April 17, 2010 in Opinion

Mail cull: Debating a proposal for limiting unsolicited direct mail

Donna Mckereghan and Paul M. Keil Special to The Spokesman-Review
 
Pro: Reducing unwanted mail would save money, cut pollution and help businesses

The Do Not Mail resolution before the Spokane County commissioners, and soon to be before the Spokane City Council, makes good sense whether you’re concerned about the environment or just tired of “junk mail.” And when you think through the few objections to it, it makes even better sense.

More than 100 billion pieces of junk mail are delivered each year in the United States – an average of 848 pieces per household. The production, distribution and disposal creates 51 million metric tons of greenhouse gases – equal to the emissions of almost 10 million cars and more than the combined emissions of seven U.S. states. Climate change or no, that’s a lot of pollution.

Garbage disposal takes place at sites that taxpayers build and maintain, using equipment and facilities that are replaced at public expense as they wear out. At least 34 percent of Americans (about 100 million people) don’t have access to curbside recycling and much of the direct mail that becomes refuse isn’t shredded – or even opened – creating privacy issues and the potential for identity theft.

Finally, the environmental issue is especially crucial here in Spokane where more than 400,000 people depend on the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer for drinking water and irrigation.

Now, to consider the objections.

Postal workers are concerned about the loss of jobs. However, the postal service is already laying off employees and talking of eliminating Saturday delivery, so the failing postal service business model can’t be blamed on a registry that doesn’t even exist yet.

Consumers have a right to choose how to spend their money, even if their decisions result in lost jobs or the demise of whole corporations. They don’t make DeSotos any longer, but we still have plenty of cars. The postal service needs a new business model and we need an effective way to stop the delivery of mail we don’t wish to receive.

A recent survey by Microsoft Advertising concludes that print advertising is twice as effective as other forms for large stores, though Editor and Publisher magazine reports that only 12 percent of adults surveyed turn to direct mail for the best bargains. By giving those of us who throw it away or recycle it the opportunity to opt out, a Do Not Mail registry would remove the wasteful bloat from distribution lists. It would make direct mail more effective and, thus, a better bargain for businesses that advertise through print media. In other words, it would be good for businesses!

A national Do Not Mail registry doesn’t ban unsolicited direct mail. Similar to the Do Not Call list, which was one of the most popular pieces of legislation in history, those who want to continue receiving direct mail simply don’t sign the registry. Those of us who are tired of the waste of resources and the time spent sorting it, dragging it to the garbage can and paying to have it hauled away would sign up and opt out.

For further information and the sources of quoted statistics, please visit Open Wing Leadership.

Con: Proposal would hurt businesses, cost jobs, and blocking is already possible

In times of economic hardship, our government should be looking for ways to help small businesses and their employees, not hurt them and kill jobs. Yet that is what is at stake as the Spokane County commissioners consider endorsing a statewide Do Not Mail proposal.

A Do Not Mail registry would pose significant consequences for businesses across our state. While some critics call it “junk mail,” advertising mail carries enormous benefits for small, local businesses, for communities and for our economy.

I am the director of the Pitney Bowes Call Center, employing nearly 400 people in Spokane. We have been a good corporate citizen here for 18 years, including significant leadership in our state’s Commute Trip Reduction programs and other important environmental efforts. However, Do Not Mail proposals put these jobs and 67,000 others statewide at risk. Printers, paper suppliers, warehouse workers, postal employees and manufacturers are all involved in the advertising mail supply chain, along with an additional 9,400 jobs in direct mail marketing itself.

With Washington’s unemployment rate at 9.5 percent, does this sound like a good idea?

Do Not Mail also hurts small businesses, the job-creating engines that most of us say we want to support.

Unlike large companies, these businesses cannot afford pricey television or radio ad campaigns. Instead, they rely on the mail to reach customers in the neighborhoods close to their businesses. Denying them access to consumers’ mailboxes effectively denies them the ability to advertise, depleting their sales revenues and ability to survive.

Advertising mail is a great source of coupons, special offers and sales notifications. According to a recent U.S. Postal Service study, more than 8 out of 10 households read or scan the advertising mail they receive. A recent Pitney Bowes/DMNews survey found that 78 percent of respondents prefer to receive coupons through the mail.

Implementing this program would also put Washington businesses at a tremendous disadvantage relative to other states. In 2009, advertising mail generated more than $14.4 billion in sales for the Washington economy. Without this type of influence and access to customers, business in the state would generate fewer sales, further hurting their bottom lines.

Advertising mail is environmentally responsible. Trees are a renewable resource (and a major Washington export product), and mail is recyclable and represents only 2 percent of total municipal waste nationwide.

Consumers already have options to reduce the amount of advertising mail they receive. For instance, the Direct Marketing Association runs DMAchoice ( www.dmachoice.org), a free online service that empowers consumers to control the advertising mail they receive. Individuals wanting to cut down on pre-screened credit and insurance offers can visit www.optoutprescreen.com or call 1-888-5OPT-OUT. People also have the option of directly contacting companies if they wish to be taken off a mailing list, or use online services like www.catalogchoice.org.

A Do Not Mail program would be a job-killer for our region and our state, while providing no material benefit to the environment. In the midst of this economic turmoil, Spokane County should take a stand against this unwarranted and unnecessary proposal.

Donna McKereghan, a member of the Washington state Legislative Ethics Board, has encouraged the Board of Spokane County Commissioners and the Spokane City Council to support a statewide Do Not Mail registry.

Paul M. Keil is director of the Pitney Bowes Call Center in Spokane.

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