Put the Jinx on Junk Mail
and Do a World of Good!
By Randy Peyser
I live in a small town in Central California called Aromas. If you want to know where that is, just look for a blip on a map where there are no stop lights and the sheep outnumber the people. You’re bound to find me. There is a rule in this “Mayberry-esque” community, which is that anyone who lives within a mile of the post office cannot receive mail at their home address; we have to use a post office box instead.
On days when I remember that it is not in my best interest to sit at my computer
for eight hours a day without getting some exercise, I jump on my bike and ride
over to the
post office. Then I spend the next five minutes with my fingers stuck in the tiny mail box opening, while I attempt to pry out wads of Citi Card offers (like I need yet ANOTHER credit card), Ethan Allen catalogues (and the last time I bought a piece of furniture from a store that doesn’t exist within 200 miles of me was…?) and scads of catalogs, including the Fisherman Pro catalog addressed to current occupant (like you’d really find me baiting a hook. Puh-leeeze!).
The average American household receives 100 pounds of unwanted junk mail every
year. Did you know it takes 100 million trees and 28 billion gallons of water to
produce this unsolicited steady stream of trash? Fortunately, thanks to people
like Pankaj Shah, the founder of an online company called Green Dimes, (www.GreenDimes.com),
you can stop the flow of junk mail to your address — and do a world of good in
Randy Peyser: Tell me about Green Dimes.
Pankaj Shah: We provide a service where we will get you off postal junk mail lists. We are able to stop up to 90% of unwanted mail at your household. But that’s not all we do. For our $20 fee, we will also plant trees on your behalf somewhere around the world in conjunction with one of our three tree-planting partners: “Trees for the Future,” which gives us coverage in Senegal, India and Haiti; “Sustainable Harvest,” which covers Central America; and “American Forest,” which covers North America.
Randy: What was your motivation to create Green Dimes and how did you begin?
Pankaj: More than anything it was an effort to marry capitalism and social good. I thought if we could provide a service that would help consumers, as well as help the world, that would resonate with people. We started in 2006 and were funded by Tudor, which is a big private equity firm on the East Coast. We have a really cool Board of Directors, including Warren Buffets’ son, Peter, and his daughter-in-law, Jennifer. Last year, Matt Damon acted as a spokesperson for us.
Randy: How does your program work?
Pankaj: People come to the website and enroll in one of our two programs. In our “Free Me” Program, they pay $20, which is the program I mentioned to you. After we make sure your record is valid, we get you off dozens of junk-mail lists. However, there are some lists that don’t accept third party submissions, so the next thing we do is send you a package of postcards (on recycled paper, of course!), that you have to sign, stamp and mail.
The final part has to be under your control because there is no magic button to get off all lists. For example, with catalogs and charitable solicitations, we have a tool online, where you can list the catalogs you no longer want to receive and we’ll stop those for you. That way, we don’t stop the catalogs or charity letters you want to keep receiving.
Our other buying option is “Green Me,” where for $36, we provide a “Green Me” bundle, which includes the $20 “Free Me” service; two energy-efficient light bulbs; a children’s book called, “Little Critter,” by Mercer Mayer, which educates children about the environment; and a reusable tote bag.
Randy: How much mail have you stopped so far?
Pankaj: In a little more than a year, we’ve stopped 3 million pounds of junk mail and saved or planted 400,000 trees.
Randy: Wow! That’s amazing. Is the fee that you charge a yearly fee?
Pankaj: No. What we do depends on the type of junk mail that is being received and your buying habits. For example, we can stop your junk mail for at least a year. But if you buy things from certain places, the junk mail can easily start up again. It’s impossible to stop everything forever. We have a $10 refresher kit and if it’s necessary, we’ll handle it for you all over again.
Randy: What are the future plans for this project?
Pankaj: We are interested in building community and in engaging the people who have interacted with us to help bring more awareness to this business and to the issues we are facing. We won’t release any more products around the junk-mail service, but we will release tools and programs to better engage the community.
Randy: For example?
Pankaj: A simple example is that we will have our community start blogging on our site.
Randy: What has it felt like for you to work on this project?
Pankaj: This is a really tough business. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and now have 17 really dedicated people at our office in Palo Alto, who are working hard to make this thing work. We are signing up more people every day than anyone in this business because the service works. I’m really proud of where we’ve come in such a short period of time.
Randy: How far have you come?
Pankaj: We now have 80,000 members and it’s growing every day. People tell their friends and family members about us, and only a small percentage have ever complained about the service. In fact, that percentage has been less than 1%, so we have a pretty high satisfaction rate.
Randy: How did you decide on the name, Green Dimes?
Pankaj: When we first started, our service cost $36 a year. We were a green company and our services came to about a dime a day. So, I named it Green Dimes. We may change the name or fold it into TonicGen.com, the parent company which I also started. TonicGen stands for Tonic Generation. (www.TonicGen.com).
Randy: So tell me about TonicGen.
Pankaj: The whole point behind TonicGen is to go and do good things. So everything has the same ethos as Green Dimes, which is that we sell a product or service and take the proceeds and do something good around the world.
Randy: For example?
Pankaj: We’ve recently created a line of four, eco-friendly, limited edition t-shirts that are made out of organic cotton and bamboo. They’re made in a socially-responsible way and every t-shirt benefits an important cause.
There is an African t-shirt that sells for $45. When one is purchased, we send three malaria nets to subSahara Africa. Did you know that every thirty seconds a person in subSahara Africa dies of a bite from a malaria-infected mosquito? Mosquitoes come out at night, so most infections happen when people are sleeping. In the beginning, many of the nets we provided were stolen or were used as wedding veils or to hold things. People didn’t understand that these nets could save their lives. Now when these nets are provided to families, they also receive some training so they understand how important they are.
Randy: Do you distribute the nets yourself?
Pankaj: In the past, we partnered with the United Nations’ “Nothing But Nets” Campaign to make sure that the nets got distributed properly. Now we partner with a project out of the UK.
Randy: What other products do you sell?
Pankaj: We now have a water t-shirt called the ‘Fresh Tee.’ Each Fresh Tee sold helps provide clean water for one person in Central America or Asia. We chose this project because of the staggering statistics: 5 million people die yearly because they don’t have access to safe water, and over one billion people throughout the world lack access to this very basic human need. The impact of poor hygiene and safe water is one of the largest threats to the developing world. 5,000 children die each day from diarrhea-related illness, mainly from drinking contaminated water.
Besides the effect on health, lack of water and sanitation means that many women and children spend hours every day walking miles upon miles to retrieve drinking water, which displaces their ability to seek income-generating jobs and educational opportunities.
We have a green t-shirt called the ‘Tree Tee’ that spells out “Tonic.” The word is formed out of the images of leaves. When someone buys the Tree Tee, we plant 25 trees in North America. We chose this project because only half of the Earth’s original forests remain.
We need our trees. All species need healthy forests to survive. Trees provide a place to live for three-quarters of all land animals. They also replace carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the oxygen that we breathe. Although roughly 30% of the planet is still covered with forests, large pieces of it continue to disappear every year. It’s alarming to note, but an area the size of South Carolina disappears annually.
Healthy trees and forests mean healthy habitats for all species of animals and plants. Through working with American Forests, we intend to fund the planting of 250,000 trees across North America, including forests in the U.S., Canada, and the rain forests of Mexico.
We also have a ‘School Tee.’ Each one sold helps educate three children in India for an entire year. There are nearly half a billion children in India, millions of whom live on the streets and railway platforms of Bhubhaneshwar. These children have been the victims of abuse, starvation, poverty, and neglect. They have also been exploited for child labor and prostitution.
We found out about this teacher Inderjit Khurana. She used to take the train to work, and every day, she would see children begging for money and food from the trains’ passengers instead of attending school. She was convinced that these kids would never escape the conditions without proper education. So she decided to bring the school to them. In 1985 she created the “platform school,” where she assembled books and writing slates and went right down to the train platforms to teach the children the basics of reading and writing.
So she decided to bring the school to them. In 1985, she created the “platform school,” where she assembled books and writing slates and went right down to the train platforms to teach the children the basics of reading and writing.
Her school now reaches 4,500 students every year through her organization, which is called the Ruchika Social Service Organization (RSSO). With just a few dedicated volunteers and staff, the organization provides safety, nutrition, and education to kids who otherwise would be facing a life on the streets.
Randy: That is a very touching story, as are each of the stories about the causes you support. How did you originally pick these causes?
Pankaj: We have researched causes from around the world and identified
those in need of our help where we felt like we could make the biggest positive
Randy: How did you go about choosing your non-profit partners?
Pankaj: It is our policy to work with secular non-profit organizations around the world who make a difference. We have chosen four key areas — the environment, education, health care, and human rights. Our partners are all recognized leaders, have strong ethical standards, and are transparent in their modes of operation. Every partner we’ve chosen has the ability to manage, deliver and report measurable gains in their respective fields. We insisted upon this.
Randy: What results have you seen in the past year?
Pankaj: This season, we have helped to plant 62,500 trees in North America, sent 7,500 orphans to school in India, shipped 7,500 bed nets to combat malaria in Africa and brought clean water to villages in Honduras and Nepal. In just the past five days, 84 trees were planted, 90 children received one year of education in India, one person received fresh water, in Asia or Central America, and 36 people received mosquito nets.
Randy: How are you able to give so much of the proceeds for these products and services back to these causes?
Pankaj: We sell our products and services exclusively online, which means we eliminate the kind of costs it takes to run a retail store. We also save money on marketing because our causes speak for themselves.
Randy: I see that every product has an end goal regarding the amount of product you intend to sell. What happens once each goal is reached?
Pankaj: When a goal is met, the product associated with that cause is archived. When readers go to the website, they can see how far along we are in our sales toward achieving our established goals. We post all of our statistics along with each product, and four times a year we unveil a new set of exclusive, limited-production goods matched to specific causes.
Randy: You’ve chosen some incredible projects to fund. My problem is that I don’t know which one to choose because every cause seems so worthy. I imagine you will continue to achieve even greater levels of success with causes like these.
Pankaj: People want to make a difference, and at the same time, most are not willing to turn their lives upside-down to help society; not because they are selfish, but they just don’t know how to get started, or they do not have the time.
We decided we were going to pursue lifestyle dollars and not charity dollars, give people things they needed or wanted, and do some kind of goodness in the world for them. The questions we raise are ‘How do you think about the world?’ and ‘Are you willing to spend your money in a slightly different way?’
That’s the beauty of Green Dimes. Every single household in America receives mail they don’t want, and we’ve given people a really easy and trusted way to get rid of this problem. Then we do something good for the world on top of it. It’s the same thing with these t-shirts. They look great and they feel amazing. So they are good buying options for consumers, in addition to the fact that we do something good along the way as a result of each purchase.
We also offer an affiliate program, so people can spread the word about Green
Dimes and make money in the process. More information can be found at
Randy Peyser is the creator of “The Write-A-Book Program.” She also offers book editing and help finding agents and publishers: www.AuthorOneStop.com
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