Email today brought a piece of interesting news – greenpost is an integrated billing system designed to rid ourselves of paper billing, by going digital.
Here’s a screenshot:
Googling the company only got me as far as their greenpost page again, and their facebook group. I’d have thought its an effective way to spread the message, at least by just facebooking it, but I had not heard of this, and it has been around since 2005 (the idea). GreenBills Pte Ltd is the startup firm who has gotten this going, and has four billers in its system now: Starhub, M1, Singtel and Singapore Power.
The three major telcos in Singapore have already signed up, and I think that’s a great step. Moving on to registering, I found it really easy to get myself an account. This is how it looks like at my homepage:
Now, as you can see, I don’t have anything billed to my name because they’re under my parents’ names, so here you see there’s N.A. for all the four billers. Of course, when I get back and when I start renewing my contracts and stuff, I’d eventually add the billers to my account. What I’m going to do next is to get my parents to sign up for this.
So do I need to go online every time I want to view my bill? Well here’s the great part: bills can be downloaded to your computer, so you can have an unlimited archive of all previous downloaded bills in pdf format stored in your computer. It makes me wonder if they have tied up with any company that provides programmes for budgeting and handling financial accounts – now that would be a cool system to get into. Imagine yourself being able to check your accounts on your blackberry/PDA whenever, wherever, that’s convenience at its peak.
But before I digress, I was thinking: there must be some catch, right? Turns out that this is a free system; no one is going to have to pay, and the site seems secure. Seeing how I got this email via NUS sources, I pretty much trust it already. So searching some more gave me this article reported in October 2009 by WILDSingapore.
If you search the site, and go to the FAQs, you’d also notice this little thing saying: earn credits while you save paper! Or something to that effect. Point is, they’re talking about carbon credits here. Every time you get a new bill online, they also tell you how much paper you would have saved. If greenpost can save 2 million sheets of pages per month, it can enable itself and its billers (its companies) to earn carbon credits.
That to me, is tough territory here. Carbon trading has been in talks since about 20 years ago, and carbon credits, carbon offsets, carbon neutrality, carbon taxes, all threaten to propagate the perception that pollution is OKAY, and instead give licenses for polluting companies to carry on. While I give it credit (pun intended) that this is a new field, we should be cautious about the assumptions it makes, and perceptions it perpetuates.
It doesn’t remove the source of pollution, but instead allows it carry on under a facade, a guise that they are somehow compensating and so do not need to cease their polluting ways. It’s the same as how Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is used by countries as an index of economic development – initially conceptualised to quantify social progress by the United Nations in 1945 – but does not really measure social progress, and instead becomes a larger value even when pollution increases, traffic accidents increase, and hospitalisation rates increase -> because GDP per capita increases whenever there is a monetary transaction, in other words, whenever money exchanges hands. As a result, industrialised nations increase their GDP per capita, but at what cost? That topic however, is for another time.
Carbon credits don’t weed out the source, but mediate symptoms instead. For information on carbon trading and its history, Larry Lohmann writes sharply, and his book is available here.
Back to the topic. While there are great advantages to a system such as this, tech-UN-savvy users who are not connected to the internet or don’t even have computers will be left out of the system. It addresses the majority of users yes, but we should be careful not to make certain factions of our society become passée. It doesn’t mean we don’t go ahead with these plans, but it means we should take steps to incorporate these people.
I applaud GreenBills on its commitment to its mission for a paperless billing system nationwide by 2012 – now remember to click on “Stop Envelope” when you sign up and add the billers to your account, because that tells the billers their customer’s demand to stop paper billing. It doesn’t mean you immediately stop getting paper bills – your biller will tell you when they are going to stop it – but it means you’re letting them know you want this.
Lastly with the money that companies are saving from not sending customers their bills by post, we should also insist that whatever polluting ways they have should stop. Corporations should channel this money responsibly, not into more pollution or more technology that brings pollution. Otherwise what we have done is not offset our increasing usage of the environment, but further increase resources used instead.
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