SUSTAINABILITY STUDY: Direct Mail and Greenhouse Gases

publication date: Nov 17, 2021
author/source: Prime Data

At the recent UN Climate Summit, Canada was one of more than 130 countries that signed a declaration to "halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030." Although this commitment is legally nonbinding it does reinforce this country's ongoing commitment to fighting climate change.  In this context, and in light of current extreme weather fluctuations happening across our country, a recent study of the greenhouse gas emission sources in the direct mail industry becomes more relevant as a sector conversation starter. 

Commissioned by Prime Data Inc, the study uncovers the sources of emissions - from a tree in the forest to your mailbox. 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 found that a typical direct mail piece weighing 20 grams generates an average greenhouse gas footprint of 205 grams. 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, production activities, and Canada Post delivery. In the study, paper accounted for 85.5% of the greenhouse gas footprint per mail piece, followed by Canada Post delivery at 10.5% and production activities at 4%. For this reason, the greatest impact can be had by making informed decisions around the paper type used for direct mail. 

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

  • Paper Selection – encourage their 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 significantly reduced emissions from employee commutes, and using a hybrid work model moving forward
  • Offset credits – exploring options to offset emissions


Download a copy of the study here.

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