DM industry thinking `green’

Faced with growing environmental awareness on the part of consumers, flyer printers and distributors are developing 'greener' products which can also be disposed of in a less wasteful way.Canadian consumers, who receive 13 billion pieces a year of unaddressed, largely unwanted...

Faced with growing environmental awareness on the part of consumers, flyer printers and distributors are developing ‘greener’ products which can also be disposed of in a less wasteful way.

Canadian consumers, who receive 13 billion pieces a year of unaddressed, largely unwanted ‘junk mail’ at their door, are now asking direct mail companies to take stock of the waste and are demanding they reduce the flow or reuse the paper.

Rising to the challenge

Printers are rising to the challenge by, in part, using recycled or recyclable paper and non-polluting inks.

They are also discovering that making their plants less polluting reduces operating costs and so adds to their bottom line. Manufacturing efficiency also helps meet ever-stricter environmental regulations.

Benoit Brasseur, director of environmental affairs at Quebecor Printing, Canada’s largest commercial printer, puts it this way:

‘We want not only our paper products, but how we make them, to be environmentally friendly.’

Only a start

But most people in the printing and distribution industry agree that using recycled paper and vegetable-based inks is only a start.

A long-term, industry-wide solution to the paper pile is required.

Towards this end, a country-wide committee of those involved in producing all print media including flyers – from retailers and advertising agencies to printers and distributers – was recently formed to produce an industry-wide action plan.


The ‘multi-stakeholder print advertising committee’ met in early June, and appointed a steering committee that met in July and August to approve the terms of reference and a definition of print advertising.

Then, in mid-October, the committee met at the offices of the Retail Council of Canada in Toronto to begin hearing how different sectors of the industry are making print advertising more ecologically sound.

By June of next year, the committee hopes to have an action plan on how those efforts could be co-ordinated.


Among the organizations taking part are the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, the Graphics Communications Association, the Canadian Association of Professional Advertising Agencies, Canada Post and the Canadian Direct Marketing Association.

Don Masters, president of Ottawa-based Mediaplus Advertising and chairman of the industry-wide committee, insists members are eager to make print media ecologically sound, but do not want to rush headlong into the task.

‘We want to get a sense of where we are before we decide where we want to go, and develop an action plan to get there,’ Masters says.

The threat of householders revolting against unwanted direct mail has helped prompt the search for an industry-wide solution.

In September, the Recycling Council of Ontario set up a telephone hotline in Toronto – (416) 960-0938 – that city-wide householders are ringing to halt deliveries of unaddressed mail.

The ‘Right to Refuse Hotline’ is backed by seven private distributors – Metroland, Starways, A&R Advertising, Doucette Distribution, Accurate Distribution, Concept Marketing and Netmar/Netmedia.

George Moore, vice-president of Netmedia, argues the hotline helps marketers save money by ensuring only consumers interested in receiving unaddressed mail are targetted.


‘This hotline is good for the environment and for business and organizations that use direct mail and value the continuing support of householders,’ Moore says.

Gareth Kirkby, a Toronto-based researcher with the Recycling Council of Ontario, says his organization does not want to outlaw unaddressed mail.

Instead, consumers are receiving the right to choose whether they want deliveries.

‘It’s junk mail to anyone who does not want to receive unaddressed mail,’ Kirkby says.

The hotline has received 8,000 calls since September from concerned householders.

Metro Toronto’s works committee, which supports the hotline, has estimated up to 33% of the city’s 1.1 million households could, in time, request no unaddressed mail on their doorstep.

That would leave a great many householders still receiving unaddressed mail, so the council is urging marketers to insist on recycled or recyclable paper for their flyers – newsprint capable of being put through Blue Box recycling programs.

Kirkby says marketers are also doing more to target their direct mail at those who will read it and not simply throw it in the garbage.

Millions of trees

He says progress on this issue will save millions of trees, stop flyers from cluttering up balconies and lawns and relieve overflowing landfill sites.

A major obstacle for the hotline organizers is most unaddressed mail in Toronto is delivered by distributors not yet affiliated with their effort.

And the biggest is Canada Post, which last year distributed 3.6 million pieces of unaddressed mail – or one-quarter of all advertising tonnage delivered in Canada.

Doug Long, the Ottawa-based manager of environmental affairs for Canada Post, says the public corporation is bound by the Postal Act to deliver all mail to all homes country-wide.


And Long points to daily newspapers, which he says deliver immense amounts of stand-alone flyers between their pages and yet are not pilloried as is Canada Post for ignoring ‘no flyers’ stickers.

‘Putting up a sticker is not going to address the issue,’ he says. ‘The paper is still produced. If it does not go into printing flyers, it will go into another pile.’

The profit motive helps explain Canada Post’s reluctance to honor requests by householders to withhold unaddressed mail deliveries.

According to the corporation’s figures, in 1991 Canada Post delivered 3.1 million pieces of unaddressed mail, compared with 1.16 million pieces of addressed mail.

In revenue terms, in 1991 the corporation posted $187 million in unaddressed mail sales, against $268 million in addressed mail sales.

Canadian Tire, the retail chain and a major flyer user, is asking consumers who call in to complain about unwanted mail to contact Canada Post directly.

Says a Canadian Tire spokesperson: ‘We’re in this together. If the environment is messed up, then we’re not in business.’


Long reacts angrily to the charge Canada Post is doing little to help the situation.

For one thing, he represents the Crown corporation on the stakeholders committee forging an industry-wide solution.

‘The notion of us being inflexible drives me nuts,’ Long says. ‘Here we are, sitting down talking to others in the industry. And we are moving on the issue.’

He says he favors all flyers one day being printed on recycled paper to soothe consumer criticism of waste stemming from their use.

Elsewhere, a bylaw in Montreal, in existence for 18 months, forbids independent distributors delivering flyers to households that display a ‘no flyers’ logo approved by city council.

If the stickers are ignored, a complaint can be lodged with the city and distributors can be fined.

Advertising material, according to bylaw 8588, represents all folders, brochures, leaflets or other printed material that is designed to advertise or publicize a message.


Only 7,000 stickers, or red-on-black ‘pictograms,’ have been issued by the city so far. But 17 neighboring municipalities around Montreal have adopted similar legislation, underlining growth in the movement.

For Jean Lefebvre, director of communications at G.T.C Transcontinental Group, the second-largest printer in Canada and Quebec’s largest flyer distributor, respecting consumers’ requests for privacy makes sense because it allows marketers to reach only those who welcome their message.

‘We ask ourselves, `How can we do the job marketers ask of us, and how can we heed the wishes of householders who do not want unaddressed mail on their doorstep?’ ‘ Lefebvre asks.

To further reduce consumer irritation, Transcontinental has developed the ‘publi-sac,’ a plastic bag containing all flyers contracted for delivery on any one day. The publi-sac can be hung from doorknobs or exterior mail boxes.

That way, householders can open the bag to read the flyers, or conveniently put the package in the garbage. This avoids the worst-case scenario for all distributors: flyers strewn on balconies or lawns.

On the West Coast, Vancouver City Hall is considering an ordinance to create ‘no flyer’ zones via door or mailbox stickers, similar to the Montreal bylaw.

Helen Speigelman, a Vancouver-based spokesperson for the Recycling Council of British Columbia, says local newspapers widely discuss the issue.

But many local independent distributors are not waiting for the city ordinance. They recognize that delivering flyers to householders annoyed by them does not make business sense, either for their delivery people or marketers.

An ‘aroused recipient,’ in local distribution jargon, is used to identify a Vancouver householder angered enough by unaddressed mail to harangue delivery people from their doorstep.

If their protests persist, or are communicated to a distributor’s head office, their name and address will likely be struck off the area map, according to one distributor.

Meanwhile, ‘greening’ flyers to take account of consumer trends can be expensive.

William Tiffin, advertising manager at Home Hardware, says the retail chain spent an extra $1 million last year to ensure its flyers were printed on recycled paper.

‘A lot of money’

‘It costs a lot of money to do the right thing environmentally from the beginning,’ Tiffin says.

To reduce costs, the company has recently begun printing on paper that is about 60% recycled, above the industry standard. Most recycled paper contains virgin pulp for added strength.

The recycling process for paper requires careful sorting, shredding and converting to a fibrous pulp before the removal of all inks during a chemical wash. Once pressed through giant rollers and flattened into sheets, the paper is then dried and cut into desired shapes and sizes.

Flyers are also making increasing use of vegetable-based inks during the printing process. Traditional petroleum-based inks are seen to be less renewable than soya bean oil- or linseed oil-based inks, for example. Printers assume vegetable-based inks will biodegrade more easily in landfill sites.

Tiffin says the extra expense in buying recycled paper or vegetable-based inks is worth it.

Home Hardware features an ‘Earth Care’ products line in its stores, and appearing environmentally aware is an important plank in its overall marketing strategy.

Encourage people

Besides launching its own line of green products, Home Hardware has gone out of its way to encourage people to conserve, reduce consumption and recycle.

For example, a few years ago it invited consumers to return used Home Hardware flyers to its stores for collection and recycling.

Tiffin says not one flyer was ever returned, indicating either poor awareness of recycling at the time, or the success of existing recycling programs elsewhere.

‘If we made the same offer two years from now, we may well get a wide response,’ he says.

At Zellers, on the other hand, the shortage of recycled paper in Canada and the fact that much of it comes from the u.s., has prompted the retail chain to use virgin paper to print its flyers.

Garnet Kinch, director of advertising at Zellers, argues buying recycled paper from the u.s. does nothing for Canada.

‘We have paper in this country that could be recycled,’ Kinch says. ‘But it’s going to the garbage dumps. Pressure must be put on the industry to reuse the paper we have here.’

Experts point to the irony of the Canadian paper industry exporting most of what it produces to the u.s. where it is used and, in growing instances, recycled.

British Columbia, for example, produces about 116 million tonnes of paper annually, much of it sold south of the border.

180,000 truckloads

That represents about 180,000 truckloads of newsprint waste Canadian recyclers would have to retrieve from the u.s., de-ink and then process.

Besides the energy required to recycle the material, much ‘sludge’ produced by the only 10 to 12 recycling plants in Canada would have to be dealt with.

The result is too little paper waste is recycled by too few recyclers in Canada, driving up the price to ecologically minded marketers and forcing them to look to the u.s. for a source.

Lefebvre has a modest solution. His company sends around 45 truckloads of printed material to the u.s. each week.

He says he would welcome the chance to fill the returning vehicles with paper waste for recycling in this country, but federal law forbids such waste being carried across the border.

Yet Lefebvre points to the need for a wide-ranging solution that the stakeholders committee has only started to look for.

All society

‘Recycling is the responsibility of all society,’ he says. ‘Our industry cannot do the task alone.

‘We must find a way to ensure that if someone takes the time to put paper in a recycling bin, that someone collects that waste and de-inks it, and then someone uses the recycled fibres in producing new paper, and, finally, someone must use that recycled paper to produce new flyers.’

And many flyer printers feature environmental campaigns and projects to highlight their ecological stewardship.

For example, Quebecor Printing’s ‘Enviro-Printer’ program to encourage waste reduction and recovery includes community outreach events such as local recycling drives, adopt-a-park cleanups and tree-planting festivals.


Quebecor has published a community action handbook available free, which provides step-by-step instructions to holding above-mentioned local events to clean and protect the environment.

The Montreal-based printer has also created an ‘Earth Kit’ for use by company staff looking to hold fun-filled, one-day employee events.

The kit includes a stylized office recycling box, the community action handbook, coffee mugs to save on foam or paper cups, recycled post-it note pads and biodegradable trash bags.

At St. Joseph Printing, of Concord, Ont., the ‘Partners in Growth’ reforestation program has, since 1989, seen $200,000 donated to the Boy Scouts of Canada to cover the cost of 200,000 tree seedlings being planted.

St. Joseph also publishes ‘Presstime,’ a newsletter outlining the company’s commitment to a better environment.

The newsletter is useful as a public relations tool, serving as well as an in-house vehicle to inform employees of company plans, of new green products or manufacturing processes being launched, or the payback the company is getting on its green investment.

After all, for all the green projects companies initiate and publicize, developing an effective green corporate strategy requires a company-wide commitment.

And here the consensus in the industry is that the biggest factor in the production of the ecologically sound flyer is the plant itself, and the extent of its ‘greenness.’

Shane Smith, environmental policy manager at St. Joseph Printing, says what goes down the drain in plants and what is done with paper waste is crucial to assessing whether a flyer printer is ecologically sound.

For example, much of the waste from making flyers comes from paper trimmed from rolls in the sheeting process during production, or paper discarded as a result of defects.


St. Joseph’s modern printing plant features a baler to recycle its paper waste. A vacuum system takes trimmed paper from processors and delivers it to a ‘blue box,’ or baler, where it is then sold to a recycler.

To conserve water use, the plant has a filtration system to recirculate city water to the plant’s web presses. And in the film preparation areas, silver recovery systems are in place to restrict heavy metals from entering the sewer system.

The plant also intends to cap its waste water drains after the recent purchase of a ‘micro-filtration and vacuum distillation’ system from Ontario-based Maranatha Environmental Service.

Filters waste water

The system filters and distills waste water, boils it down and cools it before creating a waste concentrate that can be safely shipped to landfill sites.

Smith anticipates the filtration system will eliminate up to 85% of all waste water leaving the plant.

‘All environmental measures require heavy front-end expenditure,’ he says. ‘But the payback will come when productivity rises and waste goes down.’

Smith says marketers ask about St. Joseph’s environmental record.

But he says, for the most part, questions of price, quality and service in producing and distributing flyers come first as businesses everywhere face hard times.

To educate prospects, sales staff at St. Joseph include a hand-written ‘green option’ note with every quote.

On it, they outline environmental measures at the plant and recycled materials used in the printing process. The note ends with an ‘it’s here if you want it’ pitch.

All of which suggests the direct mail industry has gone some way to making flyers more ecologically sound.

But a solution to the problem will only come when the industry recognizes paper waste is a ‘cradle-to-grave’ problem.

At that point, everyone who shares in the life of a flyer – from those who create and print them, to those who distribute them, to those who read and later recycle them – will be expected to co-operate to find an acceptable solution.