Transforming direct marketing (DM) into a sustainable industry is a challenging task. Coupled with the consumer's perceptions of 'junk mail' and wasted communication, the direct mail industry has a tough challenge on its hands.

The PAS 2020 environmental standard has been conceived to tackle exactly this problem. The standard is a set of guidelines and tasks that a campaign must pass for it to be accredited as a PAS 2020-certified communication piece. The certification came into effect in January 2009 and, while there have been articles written and some campaigns produced using this standard, it still has a long way to go before it gets widespread recognition, let alone becomes an industry standard.

Launched by standards body BSI in conjunction with The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) in response to the EU landfill directive that was to be launched in 2010, the certification aims to help reduce the amount of bio-degradable waste disposed of in landfill sites, which currently stands at around 11.6m tonnes per year.

Under the guidelines, this figure must be reduced to 11.2m by the end of 2010, 7.5m by 2013 and 5.2m by 2020. Failure to meet these targets will result in the EU issuing punitive fines totalling millions of pounds.

Simply disposing of rubbish is no longer an option.

Many people have multiple wheelie bins to dispose of the waste we produce but the aim of PAS 2020 is to produce a DM piece that can be disposed of in one go at the kerbside with no need to separate the components into the various bins. The scheme is an excellent way for marketers to show their companies' environmental credentials and can be run alongside other standards such as ISO 14001 and the Carbon Neutral Scheme.

Hitting the target

There is something that stands out even more about this scheme, though. Yes it is helps reduce waste, ensures fewer materials are used and that the DM piece can be disposed of in one go. But it also means marketers have to look at the channels, design and, most importantly, demographic of the recipient in much more detail.

If companies target individuals and select the most appropriate channel, the recipient will receive communications that are relevant to them, at the right time - making the days of scattergun DM a thing of the past.

This is where PAS 2020 truly comes into its own. When a marketer is forced to look at the recipient and the mail they receive, all the boxes for the accreditation are ticked and the result is a mailer that can carry the PAS 2020 logo and help reduce waste.

Shaking the stigma

When a person receives a piece of direct mail that is relevant to them it no longer can be deemed as junk so, effectively, the term 'junk mail' will cease to exist. DM print runs will be able to be reduced as data becomes more targeted and other channels are embraced - the best campaigns will span multiple formats, including QR codes, which provide the bridge from a print to the web.

More needs to be done to promote PAS 2020 - DM as a whole has been overshadowed as marketers have embraced the emergence of digital channels with great enthusiasm. However, according to the Royal Mail, nearly 80% of direct mail is opened by people aged 65 and over and those people are 18% more likely than the general population to have bought or ordered something as a result of receiving direct mail. The same figure is applicable to 18- to 24-year-olds.

These statistics show that direct mail still has a huge role to play in marketing. In conjunction with accreditations such as PAS 2020, marketers can produce highly focused and environmentally friendly communications that will boost a campaign's return on investment while reducing waste and, hopefully, helping to shake off that 'junk mail' tag.