For those of us who were brought up e-marketing, e-shopping, and all things e, we may feel smug that we are ‘paperless’ and green. Well, it’s time to wake up! Direct mailers can actually be very responsible environmentally, and perhaps e-marketers need to pay closer attention to the environmental life cycle of digital commerce.
In 2008 the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) made public its goal to reduce carbon emissions from the direct-marketing community by 100 million tons by 2013, through more highly targeted mail and better list and data management.
This year the DMA has begun asking its online and offline members to commit to 15 ‘triple-bottom-line’ (profit-planet-people) principles for improving marketing’s sustainability. Yet there’s a dearth of information on greening the digital-marketing process. That’s changing, beginning with a focus on the greening of IT and energy conservation.
There is growing evidence that companies seeking to be green reap dividends. Environmental concerns resonate with consumers, even amid severe recession. What we do to make our marketing activity sustainable (green and profitable) starts when we accept responsibility to make that happen in our own organisation. All marketers, online and off-line, rely on data, and certainly e-marketers depend on servers to host their websites, banners, social media and e-mail marketing platforms, as well as to power their analytics and media-optimisation models. Thus servers and data centres are front-and-centre concerns when we look to increased efficiency in our operations.
In 2007 a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report to Congress stated that ‘The energy used by the nation’s servers and data centers is significant. It is estimated that this sector consumed about 61 billion kWh in 2006 (1.5% of total US electricity consumption) for a total electricity cost of about $4.5 billion. This estimated level of electricity consumption is more than the electricity consumed by the nation’s colour televisions and similar to the amount of electricity consumed by approximately 5.8 million average US households (or about 5% of the total US housing stock).’
Energy Star ratings
In 1992 the EPA, along with the US Department of Energy, extened its Engergy Star ratings and logo programme for energy efficiency to IT equipment, beginning with computers. In 2010 the EPA will announce Energy Star ratings for servers and data centres; data centre operators will enter password-protected data about their energy use, and depending on the data centre’s size, a rating (from 1 to 100) will be assigned based on the input. Chet Dalzell is a public relations professional, speaker, and chair of the Marketing Communications & Public Outreach Strategy Working Group of the DMA Committee on Environment and Social Responsibility. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While Green IT and Green Power are the most profound ways digital marketing companies can become sustainable environmentally, there are other smaller but visible ways.
- Team up with a green partner. Develop a tie-in with an environmental or conservation group. For example, with a recent e-commerce purchase, I was prompted to direct where I wanted a seedling to be planted in return for my transaction.
- Don’t automatically click ‘print.’ Ask customers whether they really need to print that online receipt or e-mail newsletter. How about providing a PDF version?
- Guard against ‘greenwashing.’ Avoid greenwashing whereby environmental claims are made for everyday business activities or for products, behaviours or processes that may have one or two green attributes, but overall are not very green.
- Offer opt-out and more. Modify your online preference centre for customers from mere CAN-SPAM compliance to best-practice heaven, where each customer is in (near) total control. Preference centres should be designed for our multichannel world, rather than offering simply an on/off switch for email.
- Open up the suggestion box. There’s no one path to environmental responsibility, so let customers (and vendors) help. Enable customers to post suggestions, and talk with suppliers.