Don’t read this if you are an E-invoicing Greenwashing Groupie!

We write a lot about e-invoicing, e-billing, AP automation, e-procurement and so on. Because we want to promote it. But that doesn’t mean we agree with everything we see, read and hear. For instance: paper invoice penaltiessingle data format standardisation, fraud invoices, and bashing digital signatures. And we also have an opinion on the Greenwashing argument.

Electronic invoicing Greenwashing

One of the most heard of arguments in favour of e-invoicing is the ‘go green’ initiative. However, this argument isn’t as rock solid as you might expect:

1. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in the United States, which contains 8 percent of the world’s forests, there are more trees than there were 100 years ago.

2. This is how the customer perceives the argument to save a tree with an electronic invoice:

  • The reason why XYZ Publishing Company would like to send “electronic” invoices is to save paper and postage.
  • Will a tree be saved? Highly unlikely. I will need to print out an invoice to keep a paper trail. In effect, the vendor has effectively passed on his invoicing costs to me. 
  • Regardless of who prints the invoices, will a tree be cut down? Maybe, but doubtful. So much of today’s business paper is recycled and, in any event, most companies source paper from environmentally certified forests. Would it surprise you to learn that we have more trees in the US today than we did 100 years ago.
  • If the leadership of this publishing company were really concerned that their invoicing policies were truly harmful to the environment, wouldn’t they shift all book publishing to electronic distribution channels?
  • Let’s face it. These environmental benefits are totally bogus and true leaders should simply step out and say they are recommending changing their invoicing practices to save money.  Don’t use the environment to justify cost-cutting. You discredit the environmental movement and simply look stupid. In fact, I am not sure you are even a credible partner

3. And then there is Two Sides. We actually like Two Sides. That is why we wrote these articles about their work:

- E-invoicing: The claim that going paperless saves trees is misleading
- Paper and print have great environmental story to tell
- Is promoting e-Billing the same as Greenwashing?
- Paper industry responds to EC’s e-invoicing proposals

Misleading and unsubstantiated environmental e-invoicing claims

According to Two Sides recent research on 94 leading companies shows that:

  • 50% of them are using unsubstantiated environmental claims to encourage consumers to switch to lower-cost electronic billing and services.
  • many companies are using negative claims that are not verifiable or factual related to the environmental impacts of print and paper, and as a result do not meet best practice guidelines for environmental marketing
  • more than 80% of the U.K. companies approached — including well-known names like British Telecom, Barclaycard, Vodafone and EON Energy — agreed to change their messaging to eliminate misleading or factually incorrect environmental claims about the use of print and paper.

That is why Two Sides started a campaign to assist companies to develop and follow best practices for environmental marketing, including the use of science-based and verifiable information. Or as they put it:
“Whereas many major U.S. companies have implemented credible sustainability initiatives that focus on true performance measurement and factual environmental claims, marketing in some cases seems to take the upper hand on science.”

P.S. The fact that we have (1) an opinion that is (2) dissenting from the common denominator, doesn’t make us a women’s gossip magazine

Related Posts


  1. Franco Ruggieri

    Unbelievable: according to this “digital paper” I should stop asking my utility providers for electronic billing! As a consequence I should rely on our utterly unreliable mail service rather than comfortably receive e-mails. More: should I stop forwarding these e-bills to my accountant that stores them electronically? Rubbish!

  2. @Franco,

    No, the study only says that go green arguments are mostly unsubstantiated. It does not say anything about what you propose…..

  3. Thank you for covering our material. It seems some people are misinterpreting the goal of the campaign which is simply to make sure environmental claims related to print and paper are factual and verifiable. We just published this post today:

  4. Paper and post is not the whole story for business users by a long-way .. it is also the huge number of computers in lit, heated/air-con offices being used every day just to re-key data exported from one computer back into another computer. Paper is a component … but the debate is much more than counting trees.

  5. This article seems a little disingenuous. If you look at the board of Two Sides it is made up entirely of representatives from the paper and print industry - chairman Martyn Eustance formerly of the Howard Smith Paper Group, Tim Elliott and Tim Bowler both from the National Association of Paper Merchants, Kathy Woodward, CEO of the British Printing Industries Federation and on and on.
    All of these people have a very strong vested in the ongoing and increasing use of paper and none of them are going to have a remotely neutral or independent opinion on the subject.
    A little disappointed that the e-Invoicing Platform would publish this without at least stating these vested interests.
    It may be that the green arguments are unsubstantiated - it’s certainly not an argument I have used personally, although my customers have - however, hearing it from this group is a little like hearing turkeys arguing against Christmas.

  6. Hi Ken,

    Thank you for comment. Your observation is absolutely spot on that they have a vested interest in ‘keeping paper’.

    I can imagine that you are a bit disappointed about us publishing this. But keep in mind that we publish a lot of information with vested interests. Most of them are on the pro side of e-invoicing.

    The reason we publish this kind of information is to provide people other perspectives. We like to believe that it gives that extra bit of colour and dimension to the discussion.

    Even when it sometimes implicates that some of our readers and sponsor don’t agree with it. In fact: we publish items that we disagree with but we still follow through because we want to remain objective and independent.

    Hope you understand.


  7. The argument above about not “saving a tree” for moving to ebilling is correct - most paper that is not recycled comes from purposely grown forests that would not have been there if it was not for the paper industry.

    What we should be focussing on is the enormous amount of water that it takes to firstly grow the trees and then process the pulp. As well as the waste water (effluent) that is released downstream and the pollution that is a by-product of the bleaching process.

    These “convenient truths” are the real environmental reasons to move away from paper to electronic distribution.

    We could also include the diesel fumes from the delivery trucks and so on…

    But ‘send an email and save water’, doesn’t quite have the same appeal to consumers…

  8. Michael,
    I think you left out a few “convenient truths” when you talk about water use and paper versus electronic distribution. Electricity generation consumes tremendous amounts of water. The metals and plastics used to make computers, copper wire, and fiber optic cables use tremendous amounts of water in the raw material extraction and the manufacturing process. Many of the paper mills I am familiar with make their own electric power from waste wood products. The steam turns a turbine to make electricity and then the remaining steam is used for making paper. Also most printer paper does not come from “purposely grown forests” and you can buy FSC certified paper that has upto 50% recycled paper contnent.

  9. Vesa Kotilainen

    We’re entering a different domain here, but all the same, an interesting article.

    First, quoting FAO for the amount of trees “more trees than there were 100 years ago” would lead us to discussions about the biomass of the forests versus number of actual trees and the question of purposely grown forests mentioned above. I’d rather leave this to experts but think we’d all agree that tree standing in the woods is fine and a couple of more of them won’t hurt, right?

    To compare the amount of CO2 absorbing biomass (trees) to the lifecycle of paper invoicing process is like comparing bananas with apples. Regardless of the amount of resources used to make a paper sheet, the real environmental effect comes from the process: sorting and delivering the paper as mail, circulating and archiving it as an invoice.

    Yes it is possible that in some cases e-invoice is printed by the recipient. But likewise a paper invoice might get scanned. Both events occur when some phase of the process is incompatible with another.

    If you have a “pure” electornic AR or AP process, you do save the environment. This is because of the process, not because of the medium (paperless e-invoice). And although some of your counterparts may have mixed or paper based process now, all of them will be moving to 100% paper free in a short while so there is no (at least environmental) reason no to adopt best practises immediately.

    And for the argument that e-invoicing has an environmental footprint (processing e-invoices requires computing power, cooling, electricity and so forth): yes it does, but 10 years in this field and I’m yet to find any computer that would’ve been dedicated only to the AP/AR process. Fact of the matter is that we already have the computing power and the machines running. Utilizing this existing capacity for e-invoicing among other things is the most environmental thing you can do.