Paperless telecom: AT&T tests paperless telephone directories
Judging by the title of one of its executives, AT&T would certainly appear to be getting serious about environmental initiatives, including efforts to reduce paper consumption. The title is executive director of corporate citizenship and sustainability, and the person holding that title is Beth Shiroishi. AT&T’s efforts to reduce paper consumption include offering alternatives to paper phone directories and shifting some advertising spending toward online efforts rather than direct mail, Shiroishi said.
Like other telecommunications service providers such as Verizon and Cox Communications, AT&T also encourages customers to shift to online billing and ordering. More than 8 million AT&T customers rely solely on online bills, which saves 1.1 billion pages of paper annually, according to company estimates.
Late last year, AT&T did a pilot test in Atlanta and Austin, Texas, of a program that delivered the residential telephone directory to customers on a CD-ROM rather than in a bulky paper form. (The Yellow Pages directory, which includes business listings, was still delivered in paper form.)
Customers were given a number to call if they wanted to receive a paper version of the residential directory, but few people chose that option, Shiroishi said. Although detailed results are not yet available, she said, “Overwhelmingly the response was positive.”
AT&T may consider expanding the program to more markets in the future, but the company’s ability to do that varies from state to state. In some states, the directory business is still heavily regulated and telcos may be required to deliver a white pages directory to every customer. AT&T has petitioned at least one state for relief from that obligation.
“We also make sure that when we print directories, they’re printed on 40% post-consumer waste recycled paper, which is the best we can do without tearing on the printing press,” Shiroishi said. “The types of ink we use are all 100% recyclable, and we have promotional campaigns to advertise paper drives.” AT&T’s Website contains information about where phone books can be recycled.
Like Verizon, AT&T also has reduced the amount of paper used for its bills. By moving to a two-column format, the company saved 749 million pages annually, Hiroishi said. Bills are also printed on both sides of the paper.
“E-billing is by far the biggest paperless telecom initiative,” said Sally Banks, a senior analyst for telco operations at Ovum who has written a report about telcos’ green initiatives. “In addition, much of the fault reporting, repair and field maintenance is now completed electronically on wireless devices.”
Telcos don’t need to be altruists to make reduced paper consumption a priority, Banks said. “Many of the operators are very keen to reduce their paper usage. But although we would like to think the biggest motivator is caring for the environment, it is much more likely to be a cost saving that is the biggest priority.”
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