What You Don’t Know About Printing and the Environment

Protecting the environment for future generations should be a top priority for all of us. But sometimes fact and fiction get blurred. Take printing, for example. It’s sometimes unfairly blamed for killing trees and other environmental damage. Not true. Modern printing can be very eco-friendly and print service providers make sure they run their companies sustainably. Here are some things you may not know about green printing.

At Bolger we are proud of our environmental commitments. We underwent a third-party certification audit and became one of the first commercial sheetfed printing companies in the United States certified as an SGP-certified printing facility. We passed environmental, health and safety, and energy audits, in addition to conducting indoor air quality tests.

Our efforts are ongoing and we publicly post our performance. We believe a company claiming sustainability as a core value should be tracking results. To see our latest results, click HERE.



Paper manufacturers are experimenting with paper production using easily renewable sources. Someday, we might see materials such as bamboo, eucalyptus, wheat, or straw as a common raw material, rather than traditional forests.

If wood fibers are harvested from traditional supplies, most printers adhere to certification programs that ensure their paper comes from sustainably managed forests. Popular certifications are the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification).

All three programs track wood fibers through every step of the supply chain, from forest floor to print-shop floor, to make sure they meet standards for sustainable operations.

Eco-friendly paper is more affordable and available than ever, with many variations from which to choose. Many print projects use recycled paper, with 30% of fibers coming from post-consumer sources, pre-consumer-waste paper, or chlorine-free sheets.

And don’t forget that once paper materials have served their purpose, the fibers are recycled again.



Like paper, ink formulations have become easier on the planet. Latex ink, for example, unlike solvent or oil-based ink, is water based, odorless, and hazard-free. Its colorants dissolve from heat and adhere firmly to the substrate.

Eco solvent ink has a low volatile organic compound (VOC) content. Common VOC’s such as benzene, ethanol, and formaldehyde can evaporate into the air. Environmentally friendly inks require minimal ventilation and don’t clog ink nozzles. It’s scratch resistant, durable in most conditions, and can be used in many applications.

Biodegradable ink made from vegetable-based oil such as soya or rapeseed is even more bio-degradable, releases substantially lower volumes of VOCs, and renders paper easier to recycle.

Similarly, UV coatings used to produce impressive glossy surfaces are solvent free and fast drying.



Print providers are adopting efficient control systems to maximize press efficiency. These systems help press operators set up presses to produce accurate color with fewer test sheets. Additionally, the equipment actually calculates how to print faster, and they manage the production process more efficiently. The result is savings in paper, water, inks, and energy, all of which create a smaller environmental footprint.

Digital prepress and production workflows function with paperless communication systems. A PDF file can move quickly from acceptance to the press. The organization reduces steps, cuts down on supplies, and lowers their energy consumption.

Gone too are the days of wasteful printing. Digital printing presses make it possible to print exact quantities as needed, in some cases reducing the need for inventory and reducing waste. They also do away with prepress equipment, traditional plates, and the chemicals used to process them.



The printing industry is also adopting organizational measures to reduce its impact on the planet.

Chief among those measures is the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), a third-party certification earned by printers that achieve acceptable performance in environmental evaluations. The certification process examines how printers reduce energy, implement health measures, and adhere to safety practices. SGP certifications also consider how printers reduce waste, including sending less trash to the landfill and recycling more paper and plastic. Measures printers take to lower emissions of greenhouse gases, limit water usage, recycle solvents, and other environmental metrics also factor into a firm’s qualifications for SGP certification. Bolger is one of only three SGP certified printers in Minnesota.

Qualifying for environmental certifications often includes retrofitting older buildings with upgrades, replacing lighting and inefficient HVAC units, capturing heat generated by machinery, and instituting recycling programs throughout the company. Business practice modifications can even extend to designing more efficient shipping logistics that use fewer boxes and better plotting of delivery routes.

An exciting new certification program called PrintReleaf plants trees based on an organization’s paper footprint. Bolger will be leading the way soon with this new initiative.


What About Digital Communications?

Many believe electronic documents and communication methods are less harmful to the environment because they do not consume paper. In truth, no form of communication is free of environmental impact. The environmental effects of digital communications include the consumption of energy every time a document is generated, transmitted, or read. In 2015, technology associated with information and communication consumed 3.6% of the world’s energy. The vast majority of that energy is generated by non-renewable resources like coal or natural gas.

Electronic communications also affect air quality and global warming. Measurements indicate that information/communications technology accounts for 1.4% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

E-waste is a term describing electronic gear that has reached the end of its useful life. According to the United Nations University, electronic gear accounted for 44.7 metric tons of e-waste in 2016. Only 20% of it was recycled.

Printing isn’t perfect, but the drive for ecological responsibility is ongoing and far-reaching. From order intake to the shipping dock, printing today is greener than ever.

Should You Be Worried About Direct Mail Delivery?

The United States Postal Service becomes a hot news item about twice a year. The first is every January when the price of the retail postage stamp rises and, like any price increase, is not met with a lot of enthusiasm. The second is the unveiling of a cool stamp, such as John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, or Charlie Brown, which is considerably more fun.

But in the last several months, the US Postal Service has received more attention than any time in the last 50 years. The 24/7 news cycle has caused organizations concern about direct mail marketing–specifically questioning the ability of the USPS to deliver their direct mail campaigns on time. Political spin aside, addressing mailer’s expectations from the Postal Service as they drop holiday direct mail campaigns is the central issue.



Contrary to what cable news would like you to believe, there is no evidence of a grand conspiratorial gesture by any political party to alter mail collection, sorting, and delivery. A photograph that went viral shows a veritable mountain of blue mailboxes removed from the streets. The image is captioned with copy indicating mailbox removal is impeding citizen’s access to the mail. In fact, the photo is from Hartford Finishing in Hartford, Wisconsin, a company contracted by the USPS to refurbish and powder coat weather-worn mailboxes. They were simply queued for normal, scheduled, cleaning and painting.

The USPS replaced many of the collected mailboxes with new or reconditioned units. Not that the Postal Service never removes mailboxes. The USPS routinely decreases the number of mailboxes in geographic areas where mail is seldom deposited in them. Sending carriers to perpetually empty mailboxes every day is wasteful, and the USPS takes steps towards efficiency when it can. This isn’t a recent phenomenon.

Reports of removing letter sorting equipment from processing centers also got lots of press attention lately. The USPS is taking these actions because of the drop in mail volume. The decade-long trend of declining mail volumes and shifting demographics forces the USPS to make processing adjustments. Machines get decommissioned every year. The Postal Service has been streamlining their equipment lineup since the 2000s.

That there is less mail to sort shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. The post office had planned to shut down 700 sorting machines nationwide, about 10% of its capacity. Letter sorting machines are about the size of a small subway train and more mechanically complex. Maintenance, parts, and real estate are not free, so taking mail sorting machines out of service when there is no mail to sort makes sense. It’s important to note that the Postal Service’s small parcel business is brisk. The decommissioned machines only sort letters, not parcels.


Having Said That

While many of the effects of postal processing adjustments are more imagined than real, the new Postmaster General has instituted cost-cutting measures. Actions that lower expenses are appropriate for an agency that has struggled with finances for some time. He directed a hiring freeze, eliminated most authorizations for overtime, and made some scheduling decisions that can create some delivery delays. Over 70% of the Postal Service’s costs are labor, so focus on the workforce is understandable. The immediate downside from the Postmaster’s policies is some longer delivery times and reduced service, but many factors influence the impact on mail customers, not just these recent changes.

Instances of delays and their effect on residents have peppered newscasts and blog posts. The most common examples are people not receiving prescription medications or checks on time. Remember, the Post Office receives no tax dollars and operates on revenues from postage and other services. For 2020, they have to deal with a deficit measured in the billions.

The USPS has an enormous infrastructure. Simply adhering to the CDC guidelines of masks, social distancing, and constant hand-washing slows processing. Employees with symptoms were out sick. Was service at your local grocery store or coffee shop the same during the height of the pandemic as it was in January 2020? Multiply the unforeseen health effects by 497,000 employees processing mail for 160 million addresses every day, and you can see how the USPS wouldn’t be spared from the pandemic’s effect.


Marketing Mail Planning

Like most businesses, the Postal Service will return to normalcy in time. When that will happen is unknown.  At the moment, marketing mailers should operate under the assumption that mail delivery will exceed the normal delivery times by a bit. A post on the USPS FAQ page on June 1, 2020 noted that while the delivery window for Marketing Mail is 3 -10 days (not guaranteed), the Postal Service does not consider Marketing Mail to be late until delivery exceeds 14 days.

In practice, the time to deliver direct mail doesn’t really matter much to mailers, as long as the timing is consistent. If it takes a few more days for delivery, a mailer just backs up their schedule and enters the mail earlier than they have in past campaigns. For time-sensitive materials, strategies like drop-shipping the mail closer to delivery points can take some of the guesswork out of the process.

The best thing a marketing mailer can do is keep everyone in the loop. With Intelligent Mail Services, mailers can track individual pieces throughout its journey via Intelligent Mail barcodes. Everyone involved in a direct mail project understands we are living in very different times. Reporting mail’s progress is re-assuring. Our postal experts can show you how mail tracking can reduce any unease you may feel about launching a new direct mail campaign.

It’s fair to say the perception of a postal slowdown is exaggerated because it makes good press. Mail is running just fine in most parts of the country.


Still the Best Option

Direct mail effectiveness towers over electronic communications, even if it takes a little longer to deliver. With a dramatic drop in the volume of marketing mail, any organization running a campaign today will enjoy less competition in the mailbox. Consumers notice offers when their mailboxes hold just a few pieces of mail each day. With a little planning, direct mail can remain impactful, even in a time of uncertainty.

Get Extra Postage Discounts This Season



The Postal Regulatory Commission announced a discount for Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM). The US Postal Service will discount all EDDM mailings by 10% from August 1 to September 30, 2020. EDDM is a saturation mailing method that allows mailers to designate delivery of identical, non-addressed marketing mail to all the residential or business addresses within a certain geographic area. The rates will be automatically adjusted for qualified mailings. Mailers need not register for this discount in advance. Here’s more information about Every Door Direct Mail.


It is full-on summer vacation, but now is the time to schedule holiday direct mail campaigns. To help assure profitable fall and winter marketing mailings, the Postal Service has pitched in with extra incentives for mail that meets specific creative criteria. This is a terrific way to nudge customers into technology and design approaches that will improve response and conversion.


The “Why:”

Government agencies are typically not in the habit of handing out discounts to anyone on anything. Postal promotions designed to integrate direct mail into multi-media, multi-platform marketing campaigns are the exception. The USPS postal promotion program engages digitally-focused marketers that have underused direct mail. Once executed, the postal service believes marketers will enjoy the tactile, visual appeal, and permanence of direct mail, making it a part of their future advertising campaigns.

The USPS offered six promotions during 2020, however some have expired. The remaining promotions have specific dates when the postal service accepts applications and date ranges when mailings must drop. Refer to https://postalpro.usps.com/promotions or call the mailing experts at Bolger Printing for details. As always, the sooner the better, as design revisions are often needed to meet postal requirements. Make note that while some programs are available for both First Class and Marketing Mail, others are specific to a class of mail.


Remaining Promotions and Incentives for 2020:


Personalized Color Transpromo Promotion

Transpromo is a great way to sell a new product while customers pay an invoice for a previous purchase. The best news is that no extra postage is required and the promotional discount is on top of any presort or automation discount the mail normally earns. This promotion applies to First Class mail only. The registration period is open until December 31, with the mail dropping July 1 through December 31.

First-Class mail’s value escalates as mailers accompany transactional pieces with personalized content printed in color. The intent is to increase response from current customers, typically the best source for new business. This promotion is for First Class presort and automated letters, bills, and statements that meet dynamic print production requirements. Meet the specifications for this promotion and take advantage of an upfront 2% postage discount.


Emerging and Advanced Technology Promotion

This promotion applies to both First Class and Marketing Mail. Registration is open until August 31 with the mail dropping by August 31. This program promotes direct mail using technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality, Near Field Communications (NFC), and Video in Print (ViP). The promotion also includes integration with voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, and other digital to direct mail connections.

Some of these technologies have been available for years in other industries, but technology evolution has made them affordable for direct mail applications. This promotion also offers an upfront 2% postage discount and is available for First Class and Marketing Mail (including non-profit) letters and flats.


Mobile Shopping Promotion

This promotion encourages mailers to integrate direct mail with mobile technologies, providing a compelling online shopping experience during the holiday season. The registration period is open through December 31 with mail dropping between August 1 and December 31. Several new mobile barcode formats qualify, as well as traditional QR Codes, common for shopping and purchasing. Additional formats that qualify for the promotion include Snap Tags, Watermarks, Voice QR codes, Twitter QR Codes, Amazon Smile Codes, and more.

The barcode must direct the customer to a mobile optimized shopping website where they can easily buy the advertised product. Mailers will take advantage of an upfront 2% postage discount. It is available for Marketing Mail letters and flats only.


Informed Delivery Promotion

Informed Delivery has been a popular program for the USPS. To inspire new adopters, they are offering a promotion for First Class and Marketing Mail. This is the second year the USPS has offered this promotion, encouraging business mailers to launch an Informed Delivery campaign. Mailers enjoy a 2% upfront postage discount and registration is open July 15 through November 30. The promotion runs from September 1 to November 30.

Qualifying classes include regular and non-profit Marketing Mail letters and flats and First Class presort or automation postcards, letters, and flats. Informed Delivery is an excellent way to connect digital and physical mediums and enhance the value of direct mail. The USPS wants to encourage adoption by offering a substantial postage discount.

For more details about the Informed Delivery program, read “Extra Impressions of Your Message (for free)in the Bolger Printing Blog.

USPS promotional programs not only increase profit margins, they introduce mailers to new, technology-driven strategies that complement email and social media campaigns.

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