The downside of green e-mail signaturesNovember 23rd, 2009 | Posted by Christian Hicks
You’ve no doubt sent and/or received an email or two that signs off with something like, Consider the environment before printing.
On its face, I can’t argue with that message. It’s well-intentioned and to the point. But how effective is it? By that, I mean does it actually influence behavior? Are people printing less (or perhaps printing more conscientiously) because of that gentle appeal to their green conscience?
My guess is no. At least not anymore. The “think before you print” signature line might have had some impact when it was novel and more apt to be noticed. But now, I’d venture those most of us tune it out. We’ve seen that message so many times that we effectively no longer see it.
This isn’t to say raising awareness is a bad thing. But it has its limits. At some point, the message—or the delivery of the message—needs to change to get through. It has to catch us in an unguarded moment, reverse conventional thinking or stand out by being bold. It has to say something new, raise the stakes and build on what has come before.
Another thing: We’re conditioned to receiving communications that are personalized and relevant. We’re unlikely to respond or even acknowledge a generic message that tags nearly every email we receive from virtually everyone we know.
All of which leads me to wonder—are green signature lines intended for the recipient or the sender? That is, do we include them because we genuinely think they’re going to change how others think about printing?
Or is the real purpose to make ourselves feel like we’re doing something “good for the environment,” that we’ve lived up to the promise we’ve made with ourselves to be more environmentally responsible?
My guess is on the latter, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves.
That’s not a venal sin by any means. But it is a missed opportunity that carries some risk. Rote communications just add to the clutter and make it harder for the important stuff to get through. By adding to the bombardment of green messages we receive each day, a generic signature line about printing may inure us to more meaningful messages, dulling or even suppressing our response.
Put another way, we’ve all developed sophisticated mental filters to keep the hordes of spam out, but sometimes those filters can prevent legitimate information from getting through. The green signature line seems harmless enough, but is it causing us to set our filters too high?