Over the past 10 years telcos, utilities, banks and other large businesses have spent tens of millions of dollars in efforts to get consumers to replace their paper bills with electronic bills and statements. Despite their efforts they met with limited success overcoming online access obstacles, consumer resistance to change and fears of identity theft, phishing and security… until recently.
If you are a print service provider of paper-based billing services, this article may help you understand some of the market forces you will need to confront as well as some of the regulatory factors that may help to level the playing field for sustainable paper-based billing and transpromo solutions. While there is still room for improvement, the forest products, papermaking and printing industries in the United States and Canada depend upon and do a great deal to support healthy forests and the sustainable sourcing and use of paper. However, the marketing claims of some companies maintain printing and paper making “kills trees,” and that switching to e-billing results in “saving trees.” Those are very emotionally charged words… but do they ring true?
A 2007 study by California-based Javelin Strategy & Research asserts: “If all the nation’s households just received and paid bills electronically, they’d save 16.5 million trees each year.” It is one thing to say e-billing uses less paper, or less energy for transportation, but it is quite another matter to claim that e-billing “saves trees.” While there are many marketers that are making claims that e-billing “saves trees,” I’m not aware of any company that has provided empirical evidence such claims are true. In all likelihood they believe those claims are true, but it would appear that they may have failed to substantiate their claims. If the saved trees in question exist, one way to settle the matter would be to provide their GPS coordinates. Claims that trees will be saved by e-billing begs the question I asked recently in a discussion thread on the JustMeans.com social media site:
Which trees are saved… and where are they located?
How many companies do you do business with that claim that e-billing saves trees? If you find any companies that can answer this question please let me know! If a tree was supposedly saved by electronic billing and nobody can find it on Google Earth, was it really saved? If a company claims that e-billing saves trees, or results in the planting of trees, I see no practical reason why they should not be able to provide the GPS data for each and every tree.
A partnership between Friends of the Urban Forest, the City and County of San Francisco, and Autodesk provides some insight into how it might work: The Urban Forest Mapping Project leverages new MapGuide Open Source technology that digitally pinpoints the location of each tree, maintains tree data in a consistent database, and offers Web access to the tree data—for maintenance and planting efforts. Because it’s open source, the community can even get involved by posting photos and stories about their own trees that they plant and map online.
If the trees in question were in old growth forests or ecologically sensitive areas I would be the first to argue for their conservation. But if the trees are from sustainably managed forests then their harvest is an environmentally responsible business practice that has significant economic and social value.
In fact, recent studies conducted by the states of Maine and Washington indicate that healthy forests are highly dependent on market demand for sustainably sourced wood products, and that slack demand can lead to increased “liquidation” clear cutting and the sale of forest land to low density developers. I’m all for the creation of an effective registry that would allow people to easily opt-out of receiving unwanted phone books, direct mail or paper bills, but I believe that banning phone books or advertising mail, and making unsubstantiated claims that e-billing saves trees, are unwarranted and potentially misleading, In addition they may well result in significant unintended economic, environmental and social consequences.