October 11, 2015

Environmental Impacts Of Mail

Last week, we posted on the Pitney Bowes web site at www.pb.com/mailimpact a white paper detailing preliminary findings on the environmental impact of mail. Several points stand out when we look at the study:

  • Mail is a relatively minor source of carbon footprint compared with common personal and household activities, such as taking a two-minute shower, which has the same carbon footprint as receiving 40 pieces of letter mail.
  • Electronic communications, on the whole, have a carbon footprint similar to paper-based communications
  • As noted on pages 21 and 22, the ultimate question is not whether mail or paper-based communications have an environmental impact that could be reduced. No one questions the need to reduce the carbon footprint of mail or paper-based communications, and the paper talks about sustainability initiatives.

There are two questions:

  • Is what would replace mail better for the environment? If someone drives a few miles to a retail store, Table 9 shows that the two types of automobiles identified, the medium-sized car and the SUV produce the equivalent carbon footprint of 40 pieces of mail for between 1.8 miles of driving (for the SUV) and 3.3 miles of driving for a medium-sized car. If ads are placed on TV, we know than an hour of TV watching is equivalent 2.8 pieces of letter mail. As noted, substituting advertising dollars for a paid search engine on the Internet has its own carbon footprint.
  • Among all activities, is focusing on unsolicited marketing mail a good use of scarce resources in combating increased CO2 emissions, especially given the negative economic, social, and cultural impact the reduction in mail volumes would cause? These tables would suggest that we would get far more benefit from focusing on other activities that have less economic, social, and cultural value first.

This study is not the final answer on environmental issues, but it is an important step.