Sprint’s Handy “Eco-Envelope” Saves More than Paper

It still boggles my mind that anyone voluntarily prefers getting a paper bill in the mail, but amazingly, many people do.  The reasons range from simple inertia to paranoia (the desire to have a file cabinet full of records).  In the case of Sprint, despite good efforts to promote paperless billing, close to 70% of customers still receive paper bills – amounting to a tremendous use of paper and labor.  Exact cost numbers are industry secrets but conversations I’ve had here at the Sustainable Brands conference suggest a cost of 50 cents or more per customer, per month.

To make the problem even stickier, past experience has shown that adding a fee to paper billing or simply cutting people off all together leads to sufficient negative backlash that it’s just not an option for a major telecom with millions of customers.  Thus, innovation that reduces cost and materials is the next best thing.

Enter the “2-in-1″ ecoEnvelope….

Sprint’s new billing envelope, created with ecoEnvelopes, aims  to radically reduce both cost and paper while making life a little easier for those stubborn folks who still write checks.  Like a netflix envelope, a piece tears off the bottom, the bill comes out, then the top part becomes a new envelope to remit the payment.

The 2-in-1 may not solve all the world’s problems, but it’s a neat development that accomplishes 4 big things:

1) It makes life a lot easier for customers
Little things matter. Eliminating the fumbling around for the little envelope hidden inside the bigger envelope is a little gesture that people will notice.

2) It will save almost 450 tons of paper per year
It’s not called an ecoEnvelope for nothing.  Less paper means less waste.  Unfortunately it turns out that the envelope can’t currently be made from post consumer paper and byzantine security issues require that a plastic window be retained.  So it’s still a better solution that previous envelopes, but certainly not perfect.

3) It will save Sprint on the order of half a million dollars
It goes without saying that green should also make financial sense.

4) It gives the company a marketing opportunity for their other sustainability efforts
Sprint will be able to tout other positive efforts the company is doing by including messaging on the envelope.  Given a captive audience they might as well use it.

I had a chance to sit down with Keanon Swan whose team at Sprint managed the project to take a first hand look at get a deeper perspective.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.