opinion


Come on operators, ditch the paper bills

More and more people in the industry are talking about how important it is to reduce the impact that telecoms companies are having on the environment. But saving the environment is easier said than done. And in this area as much as in any other, actions speak louder than words.

It’s great that developments in technology are reducing the environmental impact of telecoms infrastructure. It’s also great that new approaches to the production of energy for base stations, such as wind power, are being taken seriously, especially in rural areas in emerging markets.

But there is one incredibly obvious measure operators could take en masse but which has been largely ignored: dramatically reduce the number of trees they are responsible for cutting down.

How? It’s simple. Operators can require customers to opt in to receive monthly paper bills, and charge a small premium for them to do so: for instance, in the UK, £0.50-1 (US$0.78-1.60) a month to receive a paper bill.

If a customer doesn’t want a paper bill, he can provide an e-mail address to which the bill can be sent in, say, PDF format. Or, a customer could be sent text message notifying him when his bill is ready, and he could then log in to his account via the operator’s web site to view the bill.

Some telecoms companies, such as Virgin Media, have already done this, proving both the concept and how incredibly easy it is to do.

It would also promote traffic to operators’ web sites, providing them with opportunities to, say, advertise other products. But that isn’t the reason they should do it, and the principal goal should always be kept in mind: to reduce paper use, not to shove marketing and advertising messages in front of customers. And let’s not have spam to phones/inboxes as a result of opting out of paper bills.

Every month I receive a four- to five-page mobile phone bill that goes straight into the recycling bin after a quick check. Even opting out of itemized billing produces a two-page bill. Multiply that by several tens of millions over a year and you have a lot of trees needlessly cut down every year.

According to paper manufacturer Boise Cascade, as cited on the web site ecology.com, a cord of wood (wood stacked 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet, or 128 cubic feet) produces about 90,000 sheets of paper. Given that there are about 1.2 billion contract subscriptions in the world, presuming that the vast majority receive a three-page bill every month, that works out at around 133,333 trees cut down every year. Even bearing in mind that 43% of paper used worldwide has been recycled, according to Worldwatch Institute – again, cited on ecology.com – that’s still about 57,000 trees cut down each year to send unnecessary paper bills to mobile users.

If telecoms companies required their customers to opt in if they want to receive a monthly paper bill, they would not only save themselves money, but they’d also save lots of trees. That really would improve their green credentials, and their actions would actually help the environment.


One comment

  1. Rosendo Travieso 28/01/2009 @ 2:57 pm

    Paul,
    O2 Broadband is currently paperless for all customers

    R

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