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Lessons Learned from an Envelope Box Turned Inside Out

I did something a little nuts today. I have run a small niche publishing business since 2000, and I learned very quickly that when you print books on demand and sell them retail, you either lose nearly all your profit margin by buying packing boxes or you have to charge a lot more than you might be comfortable doing. My goal was to charge less for shipping than Amazon and the others, so charging full shipping cost to cover the mailers defeated the purpose. So I looked at the stacks of envelopes and boxes in the corner, waiting to go into the trash, and thought, “Recycle!”

Now, the Strong Tower Publishing titles page has a little disclaimer:

Did you know? Strong Tower Publishing recycles. While we sell directly to the public, our direct sales are relatively small, so you may find your book packed in a recycled box or with recycled paper. This allows us to protect the environment and keep our shipping prices extremely low.

This morning, however, when I went to look for a used padded envelope or box, I was completely out of them. There was an unopened bag of yellow mailing envelopes, but I hesitated. Then there it was, the empty envelope box. Perfect! So I cut along the seams, turned it inside out, and it fit perfectly around the book. A few staples, some tape, and a mailing label. Done!

Granted, it took me 15 minutes to get it together, so I’m not suggesting that companies trade in their efficiency so every piece of scrap can have a second life. It’s the premise I think that is relevant here. We too easily trade convenience for environmental responsibility.

There are a lot of easy steps we can take to be more environmental responsible in our everyday lives, both business and personal. What little extra effort can we take that might be right at our fingertips that will make a difference?

You might think virgin mailing stock is less expensive than recycled stock, but have you checked recently? Make a few phone calls. Do an Internet search.

What do you do with your used office paper? Pitch it? Or reuse it? (I turn mine over — even my old mail — and reuse it for drafts in my laser printer.) I visited my church’s office the other day and saw a stack of paper headed for the recycling bin, all clean on the backside. I got permission to take it home and I didn’t have to buy draft paper for months! (Plus, the drafts looked like confetti, with all the colored paper. Very cool!)

Do you have a lot of padded envelopes that would otherwise go into the trash? Can you reuse them for non-critical documents? How about making them available for your employees to take home to reuse?

There are so many simple, easy, often completely free solutions for being better stewards of our resources. It just takes a moment of our time to think about them. You might not think these efforts make a big difference, but if every company took a simple, incremental step of this type, the overall impact could be huge.

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker

Heidi Tolliver-Walker has been a commercial and digital printing industry analyst, feature writer, columnist, editor, and author for nearly 20 years. She is known for her meticulous research and no-nonsense perspective. In addition to having written thousands of industry articles for top industry publications, she and Richard Romano have been the face of the well-respected industry research firm The Industry Measure (TrendWatch Graphic Arts) for many years. In her more than 13-year tenure with the firm, she has written countless reports on digital printing, 1:1 (personalized) printing, Web-to-print, personalized URLs, and other hot industry applications. She is also a long-time contributing editor and columnist for Printing News, for which she writes two monthly columns, including "Personal Effects," which features monthly analysis of 1:1 (personalized) printing case studies. She is also the author of three titles for the National Association of Printing Leadership: Designer's Printing Companion, Ink & Color: A Printer's Guide, and Diversifying Via Value-Added Services. As a small, niche publisher (Strong Tower Publishing), she is active in utilizing these technologies in her own business, as well.

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  1. I’m undertaking a survey of sustainable marketing practices as a favour to a member of the Chamber of Commerce – is there a source of relevant reading and best practices that someone can recommend.

  2. Great! Me, too! What I need to do is drag out the shredder and turn even the double-printed pages into packaging material. But then, I’m using electrictity to do it. It’s quite an environmental quandry, isn’t it? 🙂

  3. Hi Heidi,

    I too run a small publishing venture, In My Book, a combination of greeting card and bookmark sold in book & library stores. I always recycle envelope boxes, corrugated cardboard and any packing materials that come my way when I’m packing up the bookmarks. The bookmarks serve two functions, are themselves recyclable, and one would hope that the customer too will recycle the packing materials. Green all around! Here’s hoping that people will continue to need bookmarks to mark their place in paper books.

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