ForestEthics Speaks Out on Junk Mail

SupermanStamp_small.gifLast week I reported on comments made by Pitney Bowes executive chairman, Mike Critelli, in a recent NY Times interview. Mr. Critelli believes the environmental impact of unsolicited mail is greatly exaggerated by well-funded, but misinformed activist groups. To provide an opposing viewpoint, I asked Will Craven, the Media Officer and spokeperson for ForestEthics’ Do Not Mail campaign to respond to Critelli’s comments.
Triple Pundit: Mike Critelli believes junk mail is not an environmental issue. How would you respond to that?
ForestEthics: When people think about the causes of climate change, they primarily think of cars. However, deforestation accounts for 20% of all carbon emissions–more than all planes, trains, and yes, automobiles combined. When a forest is logged, hundreds of years’ worth of carbon absorption is released straight into the atmosphere. If this isn’t an environmental issue, I don’t know what is.

In part, forests are logged to make paper. Some of it we want, some of it we need, and some of it is junk mail. Americans by and large have no use for junk mail. Compared to the comments on our Do Not Mail petition, that’s putting it mildly.
If we’re looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprints, isn’t reducing junk mail an excellent place to start? The greenhouse gas emissions generated by logging, producing, printing, and distributing junk mail is equivalent to the emissions of over nine million cars. In this day and age, with the environmental and energy challenges we face, that is insane.
Mr. Critelli puts forth the thoroughly debunked notion that logging is somehow a carbon neutral activity because trees get replanted. But a bunch of baby trees does not a rich carbon-absorbing forest make. The paper industry is creating sterile tree plantations–row after row of largely non-native (and often genetically-engineered) trees. Plantations don’t store nearly as much carbon as intact forests. And in 25-40 years, what little carbon is stored will be released again when the trees are cut down to make more junk mail.
We’ve been through all this before with tobacco and oil companies–they stalled and obfuscated for decades while public and environmental health deteriorated. We can’t afford to humor another CEO who has a vested interest in public ignorance.
ElvisGraphic.jpgLet’s also not forget that the New York Times is partially accountable for letting Critelli’s statements go un-countered in the interview. They gave a CEO free reign to frame biased opinion as quasi-scientific fact.

3P: What is your experience with the DMAchoice program? Is this an effective tool for consumers?

FE: The question is whether it’s better to let the fox guard the henhouse, or to go for something more enforceable.’s site is a welcome sign that the Direct Mail Association senses Americans’ frustration with junk mail, but it’s still an open question whether or not the DMA has a long-term interest in giving Americans the choice to opt out of junk mail. Let’s remember, these are the people who have always filled our mailboxes with waste we didn’t want.
The registry we’re proposing at would restrict unsolicited junk mail–someone who signed up would still receive catalogs or other mail from groups with which they had an ongoing business relationship.
This is what most people want. And unlike a website run by the people who have always filled your mailbox with senseless waste, this would be fully effective and enforceable.
3P: What can consumers do to reduce the amount of unsolicited mail they receive?
FE: We encourage everyone to go to and sign our petition calling for the creation of a Do Not Mail registry. The more signatures we have, the more our leverage and political capital cannot be ignored.
There are several services that have emerged in the last few years to meet the demand for less junk mail, and all can be found easily on the web. We support their efforts, and their efforts can help you reduce the junk mail you receive, but we feel that a Do Not Mail Registry will ultimately be necessary.

3P: What is the status of the Do Not Mail initiatives? Will there ever be a national program like the Do Not Call registry?

FE: Do Not Mail bills have been introduced in 19 states over the last two years. None have passed. This tells us two things: first, Americans want a registry and politicians can hear them; second, entrenched special interests will not go quietly into the night, and will attempt to make sure that common sense does not prevail.
But common sense will prevail. The American people will get what they want. The junk mail industry has mobilized to defeat Do Not Mail bills, but at some point legislators will side with the people. It’s a winning issue–people hated junk mail long before they were aware of the environmental impacts.
Visit the ForestEthics website for more information on their organization and Do Not Mail campaign and petition.

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

One response

  1. It was great to read about this particular environmental issue, this intersection of bad marketing and bad ecological practice, and the possibility of a solution.
    Part of my vision in InspiringWebCopy is to have the world be a beautiful place, by having the web be an ugly place. What that means is that the web is a place where we can put all our advertising so it doesn’t have to take up mental space in the physical world–billboards, print ads, commercials eating your time on TV–and, of course, junk mail. It hadn’t occurred to me that this also would mean significantly less trees used and CO2 released!
    We all know businesses lose when they advertise to an unwilling audience as compared to when they advertise to “qualified leads” (that is, to people who actually have an appetite or are actively seeking the thing they sell). Junk mail is ultimately a losing proposition for the business doing it as well as for the unwilling recipient.
    I want to put out the ideal I can see at this point: the consumer wants to buy something wonderful, so she/he goes on line to find the directory of “ads” for that kind of thing and reads through them to find the greenest, best competitor and the one that most closely matches her/his unique need. The producer meanwhile trusts that the consumer has it together enough, is educated adequately, to know his/her need and to seek out the most excellent product. And we would do what indigenous people have long done (and we all were indigenous people once): actively ask the question, “What gift does this person bring to our community?” and encourage the person’s delivery. The presence of junk mail in our society is a testament to the very low opinion we all have, producer and consumer, of our gifts’ real value for anyone’s happiness. I choose to imagine a much better world, and I know we can attain it.

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