachusetts Envelope Company, and it’s evolved into an integrated marketing services firm.

Today, our main service lines are a design studio, envelopes and direct mail services, printing of all kinds, and promotional products.  In addition, we have a fast-growing e-commerce and rewards and incentives business.  As oil prices were rising, and global warming had gone from a fad to stated fact, I saw the writing on the wall – that we live in a world with finite resources, and consumers are increasingly interested in companies’ environmental footprint, commitment to environmental causes, and the sustainability of their products.

I wanted to start a blog through which I could discuss these issues, with an emphasis on marketing services and my industry.  I have been very proud to see the site’s readership grow over time, and have some of my posts picked up by national green news sources, most recently Environmental Leader and Ecopreneurist.

I launched our firm’s green marketing and sustainability practice the previous year with the goal of working with my team to help clients identify environmentally-conscious business practices as a way to differentiate them from their competition and establish a competitive advantage in their respective fields.  For this work I was the 2009 recipient of the New England Direct Marketing Association Prodigy Award.  The Prodigy Award is given to one marketing professional each year in New England under the age of 30 who has added the most to the art and science of direct marketing in the prior year.

Is interest in sustainable marketing growing or declining?

Green marketing is definitely not out, but consumers have been inundated with an array of green logos, claims and messages, and they are becoming increasingly skeptical of the green claims they read and hear.  Much of the research I have seen, as well as my own experience, point to the need for transparency in green marketing claims.  People want to know not only how a product is green, but according to whom.  The third-party reference needs to be a legitimate one – not an unknown group with a confusing website.

In the print world, the best example of a strong and respected third-party authority is the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator.  On this site, people can calculate the savings derived from using papers with post-consumer recycled content.  These savings include energy, wastewater, trees, etc.  I like this because it’s a resource that is industry independent.  Although I respect the savings calculators put together by paper companies, using a third-party resource rings truer to consumers.

How do you help your clients target and reach green consumers?

There is a wide range of ways to target and reach green consumers.  They include buying ads on websites that cater to these consumers, as well as on-the-ground outreach at community events.  In addition, using sophisticated direct mail techniques, the right brand can reach the right people with useful, actionable direct mail.

How do you help businesses communicate their green-ness to their customers?

The most important advice I can give to companies is to tell the truth and be transparent in their claims.  Companies get in trouble by greenwashing – when they mislead consumers about their environmental practices or the environmental benefits of a product, and consumers are getting fed up.  As I mentioned earlier, when making a claim, try to use a respected third-party resource to verify it.

How do you find your customers?

The best customers come by referral, but we also find them through speaking engagements, direct mail, networking, social media and online ads.  We believe the best campaigns are integrated ones, and we try to practice what we preach!

What are consumers looking for in a green company? What messages do they want to hear?

Consumers are looking for green products to be made from renewable resources, use recycled content, or with less materials than in the past.  For service providers, consumers are looking for consistency.  For example, if a hotel claims to be green because of an array of practices, it is somewhat of a contradiction when there are no easy ways to recycle plastic bottles, cans, paper, etc.  I have seen this too often when traveling on business, and I wish some hotels would give greater consideration to waste management practices.

Does sustainable marketing typically cost more money?

Sustainable marketing shouldn’t necessarily cost more money.  In the print business, people can generally use recycled papers, vegetable-based inks and renewable energy in the production process for no extra cost.  There are of course premium eco-friendly papers that add cost (New Leaf, Mohawk Options, Neenah Environment, to name a few), but if a marketing professional is working with the right vendor partners, they should be able to reduce their footprint without adding much cost.

What recommendations do you have for businesses to green their marketing without breaking the bank?

As I mentioned earlier, people can use vegetable-based inks, renewable energy and recycled materials for little or no extra cost.  Some practices can cut costs – like considering the production of an item during the design stage, so it gets optimized for printing to use the least amount of paper.  In addition, when people manage their mailing lists well, they mail fewer pieces to a better audience, thus cutting postage and printing costs.

Are all your marketing services eco-friendly? How is your business greener than your competitors?

Our services are fairly resource intensive, so we try to be conscious of our footprint at all steps in the process.  For example:

1)      All metal printing plates are collected after use and given to a recycling company.

2)      All press solvents and washes are low VOC (volatile organic compound) formulas that minimize impact on the environment as they contain no acetones.

3)      All non-metallic inks are vegetable-based (i.e. non-petroleum based).  The ink contains approximately 35% oil, all of which is vegetable-based (soy and linseed).

4)      Our inks are made from a “stay open” formula – meaning that the top layer does not skim over and form an unusable layer – this reduces ink use by about 10% annually.

5)      All waste ink is sent to a recycler where it is mixed with other waste to form a low-grade heating oil.

6)      All paper waste and cardboard packaging are sent to a paper recycling company.

7)      Our prepress system is entirely chemical free – only water is used to rinse the plate after imaging.

8)      All waste oil is recycled with an oil recovery service.

9)      All wood pallets are returned to our paper merchants for re-use.

10)   In addition, here’s a blog post I wrote about recycling, in which I explain that we allow our employees to bring in batteries, CFLs, fluorescent tube bulbs and paint from home to be recycled by a partner of ours. We recently added a Big Green Box to our office so our colleagues can bring in electrical waste from home as well.

What kinds of mistakes do green businesses generally make that you would advise against?

The worst mistake is to not tell the truth or to make misleading statements and we strongly advise against them.  In addition, we make sure that green marketing underpins an organization’s overall commitment to sustainable practices.  If they are just surface changes, consumers will see through them.  In addition, employees want to work for socially responsible organizations.

What mistakes have you made as a green entrepreneur and what advice would you give others looking to start a green business?

Sometimes I have had the tendency to try to make a product or offering perfect before rolling it out.  One piece of advice I would have is to “beta” test everything, as early customer feedback will always help you improve.

You can get in touch with Ben through Twitter.

Green Tips for Marketing Success: Part 4 of 4 (Green Printing)

As I have written about on several occasions, my firm, Grossman Marketing Group, put together our 100 Tips for Marketing Success this year to mark our 100th anniversary.  21 of the 100 tips involve sustainability, and were broken into four categories: 1) General Sustainability, 2) Green Promotional Products, 3) Green Design, 4) Green Printing.  I am pleased to share the green printing tips below:

Let your colleagues, customers, donors and other constituents know that you are fully committed to environmental stewardship by using some of the following best practices in green printing.

  1. Encourage your constituents to either share or recycle the printed piece. Sustainability is more than the materials you use—it also involves the lifecycle of your item.
  2. Consider using chlorine-free paper. The best papers to use are bleached using an oxygen-based process, thus avoiding the creation of chlorine-related pollution.
  3. Use vegetable-based inks when possible. Not only are they generally refined in the United States, but they also reduce our use of petroleum, the majority of which comes from foreign sources.
  4. Consider papers with a high degree of post-consumer content, as they require fewer resources (energy, water, etc.) to produce.
  5. When using eco-friendly papers, make sure to explain the environmental benefits derived from these choices. These calculations should come from a third-party source rather than a calculation from an industry source. For a great example, please see www.papercalculator.org.
  6. Use renewable energy (like wind or solar power) in the production process. It is good for the environment and resonates well with the vast majority of Americans.
  7. You can make your collateral more environmentally-friendly without sacrificing quality or adding cost! For example, our house sheet of coated stock is 55% recycled with 30% post-consumer waste, and will not cost your organization any more than the non-recycled alternative!

I hope you have enjoyed reading these suggestions.  To download the full set of 100 tips, please click here. Many thanks for your interest!

Making Apparel Transparent: Companies Team Up to Measure Sustainability of Shoes, Clothes

Source: Levi's

By Marisa Greenwald (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

We have written often at Sustainable Ink about the importance of transparency, as well as the need to account for the environmental impact throughout a product’s lifecycle.  With that in mind, we are pleased to see a positive step taken by some well-known corporations.

At next month’s Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, retailers will receive a new tool to help them pursue their sustainability goals.   A group of about 100 retailers and manufacturers, including Nike, Levi Strauss, and Target, have joined forces to develop software that makers of apparel and shoes can use to measure the environmental impact of their products and assign to each an “eco-value” similar to the Energy Star rating of appliances.

Known as the “Eco Index,” this software tool works by posing a series of questions to companies on their environmental and labor practices, including some questions directed towards the companies’ suppliers.  The software then assigns a score that represents a percentage of a perfect score.  The goal of the Eco Index is to showcase competing items in retail settings with various “eco-value” scores so consumers can easily factor sustainability considerations into their purchase decisions.  Firms like Timberland and Patagonia have publicly expressed their desire to move the conversation forward and gain consensus among similar companies so that an effective and meaningful eco index program can be implemented.

With the heavy use of chemicals and crude oil to produce and ship these items, apparel production takes a heavy environmental toll that warrants accountability.  While many consumers are increasingly motivated by sustainability concerns, it is often difficult for them to understand the environmental consequences involved in producing many of their favorite products.  If companies begin to report the environmental impact to create their products, and consumers react by choosing certain items over others on environmental grounds, companies may become even more motivated to improve their sustainability efforts.

For more information about the Eco Index, check out this article from The Wall Street Journal or this recently featured piece in Fast Company.

Green is Lean: An Inside Look at Sustainable Purchasing at DHL Americas

Wayne Evans, Sr. Vice President for Procurement, the Americas, DHL

In our effort to explore green business issues and the impact sustainability has on organizations’ purchasing patterns, we are proud to interview  Wayne Evans, Senior Vice President for Procurement, the Americas, DHL.  During the interview, Wayne reflected on his team’s commitment to sustainability, and how he and his colleagues have found that green business practices can help save money.  If you have any questions that you would like to submit to Wayne, please let us know.

1.    Could you tell our readers a little bit about DHL and the kind of work you do there?

DHL is part of Deutsche Post DHL. The Group generated revenue of more than 46 billion euros in 2009. DHL commits its expertise in international express, air and ocean freight, road and rail transportation, contract logistics and international mail services to its customers. A global network composed of more than 220 countries and territories and 300,000 employees worldwide offers customers’ superior service quality and local knowledge to satisfy their supply chain requirements. DHL accepts its social responsibility by supporting climate protection, disaster management and education.

In my role as Head of Procurement for DPDHL Americas I am responsible for purchasing more than $1b of goods and services across 22 countries.  I manage a team of 70 individuals that have buying and sourcing experience in categories such as transportation, fuel, packaging, travel, production equipment, etc.  My day-to-day activities are focused on leading the team, meeting with business partners to understand their needs, and meeting with suppliers to better understand new products in the market.

2.    When did DHL first start talking seriously about green strategies?
DHL has been working on green strategies for many years.  In 2008 the company completed a major initiative designed to baseline the carbon footprint of the Company.  This was a critical step as it established criteria by which we can measure progress against an established goal.

3.    Would DHL pay more for a green-sourced product?
There are many considerations involved in a sourcing decision but in fact it is possible to pay more for a green product.  This can happen as the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is factored because initially it might appear that the cost is higher but when you factor the operational costs the product might in fact be lower in cost.  As an example, if we look at the TCO for a truck we may find Vehicle A has a slightly higher cost than vehicle B.  However, the higher-priced vehicle has greater fuel efficiency which is greener and over a period of time the total cost of ownership (TCO) is lower.  In another situation we did make a conscientious decision to buy recycled paper at a slightly higher cost because it is better for the environment.

4.    In which areas does DHL most frequently make green-minded business decisions?
Transportation has the largest impact on our carbon footprint and therefore it is the critical area to focus on.  This is a large part of our business and there are many levers that we can use to reduce the carbon impact.  We are heavily engaged in hybrid vehicles including trucks and we also look for ways to use electric vehicles and even bicycles where possible.

5.    What have been the major trends in green procurement over the last few years?

One of the core goals of procurement is to identify different ways to drive down costs. There are different ways that procurement organizations can combine cost savings with green initiatives.  One example is recycling items such as stretch wrap.  Many companies use a significant amount of this product to package and ship.  In the past during the unpacking process the materials were removed and thrown in dumpsters for disposal.  One of the more recent trends was to add a bailer which is a container used to gather the plastic waste materials and they are picked up by recycling companies who process this material into something like a pallet.  Companies can actually receive money for the used packaging materials and they use less space in dumpsters which lowers the cost of trash pick up.

Procurement professionals are also starting to look at ways to evaluate suppliers with regards to their “greenness”. Based on this evaluation, suppliers will be given credit for being a green company and in close bid situations it could be a deciding factor.

Another trend is demand management, where procurement professionals are getting engaged in minimizing the amount of product needed.  By using only what companies need there will be less waste and less cost.

6.    Can you tell our readers a bit about the GoGreen strategy at DHL?
Our goal is to improve our CO2 efficiency by 30% by 2020, compared to a baseline of our 2007 performance.  To help us monitor our progress towards our 2020 goal, we have set ourselves an interim target to improve the CO2 efficiency of our own operations by 10% by 2010. The ability to calculate our own carbon footprint is a key prerequisite of our GoGreen Program. We need to identify opportunities for reducing our footprint and to track how much we have changed our ways.  We also need the data to offset our GoGreen products and services, and in due course to calculate our customers’ individual footprints.

7.    Do you think the organization thinks about green issues differently since it is based in Germany?
It’s not so much that we think differently but more that we act differently.  Because we are a global company we act in a global way.  When we identify a key strategic initiative such as this it is rolled out across the world and implemented accordingly.  The green movement is a bit more obvious in many parts of Europe as they have been following some of the best practices in conservation for quite some time

8.    What kind of impact has the recession had in shaping or modifying the green strategy at DHL?
The recession has not had much of an impact because as previously mentioned “green is typically lean.”  Some of the projects with longer term ROI and high capital investments could have been impacted as companies were trying to conserve cash flow during the recession.

9.    What kind of difficulties have you faced implementing GoGreen with workforce and management?
Since the green initiative is a CEO-sponsored and lead initiative it has not been difficult getting support.  The only challenges come when there are large capital outlays required without a sufficient business case.

10.    What has been your greatest triumph in implementing the Go Green campaign?

We support four (4) businesses in the US and each is very independent.  We have been successful in pulling them all together and aligning strategies.  We have many projects that were initiated such as recycled paper, hybrid vehicles, alternative lighting, etc.

11.    What has been the biggest struggle or challenge in implementation?
In some cases it is not always easy to make clear sourcing decisions based on the supplier’s “greenness” as there are no real standards for accurately rating a supplier.

12.    Could you highlight a few examples of unique contributions DHL has made in the area of sustainability?

Whole Foods/Cork ReHarvest Partnership: A Best Practice in Product Lifecycle Management

Image courtesy of Whole Story - the official Whole Foods Market blog.

Earlier this spring, Whole Foods Market and Cork ReHarvest announced a partnership to allow Whole Foods customers to leave wine corks in drop boxes in all Whole Foods stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdomto be recycled.  This is an interesting program with a great focus on the lifecycle of products.

Although many people recycle cans, bottles and newspapers, too many other products slip through the cracks and end up in landfills.  I have written in the past that all products that cannot be recycled in towns and municipalities at curbside should come with instructions on how to responsibly be disposed of when finished.  Whether this includes empty toothpaste tubes or laptops, it is important for companies to not only focus on the green marketing message at time of sale, but also the environmental considerations at the end of the product’s lifecycle.

Whole Foods has been an industry pacesetter for some time, having announced a partnership with Preserve in early 2009 to allow customers to bring in hard-to-recycle #5 plastic to stores to be recycled.  This includes Brita filters, which too often find the trash after two months use.  Here is some additional coverage on the Whole Foods blog from April 2010.

My firm, Grossman Marketing Group, also tries to do its part by not only using environmentally-friendly products but also allowing our employees to bring in used lightbulbs (CFL), batteries and paint from home to be recycled.

Consumer goods and electronics companies have a long way to go to ensure that their customers know the facts about what to do with their products when they are finished using them.  However, these partnerships that companies like Whole Foods have created are an encouraging step – and probably a very good way to continue to build their brand and encourage store foot traffic at the same time!

Green mail in a down economy

Target Marketing recently published an article titled “The Return of the Green Mail Debate,” which I wanted to share.  The article’s premise is that during this economic downturn, sustainability is less important to marketers, and that once the economy rebounds there will be more interest from companies in being green in their marketing efforts.

I believe this message is a short-sighted one. As I have written over the past couple years since the economy started to dip, companies that slash their commitment to sustainability to cut costs will suffer long-term consequences with customers who are increasingly demanding that organizations they buy from do business in socially-responsible ways.

The writer, Ethan Boldt, does try to segment marketers into various buckets, based on their (or their customers’)  interest in sustainability and how this impacts their marketing decisions:

  1. Marketers and organizations that do not care about green, regardless of the economy
  2. Organizations that always care about green, regardless of the economy
  3. Marketers that care about green, depending on their target markets

I do agree that sustainability is more important to certain companies than to others, depending on the markets that they serve.  However, the writer and some of his subjects imply that a barrier to “green mail” usage is due to its higher cost structure and that only once economy rebounds will it make a comeback.  This article fails to mention that people can be greener about their mail without it costing their organizations any more money. The fact that people can use wind power, soy-based inks (if printed offset) and certain types of recycled paper without any additional cost, is crucial to understand, as there is a rampant misperception in the marketplace that going green costs more. If people work with the right production partner, they can go green in a way that does not have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Marketers need to be sensible about watching expenses, especially when the economy is still weak.  However, if there were better education in the marketplace (from the U.S. Postal Service, the Direct Marketing Association, etc.) about ways to go green at no extra cost, I am confident that not only would marketers make more sustainable choices, but customers would come to expect that mail be done in a green way.  These would be positive developments, and would help ensure that direct marketing leaves less of a footprint on our fragile planet moving forward.

Follow up to key idea from the Environmental Defense Unconference: Corporate Collaboration on Sustainability

collaborationOn this blog, my summer colleague, Lenora Deslandes, discussed her observations on the Environmental Defense Unconference in Boston.  One of the main ideas she highlighted was the need for companies to share best practices in sustainability in order to advance our common good.

Therefore, I was excited to read in the New York Times this month about some recent collaborative efforts among large companies to share environmentally friendly innovations.  The article, titled “Everybody In the Pool Of Green Innovation,” spotlighted two major initiatives:

  1. Eco-Patent Commons: According to the article’s author, Mary Tripsas, the Eco-Patent Commons was founded in 2008 and is a place where “Companies pledge environmental patents to the commons, and anyone can use them – free.”
  2. GreenXchange: A joint initiative between the Creative Commons, Best Buy and Nike to be launched next year that will allow companies to contribute patents and be able to charge licensing fees for interested parties.

It remains to be seen how successful either of these initiatives will be (there are only 100 patents currently shared on the Eco-Patent Commons, and the GreenXchange has yet to go live), but these developments are encouraging.  As I have seen in my business and those of our clients, learning about the tactics and strategies other organizations are employing to operate in a sustainable way has the potential to add tremendous value and contribute to the level of dialogue and ideas exchanged both in individual firms as well as in our society as a whole.