Why print is more climate-friendly than you might think
Sustainability is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word print advertising. The assumption that digital advertising is more climate-friendly than postal still persists. After all, we have this image in our heads that print mailings consume a lot of resources for raw materials, printing and transport, but in the end it’s “just” advertising that ends up in the wastepaper basket. With this article, we would like to show you that the climate impact of print advertising is better than you might think. Furthermore we recommend you to have a deeper look at our action plan we have developed with ClimatePartner to provide you some guidance on how to handle print as a climate-friendly advertising channel.
3 myths about the paper and print industry
According to experts, digital communication, with its huge demand for energy and non-renewable raw materials, is demonstrably no more environmentally friendly than print. In fact, print products are probably among the most sustainable communication tools.
Myth 1: Large carbon footprint
The CO2 emissions of all printed products in Germany account for less than one percent of the footprint left by a person in this country per year. (Source) Overall, the paper, fiber and printing industry emits just 0,8% of all European greenhouse gasses. (Source) So waiving print products because of the carbon footprint makes little sense. “Especially since the printing industry has been operating more sustainably and transparently than almost any other for more than 10 years,” says Julia Rohmann, project manager of the climate initiative of the printing and media associations. (Source)
Myth 2: High water consumption
Since water is a precious resource and at the same time indispensable for paper production, consumption is continuously optimized. This has led to the development of processes that help to ensure that no water is wasted. For example, water is kept in circulation in the paper production process which means that 80% is reused. In the printing process, water is only used for moistening the printing plates and for technical system cleaning. The trend is for even these processes to be waterless. (Source) Thanks to ongoing modernization processes, the paper industry today requires 47% less water for production than it did in the 1990s. (Source)
Myth 3: Rainforest deforestation
The European Timber Regulation (EUTR) strictly supervises the import of timber into Europe. This means that illegally harvested timber and timber products may not be marketed in the EU. All traders selling timber or timber products, including paper, in the EU for the first time must comply with the due diligence requirements of the EUTR. The European paper industry therefore does not source raw materials from regions such as Indonesia where overexploitation is practiced. (Source)
Action Plan: Using print advertising responsibly
Even though print advertising has a smaller ecological footprint than most would think at first glance, resources are of course still used and emissions released. A responsible use of the advertising channel is therefore essential. For this reason, we have developed an action plan together with ClimatePartner to give you some guidance through this complexe topic.
In addition to offsetting, climate neutrality primarily involves reducing and avoiding CO2 emissions. The emissions generated during the production of print products can be calculated, optimized, and then also offset according to recognized methods (e.g. cradle-to-customer and end-to-life). Where there are opportunities for savings, these should be exploited. Emissions that cannot be avoided locally are offset by investing in recognized climate protection projects, e.g. reforestation or recycling projects. Since greenhouse gasses such as CO2 are distributed evenly in the atmosphere, it is irrelevant for the global greenhouse gas concentration and the greenhouse effect at which location on earth emissions are caused or avoided. (Source)
Many printers are already striving for carbon neutrality along the entire supply chain and are aware of their growing responsibility. (Source) As a service provider, we are also already carbon neutral. Nevertheless, companies that want to send print products to their customers should take a holistic approach to sustainability. After all, every company leaves behind its own ecological footprint. It is therefore important not to “rest” on the carbon neutrality of partners and suppliers, but also to take a close look at their own carbon footprint.
Reading tip: optilyz is carbon neutral
Direct Mail Automation instead of mass mailings
The previously common but long outdated approach to advertising mailings by post is both costly and time-consuming. Lengthy work processes mean there is a lack of flexibility in the mailing cycle. In addition, from design to printing, a lot of manual work goes into a single mailing that may not even reach its recipient. In addition, in most cases data is not used in a targeted manner, but mass mailings are sent in blind mode. It is well known that these have a very high scattering loss and, on top of that, cause a lot of superfluous paper waste.
All this is a waste of resources, because print advertising can be more efficient and eco-friendly. With Direct Mail Automation, print mailings are sent in a targeted manner to selected customers to whom the direct mail matches in terms of appearance and content. These customer groups are precisely identified thanks to data analysis and segmentation. In addition, Direct Mail campaigns can be highly personalized and automated (e.g. birthday mailings). Instead of a thick catalog, much smaller and more relevant formats are sent, which not only save paper and weight, but also create much more value for the customer.
Reading tip: The ROI in Direct Mail (German only)
Paper & print characteristics
Environmental aspects should also definitely be taken into account in the implementation of print mailings. Generally speaking, graphic papers have an excellent recycling rate of 83%. In print production, care is already taken when using various materials (paper, cardboard, inks, coatings, adhesives) to ensure that they do not hinder the recycling process or that they are recyclable. AGRAPA is committed to this. Paper fibers can be reused up to six times, providing a good raw material for new recycled paper. (Source) Compared to virgin fiber paper, recycled paper has a much better ecological balance, especially with regard to the use of water and energy. You can also look out for various paper certificates (e.g. FSC or Blauer Engel) in practical implementation.
It is also more resource-conserving and thus environmentally friendly to rely on standard formats (e.g. postcards or selfmailers) than on fancy individual formats. In our experience, design, content and integration into the cross-channel-strategy contribute more to the success of a Direct Mail campaign than the format. Since selfmailers and postcards in particular are part of every printer’s standard repertoire, you will most likely not only have a wider choice of paper types here (e.g. recycled paper), but also save the printer and you additional work – and thus costs and resources.
Print mailing is celebrating an unprecedented revival. Conversion rates of 4-10% put most email campaigns in the shade, and in terms of ROI, postal advertising is also ahead of the media mix. NGOs are also successfully using print mailings for their campaigns. Most donations are still collected via offline channels such as direct mail. Companies can hardly afford to categorically exclude a well-functioning channel like print.
However, what companies can no longer afford to do is not assume their ecological responsibility. That is why the calculation of the individual ecological footprint is of central importance for companies and their products and services. ClimatePartner has been offering its customers a tool for calculating carbon neutral advertising campaigns since 2021. This allows the emissions of an advertising campaign to be calculated – tailored to the individual media mix which also includes print.
The time to act is now: TFCA Campaign with optilyz