Sunday, July 08, 2007

Thinking Outside the (Mail) Box

People often talk about the Post Office the way they talk about the weather; they'll complain but figure there's nothing much they can do about it. And yet, just like the weather, things eventually do change, even at the Post Office.

A recent USPS press release announced that they have received "Cradle to Cradle" certification. If you're unfamiliar with the cradle-to-cradle concept, here's the basic tenet as it's expressed on the MBDC website, on-line home of the architecture and design firm of William McDonough and Michael Braungart:

"Instead of designing cradle-to-grave products, dumped in landfills at the end of their 'life,' MBDC transforms industry by creating products for cradle-to-cradle cycles, whose materials are perpetually circulated in closed loops. Maintaining materials in closed loops maximizes material value without damaging ecosystems."

This eco-friendly manufacturing and recycling design concept is being implemented at the Post Office by requiring ". . . all 200 suppliers contributing to the manufacture of Postal Service envelopes and packages [to]complete a demanding series of measurements and assessments of materials for human and environmental health. Maintaining these new, higher standards is now an integral part of doing business with the Postal Service."

This also means that, "based on the recycled content of the more than 500 million Express Mail and Priority Mail packages and envelopes the Postal Service provides its customers each year, more than 15,000 metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions (climate change gases) now will be prevented annually. Express Mail and Priority Mail boxes and envelopes also are 100 percent recyclable."

Pretty huge impact and certainly a laudable effort. But what if we take this kind of reform a step further?

One of the biggest organizational frustrations for most people is the huge amount of junk mail they receive. Even if you request the removal of your name from every available mailing list and through every available service, you will still get unsolicited mail, most of it junk. All of this unsolicited mail uses the Post Office's bulk mail rate. What if the Post Office required that every piece of mail that used the lower bulk mail rate also had to use mailing materials that were certified cradle-to-cradle? Think that would cut down the unsolicited mail we all get? Think that might make marketers a bit more selective when putting together their mailing lists? Oh, yes.

True, this could be a cost-prohibitive requirement for non-profit organizations and perhaps they could be allowed to make the change more slowly, over a period of a few years. But non-profit organizations already should be showing some discretion about the number of mailings they send out, even to supporters. I am very much in favor of donating to worthy causes, but I do get annoyed (and drop a charity from my list) if I see that my donations are being used primarily to solicit more donations through numerous mailings throughout the year.

I think this change would be a win-win situation, for the environment and for citizens. What do you think?

(c) 2007 Cynthia Friedlob


sans auto said...

I agree completely. I called the Avon lady last night and asked her to stop dropping the pamphlet on my porch... I hope my wife doesn't mind. Something needs to be done about junk mail! I create about one small bag of garbage each week and get several big bags of recyclable junk mail each week... and I don't get nearly as much as others I know. Something needs to be done. I think people should be charged MORE for bulk rate. There should be a fee to distribute masses of junk. (non-profits and other good causes may be an exception).

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thanks for your comment. I just confirmed that even Avon now has a website. No need for the pamphlet, so you should be off the hook with your wife!