Pitney Bowes Chairman Sticks Up for Junk Mail

draculabadge.gifDo Not Mail campaigns and their celebrity champions (Oprah and Leo are the latest converts) are becoming quite a nuisance for companies like Pitney Bowes that provide goods and services to the direct mail industry. In a recent NY Times interview, Pitney Bowes executive chairman, Michael J. Critelli, defended the direct mail industry arguing that opponents to unsolicited mail are over-hyping the damage to the environment. Critelli believes these groups “are exceptionally well funded, exceptionally zealous and, in many instances, exceptionally resistant to the facts.” Pitney Bowes makes postage meters, which are used by direct mail companies, although Critelli estimates only 10% of Pitney Bowes sales are linked to direct mail.

In defense of the direct mail industry, Critelli offers these positions:
* It’s ok to cut down trees to make junk mail because this eventually creates more trees through reforestation.
* Alternatives to junk mail like email solicitation have significant environmental impacts.
* Consumers greatly overestimate the environmental impact of direct mail (according to a survey sponsored by Pitney Bowes and the Direct Marketing Association).
* Many Americans like receiving unsolicited mail (according to a US Postal Service survey).
* Much of the paper used in direct mail campaigns is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
* Many post offices are now providing paper recycling bins in their offices next to PO boxes.

Do You Have Anything Without Spam In It?

Further in the interview, Critelli makes the case that shifting direct mail efforts to the Internet and email would not alleviate the environmental impact of receiving unsolicited messages:

It has to do with the power consumed at the data centers, where servers generate and transmit those e-mails and manage those Web pages and portals. There is a huge amount of energy consumption in these data centers. Switching from physical mail to electronic mail doesn’t eliminate all environmental impact. It merely displaces it from paper mill activity to data centers.

Junk is in the Eye of the Beholder

Critelli admits that receiving unwanted mail can be a nuisance, and so he supports informed consumer choice.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has a mail preference registry that has been around for 36 years and is going to continue to be improved. It gives people the ability to elect not to receive a lot of the mail they don’t want to receive.

ElvisGraphic.jpgHe is referring to DMAchoice, a DMA program designed to help consumers manage their mail preferences. DMA members (companies that generate direct mail) are supposed to consult these consumer preferences to add or remove people from their mailing lists. However, many Do Not Mail advocates are screaming “conflict of interest” over the DMA approach. First, the DMA is an industry trade association representing direct mail companies; this is not a consumer-oriented association. Even though DMA members are supposed to abide by DMA ethical guidelines to protect consumer choice, some have developed workarounds by addressing direct mail to “Current Residents” or “Postal Customer.” This removes the consumers name from the mailing, but not the mailing from ending up in your mail box; the result is still the same: unwanted solicitations that you have to throw away or recycle.
The DMA also recently launched the Mail Moves America coalition to lobby against Do Not Mail initiatives that are currently being debated by 19 state legislatures. Do Not Mail is the paper equivalent to the Do Not Call registries that allow consumers to opt out of receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls. Critelli believes the Do Not Call registry has been less than effective because it still allows nonprofits and politicians to solicit over the telephone.
You can find more of Critelli’s viewpoints on his blog Open Mike. For an opposing viewpoint, check out one of the several advocacy groups like ForestEthics’ Do Not Mail campaign. Let us know what you think. Does the Pitney Bowes chairman make a valid argument, or is it pretzel logic?

Jim Witkin is a writer and researcher based in Silicon Valley focused on business, technology and the environment. His work has been featured in the New York Times and Guardian newspapers on topics that include: sustainable business practices, clean tech, the environment and next generation transportation technologies. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. Contact him at jameswitkin@gmail.com

4 responses

  1. Jen, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Here’s an excerpt from his exact quote: “It starts with the view that it’s really bad for the environment to cut down trees. But the flaw in that argument is that the people who cut the trees are doing it as part of a harvesting process. The result is that you actually end up with more trees.”

  2. My great great grandfather made the best buggy whips in Baltimore (so I’m told). They switched to riding crops when the demand dropped. Over the next decade we as a society will learn to charge for and pay for the true cost of our consumption. I don’t think it has to be any harder than switching from buggy whips to riding crops, but it’s going to happen. If I were a stakeholder in Pitney Bowes, I’d be asking Critelli what is the plan for the future. Kodak shareholders didn’t, how many of us couldn’t see that one coming???

Leave a Reply