Steal This Idea: Sprint Switches to Netflix-Like Envelopes to Save Money, Trees

Why use two when one does the trick? If every credit card and phone company did this they'd save millions of dollars—and trees.

Sprint may have made a devil's bargain with Apple for the privilege of pushing the questionably-sourced iPhone, but the cell company maligned for spotty service is pushing the envelope on environmental ethics—and hopefully will pull its competitors along.

Today, Sprint announced it will become the first major phone company in the United States to ditch the traditional—and surprisingly wasteful—envelope. The company will send out bills to customers in a patent-pending EcoEnvelope, a Netflix-like two-in-one design that can also be used by the customer for sending checks back to Sprint. The power of perforation on display.

According to the company's projections—and the Environmental Paper Network Paper Calculator—swapping out the traditional envelope will save about 447 tons of paper and $500,000 in operating costs in the first year. That's a C02 savings equal to taking 244 cars off the road.

With those numbers, this seems like no brainer, but reinventing the envelope wasn't easy. Sprint tells GOOD, a "Paper Leadership Committee" at Sprint has been working on the new envelope, which converts from a 6x9 size to a standard one, for nine months. New protocols for packing and unpacking them had to be created and the USPS had to weigh in too.

That a company can cut costs and waste at the same time shouldn't be news. But Sprint was the only company in its industry to get above a C+ in last year's ForestEthics rankings on paper use and forest stewardship. There's a lot of learning to be done on the office services side of telecoms and credit card companies who still have to ship out millions of invoices each month. Sprint topped the rankings because of a company-wide push to reduce paper use, and targets like 100 percent Forest Stewardship Council certified paper sourcing by 2017.

Of course, it'd be even better to just not send out paper bills at all. But until e-billing becomes the norm, this small step is a welcome nudge to customers and competitors alike.

Now, maybe Sprint can get that 4G network up and running in NYC. It's been two years since you promised me my Evo4G would be fast as the wind.