Archive for February, 2013

We don’t hear much talk about the societal effects of going paperless, but the federal government is pushing the conversation to the forefront as it moves to eliminate paper-based payment options for a host of federal benefits, including Social Security.   In an effort to save money, Uncle Sam will require all Social Security recipients to use direct deposit or pre-paid debit cards to receive their benefits effective March 1.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) makes the case that most seniors, around 80 percent, already receive their benefits via direct deposit, so this policy change is really nothing new.  But what’s good for most isn’t necessarily good for all.

I’ve been blessed to have many older people in my life.  Some are computer savvy and have no problem with electronic banking.  But others are not.  Asking them to tackle a completely foreign way of getting the money they depend on each month is disconcerting at this point in their lives and in the case of the debit cards is potentially costly.    What the government fails to take into account is that some seniors don’t have bank accounts [1] and 45 percent of Americans over age 65 don’t own a computer.[2]  Those who don’t have no way to check each month to be sure their Social Security check has been deposited.

While cyber-security is a concern for everyone, data on those already receiving government benefits electronically show that seniors are prime targets for cybercrime.   The Social Security Administration’s Inspector General reports an increase in fraud since the start of the paperless benefits program, perpetrated primarily on elderly beneficiaries.  In most cases, criminals obtained sensitive personal information and were able to redirect the victims’ direct-deposited benefits to a fraudulent account. According to the Inspector General, thousands of reports of this type of fraud have been filed with an average of 50 reports each day.

Seniors who don’t have bank accounts and must use the debit card option may face even greater risks.  Unlike paper checks, stolen debit cards can be used with little identity verification required.   Thieves are already exploiting this reality by taking advantage of Americans who receive tax returns in the form of debit cards.  The New York Times reported [3] that this type of crime is so simple and lucrative that violent criminals are giving up their guns for laptops.   Florida, with its large senior population tops the list of those hit by what the U.S. attorney for Florida’s Southern District calls an “epidemic” of identity theft.

Add in the fact that seniors uncomfortable with the digital world must remember PINs and that many places they shop don’t accept debit cards for payment, and lives are further complicated.   In addition, Social Security debit cards carry a variety of fees, including ATM cash withdrawal fees after one free withdrawal, charges for a monthly paper statement and others, taking money from people on fixed incomes who can least afford it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for programs that save taxpayers money.  But why cause unnecessary upheaval and hardship for some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens by forcing them into this one-size-fits-all paperless world?  The number of paper Social Security checks issued is declining naturally over time as more computer-literate people retire, so what’s the rush?

A new coalition called Consumers for Paper Options has organized to provide a voice for millions of Americans who are being left behind by the federal government’s efforts to go paperless. To put a stop to these ill-conceived government efforts, the coalition is currently working with members of Congress to craft a resolution that reinforces the value of paper-based communications, especially for vulnerable populations, and directs federal agencies to ensure  that citizens continue to be provided with paper-based information while providing, where  appropriate,  the  ability  for  all  citizens  to  opt-in  to  electronic delivery if they so choose.  This resolution is a first step to enacting policies that address both the digital divide and rapidly growing cyber-security threats that make paper-based communications a must for many Americans.

While all this is getting sorted out, you might want to take some time to check in with your older family members, friends and neighbors to make sure they’re prepared for the coming changes.  Any Social Security recipient who does not sign up for direct deposit by March 1 will automatically begin receiving benefits on a prepaid Direct Express debit MasterCard.   Folks need to be careful not to mistake this card for a credit card solicitation and mistakenly throw it away.

Kathi Rowzie is a Two Sides guest blogger and a sustainability communications consultant with The Gagliardi Group in Memphis, Tennessee.

  1. National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 2011
  2. Exploring the Digital Nation: Computer and Internet Use at Home, Economic and Statistics Administration, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Department of Commerce, 2011
  3. With Personal Data in Hand, Thieves File Early and Often,” New York Times, May 2012.

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I was walking down a busy downtown street surrounded by tall mega-buildings, trying to ignore the bitter icy wind, when a realization crossed my mind.  My travels have brought me from the beautiful forested lot I own to the 30th floor of a skyscraper to discuss “save-a-tree” claims with a well-known bank that’s encouraging customers to choose lower-cost electronic statements instead of paper.

The situation seemed so ironic and somewhat ridiculous.  I began day-dreaming about my enjoyable trip earlier that week when I was snowshoeing with my dog on a peaceful day after a snowstorm, surrounded by surreal-looking snow-covered spruce and fir trees.

Questions popped into my mind one after the other:

  • Have these executives ever visited a privately-owned forest?
  • Do they understand all the social, environmental and economic benefits such land offers?
  • Have they ever talked to a private forest owner?
  • Do they realize they are upsetting so many people with misleading claims about paper; a product made from responsibly managed and renewable North American forests that’s highly recyclable, made from a high percentage of renewable energy, and that stores carbon over its useful lifetime?
  • Do they realize that switching from paper to electronic communication is not without impacts and that our rapidly growing appetite for e-gadgets is causing a drain on non-renewable resources and rapidly increasing the amount of e-waste we need to deal with?
  • In fact…how much thought have they put into their environmental marketing message to promote e-statements?

Even before my meeting, I had to conclude …not much!

The meeting went relatively well but I don’t know if this company will change its marketing claims.  I said all I could to the corporate lawyers and environmental staff facing me.  I used all the key arguments I knew to explain that responsibly produced and used paper can be a sustainable way to communicate.  But in the end, they didn’t appear convinced.  Why?

The main reason I can think of is that there is a significant disconnect between many people, including corporate executives, and the print and paper value chain.  I wish they had been with me the week before, walking through my forest.  I would have told them about the 60-plus bird species that make their habitat there in the summer, from ospreys to numerous species of wood warblers, the edible mushrooms and berries I often collect and cook with (my Chanterelle soup is to do die for…according to me!), and the speckled trout and salmon that swim by every summer in the cool clean waters of the river bordering the land.  We would have also examined the numerous tracks in the snow: moose, white-tailed deer, short-tailed weasel, snowshoe hare, red fox, coyote and more.  These are the real-life images of sustainable forestry.

The land I own has been used for over 200 years to produce forests products and it is still a healthy forest with most of the tree species that were there when Europeans first moved to the area, as well as the wildlife and birds.  The original deed, written in old English, dates back to July 19, 1810 from the office of George the Third, King of England and Ireland.  That was the year the tin can was invented and Beethoven composed Fur Elise!

Written in the deed is a statement that the British Crown reserved the right to the tallest and strongest Eastern White Pine trees to use them for masts in the local ship-building industry.  Since that day, numerous forest products have been made from this land—pulp, timber and OSB for construction and many others, yet it remains a beautiful forest with all its bounty.

Hopefully more people, from school children to corporate executives, will someday have a better understanding of the multitude of environmental benefits that responsibly managed forests bring us.  The need for a more science-based environmental education in our school system is clear.  In the meantime, Two Sides continues to educate people on the value of sustainable forestry and forest products like paper.

The good news is that persistence does pay off, as my second meeting with a different company resulted in true commitment and an invitation to sit on a stakeholder committee to help craft an accurate environmental message.  They had even recently hired a forester as part of their environmental team…there is hope!

It is my belief that many people, and society as a whole, would greatly benefit from a closer connection with well managed forestlands and a better understanding of the environmental, social and economic benefits of sustainable forestry.

It is my belief that many people, and society as a whole, would greatly benefit from a closer connection with well managed forest lands and a better understanding of the environmental, social and economic benefits of sustainable forestry.

Phil Riebel
President and COO
Two Sides U.S., Inc.

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Paper bills or e-bills. What do you prefer?

What does your billing company want you to receive?

We want to find out how consumers are reacting to the increasing requests to receive bills and statements on line.

Is this convenient for you? Is it better for the environment?

We’re asking these questions and others in our multi-country survey issued last week.

If you work or are planning a career in the printing, paper, or other allied industries, you may be biased in your answers, but please complete the survey and then SEND TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY. We want the views of as many people as possible.

We would greatly appreciate if you took 5 minutes to COMPLETE THE QUICK SURVEY HERE.


Phil Riebel
President and COO, Two Sides U.S., Inc.

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