How mail marketing is inspiring the industry to be more sustainable

Marketreach’s Cameron Russell shares how the business has worked to become more sustainable and maximise efficiency

Cameron Russell

Head of Marketing Marketreach


Kantar’s recent Sustainability Sector Index report reveals that more than half of global consumers believe that brands are not being accurate when reporting their sustainability actions. This perception that brands are making misleading claims is partly down to their sustainability advertising, says the report.

Kantar’s survey focuses on brands but it raises questions about what we are doing in the advertising and creative industries when it comes to communicating and acting on our own sustainability commitments. This is particularly pertinent as the advertising industry is often criticised as a key contributor to climate change, yet it is also well positioned to be a positive force for good.

At Marketreach, as champions for the mail channel, concerns around our carbon impact have been top of mind for some time. This has been fuelled by ‘go paperless’ narratives reinforcing a misconception that mail is wasteful and an unsustainable choice. We set about challenging this false narrative and our initiative has surfaced some key insights and advice for others in the industry to consider in their journey towards more transparent and sustainable practices. 

An in-depth assessment 

We knew that to challenge ingrained perceptions around mail, we had to start from the very beginning by getting our own house in order. This meant looking in-depth at the entire mail supply chain to assess our own carbon footprint. This would help us better understand our impact and help us positively influence behaviour across the supply chain.

We partnered with climate change and sustainability consulting firm WSP to conduct the UK’s first Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of mail and measured the carbon impact of 10 common mail formats from forest source to end-of-life, through the processing, design, production and delivery stages. A full 360 research study across the entire supply chain was also conducted by C&E Advisory which provided us with strong proof points for mail’s sustainability credentials.

These include the fact that paper comes from a regenerative crop, printing processes have evolved to be more environmentally-friendly, Royal Mail is decarbonising its fleet (5000+ EVs and 85,000 posties delivering on foot), and paper recycling rates (74%+) are extremely high.

Conducting an LCA is the ideal starting point to ensure full transparency over your supply chain and processes. It allows you to pinpoint where flaws and weaknesses in certain stages may be and equips you with the data and insight you need to make changes or take action. 

Educating your peers and clients 

After assessing the data from our LCA, we wanted to leverage insights from the study to create action. We developed resources in partnership with the print industry, which included a guide offering businesses and those in our network with the insights they needed to help make informed decisions when choosing mail.

We also created an interactive LCA measurement tool with data on the carbon footprint of each stage in the supply chain of the 10 commonly used commercial mail formats. Users can compare the average carbon emissions of formats and it provides better context for understanding its impact by comparing these figures to everyday products. For example, the overall impact of a standard DL envelope and letter is 55.55 gCO2e, which is less than the impact of an average sized apple. 

We found that if the LCA data is used correctly alongside guidance on the sustainable use of mail, CO2 emissions can be reduced significantly for a mail campaign. Ensuring that your target audience has the right information to make informed decisions is crucial as part of your sustainability endeavours. 

Creativity can be sustainable 

Businesses should also be aware that choosing a more sustainable option should not restrict you creatively.

For example, we launched a bright and bold creative campaign focussing on the ‘Circular Advantage of Mail’ and how it can contribute to a circular, regenerative economy to support the in-depth research and journey to environmental sustainability.

Throughout the planning and delivery of the campaign the team were considerate of the environment. This ranged from shooting in a studio and using stock footage rather than outdoor location settings to limiting the use of high impact assets such as multiple videos and animations to be mindful of website functionality.

Moreover, all the direct mail used for the campaign was created sustainably - it used sustainably sourced paper and biodegradable inks, while our messaging encouraged behaviour change by the end user.

Mail is a highly engaging medium - 52% of campaigns are more likely to report ROI benefits, and JICMAIL data shows that its physicality has epic standout with consumers, as 95% is picked up and engaged with. And, direct mail generates 108 seconds of attention on average. However, we wanted to show that by taking every opportunity to regenerate, reinvent, reduce, reuse and recycle, mail can also contribute to a circular economy.

There’s still much to be done across the supply chain to lower mail’s impact but the journey is well underway. We hope that our efforts can inspire other participants in the wider marketing ecosystem to look at their own lifecycle and supply chains in order to be more transparent and to take the next step towards a more sustainable future.

Guest Author

Cameron Russell

Head of Marketing Marketreach


Cameron Russell is Head of Marketing at Marketreach. Marketreach is the marketing authority on commercial mail. It provides evidence of mail’s effectiveness and gets brands and businesses excited about its creative and strategic possibilities.

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