Sprint Nextel in the US has introduced a reusable envelope for sending bills and receiving payments. The company says that it will make bill payment easier, minimise mail costs, reduce paper use and lower environmental impact.
According to the Federal Network on Sustainability, the US paper industry is the second largest consumer of energy and uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry. In just over a year, Sprint estimates the new ecoEnvelope will save just under a half a million dollars in operational costs, 447 tons of paper, 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water and over 2.5 million pounds of CO2e, the equivalent of taking 244 cars off the road.
It seems that only around a third of Sprint customers use a paperless billing option, so this is a worthwhile sustainable strategy for the company.
It’s interesting to compare this approach with the actions of virtually all UK communications and utilities companies (and others). Firstly, there has been intense pressure on customers to sign up to pay bills directly so that suppliers simply take the money from accounts when payment is due. There are financial rewards for agreeing to these direct debit payments. It means that fewer people send back bills with payments enclosed.
There are now also financial penalties for paper billing. So Sprint Nextel’s ecoEnvelope would work less well in the UK where there are probably fewer people who receive paper bills and even fewer who return them with payments.
The UK is probably more eco-friendly in this respect, but the downside is the cynical way that the utilities, or at least telecoms companies, have behaved. For one telecoms supplier I use, soon after a charge was introduced for paper billing the frequency of bills increased. And the companies have taken the opportunity of cheap delivery to stuff electronic bills with promotions that create wasted paper for those that do need to print them out.
Better to keep customers on-side with your green approach.