The most significant environmental impact resulting from the SmartGreen® philosophy stems from Aflac’s increased reliance on electronic instead of paper-based transactions.
Aflac pioneered the paperless insurance transaction in 1994 with the introduction of our patented laptop-based SmartApp® application system. The SmartApp software was a winner in the 1999 Computerworld Smithsonian Awards and is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent research collection on information technology. Since SmartApp’s introduction, we have adopted many other paperless technologies to further reduce our reliance on paper and its associated resources. Today, more than 90 percent of our applications are submitted electronically and more than 80 percent of our new accounts receive their invoices online.
Not only do these technologies benefit the environment, they also benefit Aflac by reducing the amount we spend on paper. We’re also saving on the costs of photocopy toner, printer ink and postage — not to mention paying less for storage space and filing equipment. According to research published by the Environmental Paper Network, these indirect costs can amount to 10 times the cost of the paper alone. The switch from paper to electronic transactions also has provided significant benefits in terms of the quality and efficiency of the services we provide to our accounts and policyholders.
As a result of our paperless initiatives, we were able to reduce our paper usage by approximately 28,515,941 sheets (143 tons) in 2010. In other words, in a single year we saved:
- 3,432 trees.
- 2,263,095 kWh (7.7 billion BTUs) of energy.
- 1,287 barrels of oil.
- 8,580 pounds of air pollutants.
- 1,001,000 gallons of water.
- 4,719 cubic yards of landfill space.
We also were able to save approximately $6.3 million on paper, postage, ink and other costs associated with the use of paper. Even better, we anticipate that these savings will continue to increase as we shift more transactions to paperless technologies.
While eliminating the use of paper in every transaction would have the most positive impact on our environment, it is not a viable solution. As a result, paper continues to represent a significant portion of Aflac’s solid waste stream. However, by recycling paper, not only are trees spared, but global warming, soil erosion, habitat destruction and other environmental problems are reduced. Paper recycling also makes good business sense, because company disposal costs can dramatically decrease with the use of a paper-recycling program.
Our office paper recycling program is already reaping rewards, both for our business and the environment, with annual savings of more than:
- 1,371,632 pounds (686 tons) of paper.
- 11,659 trees
- 11,178.8 barrels of oil
- 4,800,712 gallons of water
- 41,149 lbs of air pollution prevented from being released
- 2,263.2 cubic yards of landfill space
- 2,811,846 kWh of electricity. That's enough to power the average home for 96,313 days
Recycling is a very important pollution-prevention activity that reduces our burden on the environment. In addition to paper, Aflac employees are encouraged to collect the following materials for recycling:
- Fluorescent lamps
- Toner and ink jet cartridges
- Microfilm and recording tape
- Ceiling tiles
- Computer equipment
- Plastic bottles
According to Stanford University, recycling of the following materials has numerous benefits:
- Aluminum - Recycling of aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source. One ton of recycled aluminum saves 14,000 kilowatt (kWh) hours of energy, 40 barrels of oil, 238 million BTUs of energy and 10 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Newsprint - One ton of recycled newsprint saves 601 kWh of energy, 1.7 barrels of oil, 10.2 million BTUs of energy, 60 pounds of air pollutants from being released, 7,000 gallons of water and 4.6 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Office Paper - One ton of recycled office paper saves 24 trees, 4,100 kWh of energy, 9 barrels of oil, 54 million BTUs of energy, 60 pounds of air pollutants from being released, 7,000 gallons of water and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Plastic - One ton of recycled plastic saves 5,774 kWh of energy, 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million BTUs of energy and 30 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Steel - One ton of recycled steel saves 642 kWh of energy, 1.8 barrels of oil, 10.9 million BTUs of energy and four cubic yards of landfill space.
- Glass - One ton of recycled glass saves 42 kWh of energy, 0.12 barrels of oil, 714,000 BTUs of energy, 7.5 pounds of air pollutants from being released and two cubic yards of landfill space. More than 30 percent of the raw material used in glass production now comes from recycled glass.
From 2007 through 2012, we reduced energy usage per square foot at Aflac-owned facilities by more than 35 percent. Currently, more than 80 percent of eligible Aflac-owned office space is Energy Star labeled. We’ve reduced Aflac’s carbon footprint and our energy use with these SmartGreen tactics:
- Used energy efficient light fixtures and bulbs throughout our office space.
- Installed occupancy sensors in all company-owned office buildings.
- Upgraded our building automation system, which electronically controls lighting and our HVAC system.
- Used electronic timers to turn off computers and other equipment when they are not in use.
More than 350 employees currently participate in our telework program. If we assume each telecommuter eliminates an average 40-mile, round-trip commute 260 workdays per year (and that each vehicle gets 18 miles per gallon), this program cuts annual gasoline usage by more than 200,000 gallons and reduces carbon emission by 3,919,819 pounds.
- Aflac's carpooling program typically removes 86 cars from the road each workday.