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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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July 8, 2008 8:28 AM

Email Could Be The Greenest Application Ever

Over the weekend I was pondering how broadband can be used to improve the efficiencies of business, which led me to considering the long-promised paperless office.

At first I chuckled at the thought. The sad reality is that instead of eliminating paper, email and the Internet have created more paper waste than perhaps any technology that preceded it as so many people print off emails to read, annotate, and/or archive.

But then I took this a step further, wondering: What will it mean when we're able to transition all paper mail to electronic form?

That's when it hit me. By doing this we may be able to realize the greenest application ever.

The biggest part of this is recognizing how much energy and waste comes from traditional mail.

First there's the resources needed to create the envelope, the stamp, and the paper inside. While my general understanding is that we've gotten pretty efficient with our tree farms for paper so it's not like we're tearing down rainforests, even still it requires machines to plant, harvest, and process the trees as well as lots of water and chemicals to turn wood pulp into pristine white paper.

Then there are the chemicals and plastics needed to create ink, pens or printers, stamps, and the sticky part of an envelope that allows it to seal shut tightly. And unfortunately, it seems that spam, those unsolicited and unwanted letters, tend to have the highest concentration of colors, stickers, and plastic pieces, which almost always get deposited directly into the trash upon reception.

Once I letter's signed and sealed it needs to be delivered. That means a postman driving to your house to pick it up. The letter then has to be sorted and stored. Next it gets onto a plane, train, or automobile to move from one city to another, where it is sorted and stored again. And finally it's delivered by another postman on the other end. While I don't know the numbers for sure, I'd estimate the average letter travels on a minimum of three vehicles for what I'm sure is more than 100 miles.

Now, of course the ecological impact of each individual letter is minuscule. And adding another letter onto a plane or car won't add much incremental cost or result in a lot of extra pollution.

But I'm not talking about one letter. What I'm marveling at is what it could mean to fundamentally shift the dominant paradigm totally away from snail mail and over to email.

How many trees could stay standing?

How many fewer chemicals would we need to make paper and ink?

How many miles would be saved from having to move letters around?

How much trash could we reduce from entering our landfills?

This is not to say we get rid of the mail system entirely. Obviously we still have great need for it to move around objects that can't be sent electronically, like anything with physical substance bought online.

But imagine the benefits to our environment if we could only wake up to the potential of a decades old technology to replace a polluting 20th century paradigm with the promise of the 21st century.

This is the kind of fundamental shift in society that gets me excited as it's my belief that if we allow ourselves to think big and commit ourselves to following through, anything is possible through broadband.

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