communicationA study has revealed that more than three quarters (76%) of UK consumers want the right to decide whether or not they receive paper or digital bills and statements as more organisations seek to go ‘paperless’.

1,000 UK adults were among 6,800 respondents from 10 European countries who shared their opinions on print and paper. The study[1] was conducted by the not-for-profit organisation Two Sides and independent research company Toluna.

The results are backed by campaigning organisation Keep Me Posted, which believes that the consumer should have the right to choose paper bills and statements without penalty.

The study found that consumers overwhelmingly want the right to choose how they receive their communications (digitally or printed) from organisations.

Key findings include:

  • 58% of UK consumers (54% EU) believe that they should not be charged more for choosing a paper bill or statement
  • If a UK consumer was forced to move to digital by their current service providers, 32% (29% EU) would consider switching to an alternative provider
  • 59% of UK consumers (55% EU) are increasingly concerned that their personal information held electronically is at risk of being hacked, stolen, lost or damaged. Over 55-year-olds are the most concerned (64%), however, many younger people have the same worry (58% of 25-34-year-olds)

Judith Donovan CBE, Chair of the Keep Me Posted campaign, said: “This is an increasingly worrying trend from organisations that are making their transactions completely digital and removing often vital choices for our consumers.

“4.5 million adults in the UK have never used the internet[2], and these individuals may soon be left with no option to view their documents, or a hefty bill for the privilege.

“Often, it is the most vulnerable members of society who depend on traditional, postal, transactional mail and the move to an online only society risks leaving many individuals disconnected from their own information.

“Businesses must be mindful that they do not alienate loyal or vulnerable customers over this issue. Providing the option to choose will create a more inclusive model going forward for businesses and consumers alike. The decision to choose paper bills and statements is a better choice for all, but it is an essential choice for many.”

Organisations often present going paperless as a cost-saving measure or as a more environmentally friendly option. However, businesses should be mindful of their campaigns, believes Jonathan Tame, managing director of Two Sides Europe. He said: “Businesses should steer clear of misleading claims about protecting the environment, this is greenwashing.

“Greenwashing is where broad statements of the environmental benefit of switching to digital communications from paper are not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence.

“Statements that digital is better for the environment are hugely damaging to a sustainable industry with a good environmental story to tell, and are often used to mask true intentions of cost savings and financial cutbacks from these companies.”

Judith Donovan backs Tame’s warning about using environmental reasoning and warns that further cuts in the industry could have a serious impact on the wider economy. She said: “Greenwashing and scaremongering around environmental concerns are unnecessarily threatening to the print industry.

“Campaigns stating that paperless communications are better for the environment are not just misleading, but hugely damaging to an industry that employs over 110,000 people.

“These statements are not supported by science and are misleading consumers, creating a false and lasting negative impression of the print and paper industry.

“The right to choose paper bills and statements will help streamline the process and ensure that only those who require print are receiving it without further unnecessary damage to the industry.”

The Keep Me Posted campaign calls on organisations including banks, councils, utility companies and telecoms providers to give their customers a choice in how they receive transactional communications. The Keep Me Posted Mark of Distinction enables consumers to instantly recognise when a business has opted to give its customers the choice of paper bills and statements without penalty.

Two Sides continues to actively challenge major organisations found to be misleading consumers by using environmental claims about the use of paper. Its goal is to promote the sustainability of the graphic communications supply chain and dispel common environmental misconceptions by providing users with verifiable information on why print and paper is an attractive, practical and sustainable communications medium.

[1] The global study of 8,800 consumers was commissioned by Two Sides and conducted online by independent research company Toluna in January 2021. Nationally representative surveys were undertaken in Brazil (1,000), the United States (1,000) and Europe, including Austria (500), Belgium (600), Denmark (500), Finland (350), France (1,000), Germany (1,000), Italy (1,000), Norway (350), Sweden (500) and the United Kingdom (1,000). The survey explores consumer preferences, perceptions and attitudes towards print, paper, paper packaging and tissue

[2] Office for National Statistics, 2018