Is Content Marketing Green?
By Tallie Gabriel, Freelance Writer
This past December, the UN released an innocuous sounding report with devastating consequences. In it, scientists predicted 'dire,' potentially world-ending changes from animal extinctions to refugee crises as a result of warming seas. And while the world debates, one industry has remained relatively silent on the subject: marketing.
As marketers, we hear plenty of news, tales, and tips about technology, but little about marketers’ environmental efforts. So I looked into it and asked, is content marketing green?
The average American office worker uses an estimated 10,000 sheets of paper every year. If we’re talking tree count, that’s as much as cutting down every tree in New York’s Central Park daily and using them for whitepapers, reports, memos, and everything else offices print. According to the American Forest & Paper Association, the U.S. uses about 68 million trees each year to produce 17 billion catalogs and 65 billion pieces of direct mail. We’d save 68 million trees if these marketing assets were digitized.
By and large, the industry has embraced email and digital marketing, but as content marketing has become standard, print magazines and paper-based mediums are making a comeback. As the Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi told CMO.com, “I absolutely … suggest the resurgence of print. And it’s not just Red Bull [that’s getting into it].” So where does that leave us? Are the trees that emails save getting cut down to make print magazines, or are marketing departments actually reducing their carbon footprints?
I’ve worked for a few content marketing companies, and sustainability never came up in meetings or policy rollouts. Other than recycling bins peppered throughout the office, I’m not sure the companies I’ve worked with even have “green” policies (although to be fair, a couple of the companies I work for now have never sent a paper product that I’ve seen. It’s all been email).
To find out more about whether marketers are actively working on sustainability efforts, I spoke with Jordan Teicher, Editor In Chief of Contently’s marketing department (and my former boss). I asked if sustainability was in the front of Contently’s marketing concerns. As Teicher put it:
“It's not a priority. It's not something that we're focusing on every day. But since a lot of what we're doing is digital, when we do have any projects that require print or paper, we are pretty mindful of being environmentally conscious. If we do a direct mail campaign, whether it's a book or a quarterly [print magazine], we factor in the order amount so we're not just spending blindly and getting as many assets as possible.”
When it comes to rolling out print magazines, the trend that’s made a solid content marketing comeback, Contently is conscious to look at past numbers of how many people were sent a copy of Contently Quarterly and shoot for a similar number. Printing 500 more copies, say, just in case, would be a waste of resources – money, paper, ink, and time – and isn’t worth it. Print magazines will never be more sustainable than an email newsletter, but if most marketers are conscious not to haphazardly spend resources, they can at least make sure their paper products aren’t going to waste.
Along with print magazines, sending swag to clients and prospects has become a popular way for marketers to show appreciation and interest. When I asked Teicher how sustainable he felt this was, he was confident in Contently and smaller companies’ thoughtfulness in the matter.
“There's definitely value [in sending swag to top-tier clients],” he said, “And as long as you do it responsibly and try to use the right shipping materials. I'm sure there are larger organizations out there that maybe could cut back or be more efficient.”
There are some marketing companies like Sustainable Brands and Phil & Co. that have made an entire business out of sustainably marketing. Dimitar Vlahov, the Director of Content Development at Sustainable Brands, told me that as their company sees it, “Brands command enormous amounts of resources and play a big role in humankind’s overall impact on the planet. Brands have a strong behavioral, cultural, and political influence over the general population, and in that sense, they are a major player in shaping social and political realities, too.” Not only will companies become more sustainable as protecting the environment becomes a greater priority for more people, but known brands can lead by example and be vocal in their sustainable efforts – like Adidas making shoes out of recycled plastic.
When it comes to hiring, sustainable companies might also have a leg up, especially as environmental sustainability has become an increasingly important issue among younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z’ers are flocking to brands that reflect their values and their lifestyles, and this includes their places of work. According to a recent Cone Communications Millennial Engagement Study, 75 percent of 18-34-year-olds would take a pay cut to work for a sustainably responsible company.
The World Economic Forum also found that overall, a public declaration of increased sustainability efforts not only helps the environment, but also increases profits. With each new email marketing campaign, you’re not only saving trees, you’re also serving shareholders.
What can marketers do to make their operations greener? Using recycled paper in print marketing is a solid start, and not too difficult to implement. When it comes to giving out swag and gift bags at events, small things like being conscious of the amount of tissue paper per bag and trying to find recycled or plastic-free packaging goes a long way. Marketers interested in transparency can use sustainability reporting tools to publicly publish their sustainability efforts, and ideally attract more customers. Ordering office products online (paper, no less) is a lot less green than buying local. If companies rely on Amazon, they're generating paper waste and burning fossil fuels in delivery trucks – especially when they select next-day shipping.
The good news for all marketers is that the digital age is inherently on sustainability’s side. “The fact that everyone is digital and doing a lot of things on digital that they used to do in the past on printed paper is a good sign regardless of whether they're consciously making an effort to help it or not,” Teicher said. FaxCompare, an online fax service, found that email marketing has 22.8 percent open rates compared to print mail’s roughly 4 percent open rates. Not only is email improving carbon footprints, it’s more likely to be seen in the first place.
Sustainability may not be every marketer’s main priority just yet, but as it becomes an increasingly prevalent issue, brands are bound to pay attention in order to stay relevant and remain cost-effective. And hopefully, because they care about the earth as well.
Content marketing is greener than it used to be. Print and offline mediums like magazines, postcards, and conference swag are a step backward, though tolerable in small amounts. Conscious marketers often earn the same or better results with digital mediums, and the mere presence of sustainability initiatives is shown to make your business more profitable and more appealing to the next generation of content rockstars.