Report: Paying Bills Online Saves Gas, Trees, Water

Pay a bill, save a tree.

That, in essence, is the message of a study that the PayItGreen Alliance made public on Tuesday.

The alliance, sponsored by the non-profit National Automated Clearinghouse Association, was formed last October to add another consumer inducement — environmental stewardship — to the already-established assets of convenience and data security of online banking, bill paying and check cashing.

NACHA is a non-profit organization of 11,000 financial institutions that encourages consumers to pay their bills online.

“Each home has a lot they can do, but the aggregated impact can be significant,” said Stuart Williams, the alliance’s co-chairman and director of payment services with Fiserv subsidiary CheckFree.

Moving many financial transactions to paper-free systems doesn’t require a lot of effort or even thought, Williams said.

A One-Time Decision

“Most companies at least offer a direct deposit of payroll, and it’s a decision you make at the beginning of employment, but it’s something most of us don’t ever think about again,” Williams said. “When you make that decision once with bill payments, within one or two cycles you see than not only does it work, but it’s easier — and, after one or two cycles, you don’t even think about it.”

The alliance’s study — the organization says it’s likely the first environment-focused research on online transactions — found that the typical household in the U.S. makes about seven paper bill payments per month.

A changeover to electronic payments could save each household nearly 7 pounds of paper and 169 miles of driving per year.

The study charted other potential savings, including:

  • 24 square feet of forest;
  • 63 gallons of wastewater
  • 4.5 gallons of gasoline

“The results would be significant,” Williams said.

The study said that if 10 percent of the population shifted to electronic transactions, the savings would amount to more than 75 million pounds of paper, nearly 1 million trees and nearly 2 million pounds of greenhouse gases. It would save enough wastewater to fill 1,090 Olympic-sized swimming pools and avoid filling 3,071 garbage trucks with trash.

“Environment issues have become more mainstream and, as compared to other decisions, it’s a fairly easy one to make and doesn’t have a strong financial impact as if you were to go out and, say, buy a hybrid car,” Williams said. “In virtually all cases, these services are free, and even those who may charge for it, it’s probably nominal compared to the savings you receive from it.”

Ed Kounts, a senior analyst on online banking issues with JupiterResearch, said the study mirrors his own findings.

“Certainly, the alliance is an interesting consortium designed to put an environmental face on online bill paying,” he said. “And, one element is ‘green’ consumers. We did a report on that last summer, and it laid out what consumers’ perceptions are in terms of having a ‘green’ relationship with financial institutions.”

One of Many Inducements

Kountz’s own research indicates there is an environmentally focused constituency that is naturally attracted to electronic transactions.

“There are considerations around green coming into play that these types of initiatives are designed to leverage,” he said.

Consumers, in general, perhaps would be more interested in paying bills online for other reasons.

“Certainly, the important thing to get consumers to shift habits around is that you have to have some incentive,” Kountz said.

That, he said, is often monetary.

“Consumers shift behavior if they think they can get something back,” he said.

Tapping into consumers’ sense of environmental stewardship can be an effective lure, Koontz said.

There are others, he added.

“It’s one tool in the arsenal, and we’ll see more, for obvious reasons,” he said. “There’s clearly an incentive to change that this taps into.”

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