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Sustainability study sparks conversation about direct mail and greenhouse gases

November 2, 2021  By PrintAction Staff

The Sustainable Mail Group was launched to start a discussion and inspire research and action about sustainable business practices in the printing industry. Photo © Enrique Del Barrio/ Adobe Stock

A recent study of the greenhouse gas emission sources in the direct mail industry, commissioned by Steve Falk and Prime Data, uncovers the sources of emissions – from a tree in the forest to your mailbox. Understanding the emissions at different stages of the process can lead to informed decisions about their reduction.

President and CEO of Prime Data, Steve Falk says, “I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’m having trouble taking action on climate change because I don’t understand how my life and work really affect it. I commissioned this study and had it focus on the core work we do, which is a simple letter with a reply envelope inside an envelope, often used by charitable organizations to fundraise. We produce millions of these each year and I thought that many of these organizations would also be curious about the outcomes of the study.”

The sustainability study, commissioned by Prime Data, found that a typical direct mail piece weighing 20 gm generates an average greenhouse gas footprint of 205 gm. To put this in perspective, a half-cent would pay for offset credits to make this mail piece carbon neutral.


The journey of a direct mail piece, produced and mailed in Canada by Prime Data, can be divided into three sections: Paper production, Prime Data production activities and Canada Post delivery. In Prime Data’s sustainability study, paper accounted for 85.5 per cent of the greenhouse gas footprint per mail piece sent by Prime Data, followed by Canada Post delivery at 10.5 per cent and Prime Data production activities at four per cent. For this reason, the greatest impact can be had by making informed decisions around the type of paper used for direct mail.

The Prime Data operations footprint mainly consists of electricity (4.3 per cent), delivery (20.2 per cent), employee commute (24.3 per cent), and natural gas heat for the facility (51.2 per cent). Some immediate actions that Prime Data is looking at to further reduce their carbon footprint in the direct mail industry are:

  • paper selection – encourage customers to review paper options;
  • energy efficiency in the warehouse – LED lighting installation, implementing dock door seals and air curtains;
  • commute times for employees – working online has reduced emissions from employee commutes, and using a hybrid work model moving forward; and
  • offset credits – exploring options to offset emissions.

Falk is an active member of the Sustainable Mail Group, a community of mail industry participants with similar interests. Their mission is to be stewards of the environment, working within the direct mail industry to offer continuous thought leadership and sustainable solutions that meet consumer demand for responsible mail.

“Our research is not the final word but an opening of the conversation, offering perspective into the various sources of greenhouse gases in the direct mail business. We hope to inspire dialogue on this subject and enhance our collective understanding of these issues,” says Falk.

Download a copy of the study here.

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