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Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

Posted September 10, 2009 12:00 AM by Sharkles

It seems like every time you turn around these days, someone else is "going green". We're prompted to carry reusable bags and consider alternative energy for our homes. Some companies are even using alternative measures to keep their property trimmed without harming the environment.

For me, one initiative stands out as something that has been around for quite awhile – reducing paper waste. When I was a kid, I was taught to be conservative about paper use since paper production requires the cutting of trees. Maybe you have a similar memory from elementary school.

Lately, it seems as though reducing paper usage has become trendy – and is now highly advised by major companies with regard to billing. One industry that has been highlighted in the news recently is the cellphone/wireless industry.

Is T-Mobile Kicking Up Environmental Efforts or Alienating Customers?

This week, I was forwarded an article about United States cellphone service provider T-Mobile, a company that will begin charging users who prefer to receive hard-copies of their bills in the mail. The charges stand at $1.50 (USD) for regular bills and $3.50 for detailed billing. This change, which goes into effect on September 12th, has angered many of T-Mobile's customers.

Statements from T-Mobile have stressed easier accessibility for users to pay and view bills online, the rising costs of paper and stamps, and preserving the environment as the reasons behind the new fees. Many customers find this excuse to be unacceptable, however. The company's message boards are full of angry complaints like "If T-Mobile is doing this 'for the environment', I would suggest that they should have started by removing the two to four glossy ads and 'news' sheets that they include in each bill."

Other arguments discussed the fact that not all cellphone users have access to the Internet, which means that T-Mobile would be inadvertently punishing them. Additionally, many people cited using paper bills for tax purposes, correcting customer service representative errors, and tracking usage.

Not the First, Likely Not the Last

As an online bill payer, I go to my service provider's website to pay my phone bill. For awhile, I would be prompted to register for paperless billing. I made the switch eventually, but my decision was largely due to reminders from the company (in this case, Verizon). There was also the fact that I often paid my balance before the paper bill was even delivered!

At this time, Verizon and AT&T only charge $2 to users who request detailed billing statements. Verizon claims that it saves about $600,000 annually for every 100,000 customers who switch to paperless billing. After adopting this practice in 2008, the company saved 4.3 millions pounds of paper or approximately 52,000 trees that year.

In a world where the state of the environment is almost always front-page news, I'm not surprised to see companies pushing for paperless billing. But it's a tough sell to all customers. Reducing the cutting of trees will help the environment, but many people do not care about saving the world. They may also depend upon hard-copies of bills for tax or other personal purposes. Then there are those consumers who do have Internet access at all. All of these issues have been pointed to as being 'classist' or totalitarian.

What do you think?

  • Do you believe T-Mobile is going paperless for the right reasons or is it a "dirty" move?
  • Do you think that companies or organizations have the right for force people to go paperless by billing them?
  • Should more people embrace going paperless? Why/how?
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#1

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/10/2009 12:46 AM

This is kind of a hot topic for me. While I wholeheartedly believe that we need to save our environment before it is too late, I think that companies like Verizon are taking it too far. I personally like receiving paper bills or statements because then I can file them away easily and I will know where they are. If they were online, sure I could save them, but with the password stealing and stuff like that, I would be wary if any of this information is safe on the internet. Plus, if I wanted to keep records of my statements, my first method of choice would be printing them out.

I think Verizon is being kind of 'dirty' by charging people. If they were that concerned about going green, they could use recycled paper to save trees instead of charging fees. They seem to just be doing this to save loads of money, not for the environmental benefits. There are just some people out there that don't feel comfortable using the internet to pay bills or buy merchandise and I think that they should still be entitled to make that choice.

I believe that organizations or companies that deal with billing or bank statements should stay with paper. These things are crucial to daily life. People need to see their expenses on their credit card bill or their savings account transactions. I think people would be more apt not to check over their bank account transactions online rather than if they were mailed it. Checking over statements can catch potential identity theft early.

I do believe that going paperless is important, but paychecks, statements, and bills are some things that I believe should still have a paper trail. There are just some things I would not trust an online password to protect.

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#2

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/10/2009 12:48 AM

I will never, ever pay a bill on line. The Internet is too insecure. If the recipient of my payment is not nearby, I will go to my bank and order a funds transfer (the bank can take the risk- I will have my documentation that says I did my duty). I also want hard copies of my bills for tax purposes, and just in case I need to challenge a particular charge (i.e., someone has gained uauthorized access to my account, for example). I do not even purchase on line- when I do need to purchase something on line, I do business with a local agent, who charges me a fee, but then he takes the risk with his own credit card. I would rather pay the fee than get caught up in the legal machine trying to untangle problems with a stolen credit account...

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#3

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/10/2009 8:18 AM

I know several people who won't pay bills online for fear of credit card fraud or even identity theft. The risk of insecurity is too high for them.

I'm tired of receiving an extra page with my credit card bill (which gives only my balance and interest rate - both of which are included on the detailed bill) in addition to the three or four advertisements that come with it. But I do like to have a copy of the statement. I pay my cell phone bill online. I guess I'm somewhere in the middle!

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#4

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/10/2009 8:29 AM

Paperless is a great feature if it is offered. I have switched to paperless everywhere I can... If I need a paper copy, then I just print it out.

People seem to be worried about security of their data on the Internet...? When it comes to online banking, you data is much more secure when it is digitally encrypted then it is sitting in a paper envelope traveling 100's of miles to your mailbox! Banks do more then enough to ensure unauthorized people cannot get into your account online. At least you account has a password... your mailbox doesn't.

Online shopping sites require you to be a little bit more careful, like using a temporary credit card number provided by your bank, but even then if you become a victim, credit card companies are good about dealing with such situations.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/10/2009 1:27 PM

I agree with you saying that the security for online banking is much more secure than other online purchasing sites, but there is one thing you didn't have an opinion on:

Do you think that it is justified to force someone to choose paperless? I feel that adding charges, no matter how seemingly miniscule, forces people to choose a decision that they may or may not feel comfortable with.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/10/2009 2:26 PM

You're seeing it as an extra cost to you, but it's not...

T-Mobile (and all companies that mail paper) include the cost of that paper (and postage) in their service fees. If they were to get rid of the new Paper Statement fee, then they have to increase their service rates to justify the cost -- That's not fair to the customers who have adopted paperless...they shouldn't be paying for it.

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#8
In reply to #6

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/10/2009 7:51 PM

I suppose, but then they are just playing mind games with their customers. Why not say that there will be a reduction in service fees for those that go to paperless?

I guess they thought it was more marketable to make it sound like they were punishing the customer for not going paperless by charging them.

I hate mind games that companies play to benefit themselves. And then hiding behind reasons like 'for the environment' when everyone knows they are lying. Shady... very shady...

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#15
In reply to #8

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 9:12 AM

Why not say that there will be a reduction in service fees for those that go to paperless?

I pay my bills almost solely online these days, and I have noticed a slight reduction on most of the bills. Many of them say it in small print that paying online removes the "billing fee", or the cost to print/ship the bill. It's only a small amount of money, but over time it could be something substantial.

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#17
In reply to #5

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 1:11 PM

And taking it one step further, trees are a renewable resource, petroleum and natural gas for plastics isn't. Then there is the "trail" that a paper bill leaves. It requires an envelope, probably paper. Typewriter or computer ink for addressing, stamps, and the backup industry and the people who do that work and how they get to work, etc, to produce our stamps, the gasolone/diesel fuel used my the mailperson to deliver the mail, jet fuel and the workers in that industry to deliver mail for "out of town" letters, burning or recycling the paper, and so on.

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#26
In reply to #17

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/12/2009 3:37 PM

Inadvertently adding fuel to the economic downward spiral...

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#7

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/10/2009 3:18 PM

I have Verizon also, I was reluctant to go paperless because I wanted access to my phone bill record, Even past a year old. Reasons are in depth.

I did eventual switch it makes it easier, Verizon keeps your records online but only for about 6 months.

So I print the online bill as a PDF and store it digitally. But it would be nice if the access was always at Verizon website. But it does solve the problem at hand.

Like other services, services are being cut back or are kept for a fee.

Paperless is a very good option, as long as security of your personal information is not compromised.

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#9

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 12:54 AM

I like paperless also, we need to reduce the clutter and stop waisting trees. Some companies offer discounts to go paperless, I get discounts from Dish Network, Telnor and my cellular carrier. I have no problems paying online.

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#10

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 1:04 AM

Online bill pay is a matter of course for most I expect but as surprising as it may seem some people don't use computers or they do but don't use the internet. What hardship it would be upon these folks if billing is electronic only?

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#11

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 2:28 AM

Sharkles,

The chance of minimization of paper use, will be viable if the entire population is equipped with computer facility and capable of handling. In many institutions / organizations the hard copy review, signature system and file maintenance are in practice. Manual clerical works, statement formalities still call for paper printers, laser ink jet printers.

It calls for a easily eras ability feature of prints by some new technologies like optical readability for example without the use of ink system. Reading, writing all calls for paper consumption.

One more beauty of papers is it is 100% recyclable that most of the paper mills use recycled paper for pulp production.

Wood/ cellulose is going to meet the renewabiliy aspect of light weight building materials in buildings replacing minerals.

The recycling technologies, fast growth aspects of trees can be given priority in technological developments.

It is gradual process of minimizing and switching over to alternate uses.

Trees should be also totally banned from firewood abuse, a sad reality in many developing and poor countries.

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#23
In reply to #11

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/12/2009 2:19 PM

There is no problem with farming trees in aesthetically pleasing ways. Of course you don't want to abuse any national forests or parks. Trees make excellent fuel. Modern wood stoves are very efficient. They may not be good for big cities, but make a lot of sense in rural areas. Grasses and trees regularly burn and go to waste, causing great pollution in the Western U.S.A. Third world nations are turning to efficient cook stoves that use minimal fuel. The need is for more tree farming, not less use of wood.

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#12

and what about the IRS rules?

09/11/2009 7:54 AM

You have to have a paper trail for 7 years in case of IRS audit - if you claim that your phone is a business expense. This means that you either print the statement from your online account or you pay T-Mobile for the statement. In either case it is transferring a cost from T-Mobile onto the customer and claiming that this is because of environmental concerns.

In other words it's just a smoke screen to try to boost T-Mobile's profits. Or maybe reduce their losses?

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#21
In reply to #12

Re: and what about the IRS rules?

09/11/2009 2:43 PM

The IRS will allow electronic documents. So will other government agencies, like Social Security and DMV.

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#13

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 8:03 AM

T-Mobile is doing exactly what 'Free-Enterprise' allows which is finding creative ways to reduce cost and revive OI. You would do the same thing if you saw your competitive landscape getting tighter and tighter. We are all being forced to be aggressive about finding ways to decrease cost and increase OI. Paperless is not 'trendy', it's common sense. If you need a hard copy....print it.

If you think this is a big deal now, just wait for a year or so...you won't be able to go to Walgreens and shop for a birthday card or graduation card or a sympathy card because nobody will be stocking shelves with 'printed paper' products that sit on the shelf unsold for months before being sold.

It won't be long before we'll all be shopping from home PCs and only picking up what we need, when we need it. Shelf stocking at stores will become a thing of the past. USPS will be replaced by online everything. Paperless and efficient....and yes, scary. But it's coming whether we like it or not.

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#14

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 8:15 AM

Do these companies really want to reduce paper use or is it just to reduce their expenses?

Here's a suggestion: STOP paper advertising. If they really want to reduce their impact on the environment they can stop advertising through the mail.

I receive at least 1 advertisement a day from various companies. I typically receive an ad with most of my bills too. What I usually do with these is fan them out to make sure there is no important mail in the pages then throw them in the trash. I don't read them. They basically go straight from my mail box to the garbage.

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#16
In reply to #14

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 9:33 AM

Great idea, Cingold. I'd love to see a reduction of garbage in my mailbox.

Despite signing-up for online services, some companies still send me a hard-copy of the bill (often after its paid?!) and I look at it occasionally. As you and SavvyExacta mentioned, the ads in there are what is costing these companies so much money - especially since they are usually glossy and colorful, too.

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#25
In reply to #16

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/12/2009 3:34 PM

A major employer in a nearby towns business is stuffing ads into the envelopes

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#27
In reply to #25

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/14/2009 8:08 AM

The part that is baffling to me is that in every public relations or marketing class I've taken, they say that mail (snail-mail) is the most ineffective strategy still used by companies. Why waste all time time, money and energy?

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#28
In reply to #27

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/14/2009 8:19 AM

Why waste all time time, money and energy?

I once asked a similar question. My question was "If a business can't tell me how many more customers they gain by a particular advertisement, then how can they justify the cost of that ad?" The response I received was "The problem is that most businesses don't know how many customers they will lose by cutting back on ads so they choose not to cut back."

I don't know if this is even close to the truth but it was interesting and funny.

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#29
In reply to #28

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/14/2009 8:56 AM

Good question! So instead of testing it to see what happens, they'd rather just not take the chance and keep spending the money??

Sounds like typical sales mentality to me

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#19
In reply to #14

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 1:59 PM

GA cingold, especially about this comment,

Here's a suggestion: STOP paper advertising. If they really want to reduce their impact on the environment they can stop advertising through the mail.

This is a tangent about effects of less advertising. What I would like to add, this is an example of trickle down economics.

its a funny think about advertising, my girlfriend works at the post office at a main hub. The USPS is picking up a loss of about 6 billion this year, most because of less advertising. Probably would not be that great of a loss, if they could discipline (or fire) some of their slacker employees. Which at this time they are attempting.

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#24
In reply to #14

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/12/2009 3:31 PM

You're too easy

We open the junk and shuffle the return envelopes and resend them, touche`.

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#18

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 1:13 PM

Wow, I'm amazed at the number of people that are paranoid about paying bills online.

First of all almost every company that swipes your credit card (even not online) will store your information in their online database so your data is online in many places (including people that don't own computers!). All of your banks will also store your account information online even if you don't setup your online login with them.

As for paper bills, I think they are completely unnecessary. How often do you need to refer to old phone or bank statements from 6 months ago? And in the off case that you do… it's probably easier to log into their website than sort through a box of papers looking for the right one.

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#20
In reply to #18

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 2:01 PM

not so much paranoid, but cautious. They just want to reduce the risk.

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#22

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

09/11/2009 2:59 PM

I didn't read all of the entries so excuse me if this has already been mentioned.

Instead of charging customers for paper billing, why not just offer a reduction for those who go paperless? I don't get it.....(actually, I do ).

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#30

Re: Steps Toward a Paperless Society?

08/11/2010 7:22 AM

Isn't it funny how long paper records have persisted?

One of the biggest advantages to electronic information technology is the reduction in Hard Copies

People like things they can touch & hold

unless you pay [& get paid in] cash for everything your informational electrons are scattered around the planet

I have a couple of different bank accounts. One forces me to change my username & password every few months, but will let my computer remember both

another bank won't let my computer remember, but doesn't force me to change. I'm occasionally asked to provide other information at login & the connection seems to be more elaborately encrypted

which is scheme is more secure?

apparently the marketing department at Tmobil is asleep

a discount is always more popular than a price hike

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