Snail mail meets e-mail

It isn’t very often that little, neutral Switzerland makes headline news internationally, except of course when Roger Federer wins again, or when scientists undertake experiments in the Hadron Collider to explore the structure of the universe, or when hikers casually practise their sport naked in the slopes of the Appenzell. But now Swiss Post, the national postal service, is going semi-electronic, and that warrants a headline or two, at least in the technology and environmental sections of the news blogosphere.

Subscribers to the new system (called Swiss Post Box) can choose to have their mail (and I mean ‘mail’ in the quaint, old-fashioned sense of the word) scanned and sent to them as PDF documents, and then have the original paper documents shredded or forwarded to them. Here’s how it works:

  • Subscribers use a special postal address provided by Swiss Post Box to receive their mail
  • Employees at Swiss Post Box scan the front and back of every incoming envelope and provide details such as dimensions, weight, and estimated number of pages in the sealed envelope. The images and accompanying information are e-mailed to the customer.
  • The customer can then choose what to do with each item. Junk mail can be shredded without a second glance. Cheques or parcels can be forwarded without being opened. And documents can be scanned and e-mailed to the user, after which they can be shredded or sent on to the user in their physical form.

The system is based on a service offered in the USA called Earth Class Mail, which boasts all of the above features, plus the option to have a prestigious address in Hollywood: ‘If you’re in the entertainment industry, this address says you’re a player, no matter where you live.’ (Only in the USA!) If you’re worried about the security of your confidential documents, Earth Class Mail go to great lengths to reassure you. They’ve thought of everything, including monitoring their employees to ensure that they do not take any recording devices into the office – not even a pencil…

Is this kind of initiative likely to lead to a greener flow of information around the world? Or are we just shifting the locus of the carbon emissions? I’ll leave that to my green colleague, Matthew, to answer…

Gabi Witthaus, 13 July 2009

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