Want to Be a More Sustainable Retailer? Bring the Digital Receipts

Paper receipts make a bigger environmental impact than many realize. Digital options could offer multiple environmental and business benefits.

Want to Be a More Sustainable Retailer? Bring the Digital Receipts
Photo by Mike Walter / Unsplash

CVS isn’t just well-known for being one of the largest pharmacies in the U.S. It’s also become infamous for comically long receipts.

The seemingly mile-long printouts might seem to be nothing more than a quirky inconvenience at first, but the environmental impacts of receipts are real. And customers take notice, even if it's somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

(Tweet from @TheeMaryWilson sourced via @CVS_Receipt)

But CVS has come a long way over the past five years or so. By working with the nonprofit Green America, CVS has shifted more toward digital receipts, stopped using the chemical BPS to coat receipt paper, and shortened receipt length.

Now, CVS ranks at the top of Green America’s Retailer Receipt Scorecard, alongside Apple, Ben & Jerry’s, and Target. All of these retailers received an “A” grade from Green America for offering digital-only receipt options and using BPA/BPS free receipt paper for printed options.

These might sound like relatively low benchmarks, but plenty of big retailers fall short.

Green America Retailer Receipt Scorecard. "A" Grade = CVS, Target, Ben & Jerry's, Apple. "B Grade = Whole Foods, Lidl, Costco, TJ Maxx, Trader Joe's. "C" Grade = Chipotle, Gap, Walgreen's, Kmart, In & Out Burger, Nordstrom, Aldi, Lowe's, Petco, Aldo, Macy's, Walmart, Banana Republic, Starbucks, Taco Bell. "D" Grade = 7-Eleven, Panda Express, Burger King, Rite Aid, Claire's, Safeway, Family Store, Wendy's, McDonald's.
Green America Retailer Receipt Scorecard. Graphic courtesy of Green America.

Why Should Retailers Care About Receipts?

While receipts are far from the largest contributor to climate change, they might make a larger environmental impact than you think.

It takes nearly 3.7 million trees and 10 billion gallons of water to create receipts in the U.S. every year, according to Green America’s Skip The Slip report. Altogether, the production and waste from receipt paper equals the carbon emissions of nearly half a million cars on the road.

In addition to not being very environmentally sustainable, receipts can also be harmful to human health. A 2018 test by the nonprofit Ecology Center found that 93% of receipts had either BPA or BPS coatings.

“These chemicals easily transfer from receipt paper to hands and are rapidly absorbed into the blood through the skin. Combined with exposure from other sources like food packaging and adhesives, workers in particular can exceed tolerable intake values,” explains the Ecology Center. The organization is conducting a new study in 2022 to see if there’s been progress.

Based on Green America’s work, however, it’s clear that many retailers still haven’t ditched these chemicals, nor have they started offering digital receipt options.

Some businesses might still want to offer paper receipts at times, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the only option or the default option. A Green America survey found 86% of consumers want to see retailers offering digital receipts.

In other words, digital receipts benefits can include improving customer experience, while also potentially protecting employees from negative health effects. Plus, businesses might be able to save money on receipt paper.

Even if switching to digital receipts doesn't yield monumental changes, it's a step in the right direction that can be relatively easy to implement.

Disclosure: Our parent company, JournoContent LLC, has clients involved in sustainability-related areas, among others. The owner of Carbon Neutral Copy, Jacob (Jake) Safane, has investments in sustainability-related companies, among others.

As such, conflicts of interest related to these and other investments/business relationships, even if unintended, may exist at times. Please email info@carbonneutralcopy.com if you'd like further clarification on any issues.

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