When it comes to eco initiatives, the real challenge isn’t devising sophisticated plans like wind energy programs, observed Gale Ward, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Minneapolis-based ecoEnvelopes, it’s developing practical, everyday products that help reduce our overall environmental footprint. This is exactly what Ward’s business partner, Ann DeLaVergne—ecoEnvelopes’ founder, CEO and president—did when she designed an efficient reusable envelope.
A former organic farmer and beekeeper who cares deeply about the environment, DeLaVergne was in the habit of saving large envelopes for reuse—despite the complex camouflage they required to be mailed a second time. Then, one day in 2002 while sorting mail, she came across an envelope printed with a request to, “Reuse this envelope.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t an easy way to do so.
DeLaVergne, an award-winning commercial photographer and seasoned graphic designer, tapped into her creativity to handcraft reusable envelope prototypes at her kitchen table—easy-open perforations in the paper were made with her sewing machine. “Older [reusable envelope] designs are difficult for people to use; these are so simple,” reported DeLaVergne. “There are two keys to remailing envelopes: how you manage the postage and how you reseal the envelope. I spent about a week opening envelopes at my kitchen table, closely watching what I was doing.”
DeLaVergne’s ecoEnvelopes feature two separate gum or peel-and-seal strips on the products to facilitate outgoing and return mailings. “I also had to figure out a way to remove barcodes via a tear strip,” continued DeLaVergne. “I just turned the envelope upside down and [created a] long tear strip that removed barcodes. So, the reseal strip is actually on the bottom when it goes out.”
DeLaVergne’s first live mail test included 10 envelopes which were sent to friends across the country. “Every one of them came back,” she proudly recalled. DeLaVergne continued making envelopes for the next two years, devoting herself to perfecting ecoEnvelopes. She received grants from the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance and the Eileen Fisher Foundation, and won supporters including the former CEO of one of the largest envelope manufacturers in the United States.