Stop harassing paper invoices because you switch to e-invoicing [column]

A short while ago we mentioned a study by Two Sides that shows the “greenwashing” argument is ill substantiated (to say the least). The article led to some comments, a few phone calls and quite some e-mails from e-invoicing and e-billing stakeholders.

The main message was: “Why on earth are you promoting paper invoices in a community that promotes digitalisation?” Well, the answer is we want to bring you some new perspectives every now and then. Just like we do on standards, pdf and adoption. And there’s more where that came from.

To be honest, we actually like Two Sides’ work. They provide us/you with these extra shades of grey we need to understand and seduce end-users to switch to e-invoicing and e-billing.

Two Sides position on e-billing and e-invoicing

Don’t get Two Sides wrong; this is how they feel about e-billing and e-invoicing:

  • Print and electronic media are complementary and should co-exist.
  • It is not a question of paper or electronic, but rather which combination of the two has the least impact on the environment while meeting social and economic needs.
  • A study by NACHA – The Electronics Payment Association recently found that up to 40% of people who use e-billing also receive paper copies in the mail.
  • Print and paper have many unique environmental benefits that surface in a well done LCA, including renewability, recyclability and low carbon footprint in many cases.
  • Paper also helps promote well managed working forests that are key to the environment and economy.

Their proposal: Use Life Cycle Assessments

In this article Two Sides responds to comments on their study using Life Cycle Assessments (which is mandatory by the US FTC Green Guides if you want to make “green” claims in the US, by the way).

  • Their goal is to encourage companies to compare electronic communications to paper-based communications using Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) so that their communication choices are based on sound scientific evidence.
  • LCAs are best used in specific situations and the results of one study should not be used to generalize for all situations. This is one of the basic rules of life cycle evaluation and of environmental marketing when it comes to using LCA results.
  • Preferably LCAs need to follow recognised standards and be peer-reviewed by an expert panel, as recommended by ISO (International Standardization Organization).

Life Cycle Assessment on e-billing and e-invoicing

  • Two Sides is not asking companies to drop e-billing and go back to paper billing. E-billing has many benefits that they find useful.  They are simply saying don’t portray paper as a bad product with more negative impacts than e-billing unless you have studied the matter carefully and have the backing of a credible third party.
  • Companies should also stick to the basic rules of environmental marketing before they tout the environmental benefits of one product or service over another.
  • Most companies don’t do LCAs, or even consider the impacts of electronic communications prior to making negative claims about paper. They also typically don’t consider the fact that many people print at home or at work so that they have a record.  In other words, the life cycle is often not paperless. In many cases, the use of paper has just been shifted downstream to the consumer.
  • If a company does a peer-reviewed LCA and finds e-billing to be more favourable than paper invoices then they are OK with that.

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  1. Hi and thanks for the great post. Obviously I appreiate it and so do all the Two Sides members worldwide. The only correction I would make is that the US FTC does not require an LCA to be done. The FTC asks that claims be factual and verifiable and this often means an LCA type of study that should be peer-reviewed and based on recognized standards.

    Phil Riebel
    President and COO
    Two Sides US Inc.

  2. Hi Phil,

    Thank you for clarifying this. We’ll change the post a bit.

    Good luck to you.