I am not going to tell you who sent me this envelope, but I will tell you that it's an environmental group dedicating to protecting forests.
I shared this on my personal Facebook, and it started a pretty interesting conversation! Obviously, sending out stacks of paper to tell us to save trees is pretty ironic, but below the surface, there is this question, which one of my friends put incredibly eloquently:
I'd like to point out that around 20% of all American households are not wired for the Internet. I'd also like to point out that it is entirely debatable as to whether or not the paper produced for this mailing is better or worse for the environment as compared to the electricity/heavy mining/chemicals needed to support the infrastructure of an all digital campaign. It's not entirely clear to me which is better, on balance.
What a great point! Just as recycled paper isn't always the best environmental choice, email blasts might seem greener but come with their own carbon footprint. It's hard to weigh the two and say which is worse.
My instinct is that printing thousands of packets and envelopes and sending them all over the country in mail trucks has a bigger impact than the data center lode from sending thousands of emails. My friend Jo Borras wrote a great piece a couple of years ago on direct mail (and the U.S. Postal Service in general) over at Gas2 that's worth a read. And on the other side, the energy it takes to send an email (or do anything online) is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you're talking thousands of communications. There's a helpful piece at Earth and Industry that looks at data centers and their impact.
And while this doesn't really contribute to the debate, my friend Joe wins quote of the day: "Under no circumstances should you burn that envelope to stay warm."
What do you guys think about direct mailings like this from environmental groups? Do they go against these groups's missions, or are they a necessary fundraising and awareness-raising evil?