It seems like everyone is going green these days. Whether this movement is in response to recent studies showing the rise of the “green” consumer or because it’s the right thing to do, associations and nonprofits are getting on board too. In your efforts to go green, one critical area to examine closely is your marketing efforts. Marketing is the public face of your organization and the first area that your customers will notice when they’re measuring your sustainability. Below are some tips for greening your marketing efforts.
- Re-Design Your Materials. One of the most effective ways to go green is to consider the potential environmental impact of your printed material at the design stage. That means taking into things like paper weight, item size, and mailing format at the beginning. A smaller, lighter piece will not only reduce the amount of paper you ultimately use, but also the emissions of the trucks delivering your pieces. Self-mailers eliminate the need for envelopes. And, of course, always use both sides of the paper. The official term for this process is known as Design for the Environment, or DfE. For more about it, see EPA’s website http://www.epa.gov/dfe/.
- Choose the Right Paper. Re-design leads us to the importance of making the right paper choice. To produce a more sustainable printed piece, look for a minimum of 30% post-consumer content that is processed chlorine free. Ideally choose paper that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forest Initiative. And avoid using add-ons that might make it difficult for consumers to recycle your piece, such as coatings, metallic embossing, or inks containing heavy metals. You can also look for paper that is blended with other, more sustainable fibers, like hemp or kenaf.
- Select the Right Printer. Select printers that practice sustainability. Look for providers that use Energy Star printers and copiers; soy- or vegetable-based or recycled, filtered inks; and solvents free of toluene and methylene chloride. Check to make sure they use alcohol-free printing processes. Ideally, look for printers that employ green practices throughout their plant, such as a comprehensive recycling program, energy and water efficiencies, and purchase of renewable fuels. You can also choose a printer that has received chain-of-custody certification from the Forest Stewardship Council.
- Clean Up Your Mailing List. You can save money and reduce paper use and delivery impacts simply by cleaning up and reducing the size of your mailing list (PDF). Software and mailing services provide tools that remove undeliverable addresses, duplicates, or fix those with missing fields, thereby saving resources. Also regularly check with your customers for address changes and personnel updates. Finally make it easy for your customers to opt out of your mailing list or to receive notices electronically instead.
- Use Electronic Savvy. Until this point, we have assumed that mailings compose a substantial part of your marketing efforts. And this fact remains true for the vast majority of businesses that aren’t effectively using the Internet to reach their target audience. Yet research has shown that organizations that micro-target their online efforts often see a high rate of return. To micro-target your customers, identify the most targeted online publishers, websites, blogs, and email newsletters. Many will offer advertising on their websites or in their email newsletters, which reach thousands of people at a fraction of the cost of traditional media. Or do it for free by writing articles or news items, or by posting comments to blogs or list serves.
- Send Effective Emails. Despite spam, statistics show that email remains an excellent way to build relationships with your customers and promote events and products. Build a solid email list of your customers that you can also break down into specific audience segments to better target your message. Ensure that your list is permission-based and that any email you send out has a prominent opt-out link. Include only the highest quality content and provide value to your target audience with minimal self-promotion.
- Leverage Your Website. Make sure to design the landing page of your website with your promotion in mind. Whatever Internet marketing strategy you use, be sure that the page that brings visitors to your website is designed specifically for them and clearly highlights what you are promoting. The page should be simple and easy to read. It should highlight the value to the customer of the product, service, or event and outline why your organization is the right one to deliver it to them. Also make sure it’s clear how visitors can gather additional information, including how to contact you. And don’t forget to post absolutely every document you can rather than mail it.
- Use Online PR. Press releases aren’t just for the press anymore. With online distribution channels, like PR Web and PR Newswire, you can use news releases to reach your customers directly. But be sure to write press releases in a way that targets your customers, including making a compelling offer to get them to react in some way, such as by going to your website. Also make sure to optimize your news release for searching and browsing by including keyword-rich copy. And don’t wait to send out a press release only when you have big news, look for reasons to distribute them regularly.
- Offset Your Impact. You can donate money to green initiatives to offset the environmental impact of producing and mailing hard-copy marketing pieces. You can buy renewable energy credits (RECs), in which you are purchasing the attributes of green power that have been separated from the power itself. Green-e provides a resource of certified providers in your area. Or purchase offsets from NativeEnergy.com or Cargonfund.org. In both cases, your investment supports development of alternative fuel sources, such as solar, wind, or biomass energy. To determine how much to purchase, you can calculate your impact using an online carbon calculator.
- Have a Plan. In moving to a greener marketing plan, it’s important to put something in writing. It doesn’t need to be complicated or lengthy, but you should outline the steps you need to take to ensure effective execution of your overall marketing strategy. Overtime, you will add new tools and ideas to your plan and will remove those that don’t work for your organization.
Regardless of which marketing efforts you use, remember to track your success. For your e-marketing efforts, use free, online tracking tools, like those provided by Google, so that you know exactly what is working and what is not. By weeding out under-performing tactics and focusing your energy on those with the highest return, you will end up with a good mix of marketing strategies that will help you meet your organization’s goals while improving sustainability. A version of this article also appears on the website of ASAE & Center for Association Leadership.
Consultant and writer on sustainability and the environment
Helping you leave a green footprint on the world…