“If you line up the 30 billion checks issued by the top check writing countries in
the world each year, you’d have a paper trail all the way to the moon and
back.” The video,
Global Mobile Finance contains statements such as
these that truly make us wonder when we are going to finally leave the check
In the B2B world, the drivers for most organizations moving away from paper checks and onto electronic payments are purely economic: lower the cost per
payment; capitalize on transaction rebates; reduce financial fraud exposure,
etc. While these are true and sound reasons for making the transition, many
of us forget the large environmental impact of paying by check.
When looking at the environmental impact of check processing, it’s easy to just
focus on the check stock itself. However, as you dig deeper, you realize
that there are often envelopes, extra remittance pages, and sometimes even
stamps involved. But it’s not just paper resources that are being
consumed. The check stock has to be transported to the printing facility
through fuel consuming methods – truck or plane. Then the printed checks
need to be transported to their destinations via the same methods. Once
we are looking at fuel consumption, we need to consider the effort and energy
that companies use to obtain and refine the fuel and the greenhouse gases put
off by consumption of that fuel. What we end up with is a very long trail
of consumption and wasted energy. Within that context there is a truth which
more and more organizations are beginning to realize: There is nothing
done by check today that cannot be done electronically – whether a person to
person mobile cash transfer like in the above video, an employee direct deposit
or a virtual card or ACH payment to a vendor.
There is a large infrastructure in place to support paper check processing
today. From the many lockbox solutions to Check 21, there have been great
advances in making the transfer of funds from checks quicker. But has
this just numbed the pain enough to make it tolerable? Has this been
enough to slow down our desire for change? The inertia of the check
processing system can appear daunting to overcome, but the fact still remains –
checks are not our only payment alternative.
I encourage all of us to look beyond just the business and economic impacts of
check processing. An ROI Calculator such as the one on my employer's website allows you to see the green benefits of moving away from paper checks. For every 1,000 checks we migrate to electronic payments we save 37 pounds of paper; we prevent 352 gallons
of wastewater; we avoid creating 359 pounds of greenhouse gases; and we preserve 52 sq feet of forest.
If we carefully use the earth’s valuable resources, we should never be in need.
Together we can make a real impact by leaving the check behind. Let me
know your thoughts.