Beyond convenience: embracing digital receipts for environmental sustainability and efficiency

July 5, 2024

In the modern era, where digital transformation is crucial, the shift from paper-based processes to digital solutions is not just a matter of convenience or cost-efficiency but also a significant step towards sustainability.

In a 2023 article in Nature, the journalist Jeff Tollefson highlights the critical assessment of over 200 researchers regarding the imminent threat posed by climate change, indicating the potential for the world to transgress several planetary "tipping points" (i.e., the thresholds beyond which small perturbations can lead to significant and often abrupt changes in the state of an ecosystem or climate system.

This scientific evaluation underscores the precarious position of our planet's environmental stability, suggesting that without immediate and substantial intervention, we risk triggering irreversible changes to Earth's climatic systems and biodiversity.

Among the numerous contributors to environmental degradation, the production, usage, and disposal of paper, particularly paper receipts, have raised concerns. In Italy for example, we print yearly 35 billion paper receipts made up of non-recyclable thermal paper. To produce this paper, we deforest 1.4 million trees (100 times NYC Central Park) and the carbon footprint of the entire supply chain is equal to 88.000 tons of CO2 (2.500 flights Rome - Tokyo).

Additionally, the use of paper receipts in our society is completely unsustainable. These receipts are typically coated with chemicals harmful to both humans and the environment, making them non-recyclable due to contamination risks. In Sweden alone, 60,000 trees are harvested for receipt production, contributing to this issue. Moreover, they are often an unwanted aspect of our daily lives socially.

Furthermore, consumers worldwide are pushing for a circular economy and better waste management, alongside various regulations aiming to minimize the environmental impact of business operations. Businesses are increasingly expected to integrate green initiatives and waste reduction into their daily activities, striving to be as environmentally friendly as possible while reducing their overall environmental footprint.

In this regard, the adoption of digital receipts serves multiple environmental benefits. Firstly, it directly reduces the demand for paper, thereby decreasing deforestation, water usage, and energy consumption associated with paper production. Secondly, it minimizes waste production, as digital receipts do not contribute to physical waste in the same way paper receipts do. Moreover, digital receipts offer greater accessibility and organization for consumers, who can easily track their purchases and manage their finances without the clutter of physical receipts. Since 2010, Wadsworth and co-authors outlined the necessity for an electronic receipt management system.

The authors concluded that the successful development and operation of a functional prototype for a system demonstrated the feasibility of an electronic receipt management system, suggesting that it has the potential to replace the outdated and inefficient paper-based receipt system in the future.

The benefits of transitioning to digital receipts extend beyond environmental impact. For businesses, digital receipts offer a more cost-effective solution by eliminating the need for paper, printers, and ink. Additionally, digital receipts open new avenues for customer engagement and loyalty programmes, allowing businesses to tailor their offerings based on purchase history and consumer preferences.

From a consumer perspective, digital receipts provide convenience and security. They eliminate the risk of losing important receipts, reduce wallet clutter, and offer an easy way to return items or file warranties without the hassle of keeping track of paper receipts.

As the world moves towards sustainability, the role of technology and innovation in reducing environmental impact cannot be overstated. Startups like BILLD are at the forefront of this transformation, offering solutions that not only cater to the digital preferences of consumers but also address critical environmental issues. Specifically, BILLD is a fintech startup that has recognized the urgent need for sustainable alternatives to paper receipts. BILLD's innovative digital receipt service marks a significant leap towards environmental sustainability by offering a first-of-its-kind device that enables businesses to provide digital receipts to customers.

The shift to digital receipts is a testament to how small changes in our daily transactions can lead to significant environmental benefits. By embracing digital alternatives, businesses and consumers alike can contribute to a more sustainable world, one transaction at a time.

Antonio Grotta: Control Engineer. Ph.D. student at Scuola Superiore Meridionale (SSM), University of Naples Federico II, Italy with name Modeling and Engineering Risk and Complexity (MERC). Co-founder of BILLD s.r.l. Current works are related to Artificial Intelligence and control of complex systems.

Julio Ariel Dueñas Santana: Chemical Engineer. Master of Computer-Aided Engineering. Ph.D. student at Scuola Superiore Meridionale (SSM), University of Naples Federico II, Italy with name Modeling and Engineering Risk and Complexity (MERC).  Current works are related to Sustainable Development, Artificial Intelligence, Systems Thinking, Safety Management, and Risk Assessment in the process industries and the energy sector.

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