For those of us who were brought up e-marketing, e-shopping, e-dating, e-gossiping—and all things e—we may feel smug that we are truly paperless (are we really?), and thus we are so green in our behavior that who would dare cast a stone at us?

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.

Yes, an online banking statement replaces a mailed banking statement. And perhaps an email and online order may replace a catalog or direct-mail piece and resulting order. But are e-marketers—and multichannel marketers who rely on e-marketing—truly out of the woods (or in the woods?) when it comes to environmental sustainability when they migrate to digital media?

In the current age of responsibility and accountability, we need to say "not so fast."

Direct mailers already have introduced 'green' to the marketing process

I've seen a lot of information on what can be done to "green" the direct-mail process: state-of-the-art list and data management, procuring paper with either post-consumer recycled content or virgin paper from certified sustainable forestry sources, minimizing and right-sizing packaging, and designing and producing direct mail with recycling collection in mind.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has been on top of the environmental issue for a good 20 years—and its website offers a host of resources to help direct mailers, in particular.

In 2008, the DMA's board of directors went so far as to make 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.

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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