E-statements : do they really save trees?

28 Oct

paperless statementYou must have got those emails, SMS and even calls from your bank, mobile service provider, credit card companies, insurance company and almost every other service company from where you expect a printed statement or bill at the end of the month. It asks you to do your bit for the planet by stopping paper statements and instead opt for the greener email option.

Some of them even go an extra-step to make you feel guilty. A life insurance company tells you that you are not leaving anything for your children by  cutting down forests for your print statements! What do you feel? Or some try to bribe you into accepting paperless statement. Citi offered automatic entry into a sweepstakes – you not only save trees, you may even get enough money for maintaining your garden! My credit card provider offered me 500 reward points if I go green! (1000 reward points can be redeemed for a set of crayon pencils!)

So, does paperless statements really save trees? Atleast the big corporations urging you to do your bit for the earth saves a lot of cash. It is actually a lot of money if you realize in how many ways it reduces costs, enough to pay off that hefty performance pay for their CEO actually. Paper and printing costs for all those statements make up a tidy sum alone. Add to that the mailing costs and the administrative cost to handle the process.

Now, most of the raw material used to produce paper globally comes from comes from recovered paper and the wood waste (such as wood chips and sawdust) left behind from lumber manufacturing. Still, there are other ways to ensure that the necessary bit for conserving the green is done. Most of the renowned paper producing companies have taken up initiatives to restore the forests that they source their raw material from. For example, BILT which is India’s largest paper producer and one of the world’s largest has a well defined environmental policy aimed at reducing waste, conserve natural resources and thus ensuring years of raw material supply for their growth. JK Paper, another leading supplier sources 60% of their raw material from man-made plantations. Responsible billers should ensure that their paper comes from the responsible supplier.

We actually need to ask these companies to show us the trees they saved. Was it a peepal or a maple tree? Was it a tropical rainforest or in an ecologically sensitive zone? I saved that tree, so I should be proud of it. Right? Ask for the exact GPS co-ordinates or pin point the tree on Google Earth.

I am not against paperless statements. It has a number of benefits, like easier storage and retrieval.  It is no doubt the way forward with facilities for online payment or ECS saving a lot of time. But e-statements should be opted for their benefits alone and not because it saves the planet. I find these green claims from these socially responsible corporates misleading. Also, often there are instances of complete mismatches in strategy. The same bank that urges customers to go for paperless statements asks for original printed versions of bills as residential proof for opening accounts! Read about a similar experience here.

I choose both e-statements and the old paper statement mailed to my address, both has their advantages. I will let go of the paper option when a company promises to actually go out and plant few trees. And there are some who practises what they preach. Take the example of HSBC who has pledged donate $1 to plant a tree for every customer switching to paperless statements and has partnered a foundation to plant at least 100,000 trees in national forests as part of paperless campaign. Not all of our billers are following the example of HSBC.

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