It’s ironic that the same government that imposes the most extreme measures on businesses in the name of the environment — and often, regardless of the actual benefit to the environment — is reluctant to allow businesses the freedom to take an extremely environmentally friendly step on their own initiative.
Without being forced — and if their customers ask them to do so.
But that’s exactly what’s happening.
Businesses want to do what credit card companies, banks and other businesses — almost every other business imaginable — have been doing for years: Go paperless. They want to be able to send shareholder reports and similar materials electronically.
This would not only help save the planet by eliminating the tons of waste paper and the oceans of ink used to print on all that paper but it it would also save millions of trees and billions of dollars that would otherwise be wasted on the manufacture and purchase and disposal all that paper and ink. As well as the postage used to frank it and the fuel that would otherwise be needed by postal trucks to deliver it.
Not to mention the time wastage.
It takes several days at least — in the best-case scenario — for a shareholder report to make its way from the corporate office to the recipient. But electronic transmission is immediate. No waiting, no waste.
And in the event the recipient prefers a hard copy, all he or she needs to do is push the “print” button on their keyboard.
It seems like a no-brainer and ought to be.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is on board. It proposed a rule change to make it officially OK for companies to go paperless. As part of the deal, companies would be obliged to provide both notice and instruction to shareholders who might need help going paperless — including a toll-free 800 number. And the rule change would also allow those who still prefer the old-school paper route that option upon request.
There would probably be a few who do request — but the majority of people are likely to prefer paperless. It’s 2018, after all. Most people already do their banking online, pay bills online and download (and file) forms online, including 1099s and W2s. Very few people who have investments don’t have computers or internet access.
Even among the older crowd — those age 65 and up — almost 90 percent are also online and so not unfamiliar with the workings of electronic-era document receipt.
The suggestion that these same people — most of these people — would prefer to receive a clunky pile of papers in the mail is silly.
It’s also an irrelevant worry given that under the terms and conditions of the proposed rule change, they will still be able to get the documents sent hard copy, via the mail if that’s what they prefer.
So, who could object?
The answer is simple: Who benefits?
That would be the paper mills, which make millions by providing the tons of paper used to create the hard copy reports, as well as the envelopes used to mail them. Also — indirectly — the companies that provide the ink that goes on all that paper. They are lobbying to quash the proposed change to the rule and thereby require the Earth-unfriendly issuance of shareholder reports on paper only. No option to go paperless.
This bears repeating. The paper mills — and the lawmakers siding with them — aren’t proposing that people have the option to choose which they prefer, paper or electronic. They are insisting that everyone get paper, want it or not.
The American Forest and Paper Association (which includes International Paper Co.) and the Envelope Manufacturers Association underwrote a dedicated lobby — the Consumers for Paper Options — which has been agit-propping the supposed “rush to digitize” documents. They have the support of (ta-da!) paper-state lawmakers such as those from Maine, the “Pine Tree State.”
But their objections are as out-of-time as those of a horse-and-buggy lobby decrying the “rush to motorize” presented by the invention of the Model T Ford.
Electronic transmission (and access) isn’t just the inevitable wave of the future — it’s the reality of our present. Besides which, no one is suggesting that the few who still prefer paper be denied it. Only that everyone have the option to choose.
Pushing back against the paper mills is a bipartisan coalition. The vote will come soon as part of the general government funding wrangling currently under way in Washington.
Here’s hoping the vote comes out in favor of consumer choice — and also the environment.