Christmas lights and the NFC paper trail

Last updated: 11 April 2014

News that Christmas lights in Cambridge (UK) were turned on using an NFC smartphone this year has prompted me to take a look at NFC’s eco credentials. Aside from the festive novelty of using a phone to turn on a set of Christmas lights, NFC has the capacity to have a profound effect on the environment over the coming decade – reason alone to get involved. It’s easy to trivialise the use of NFC, but in reality, its purpose extends far beyond convenience, marketing and administration.

In London, the Oyster card is hailed as an environmental asset. With 100,000 fewer paper tickets being sold every day, the London Underground now prints 32 million less paper tickets each year since the smartcard was introduced in 2003 – a total of almost 200 million! Not only does this help save trees – it also reduces litter, making London a cleaner place.

The same is true in France, where the introduction of healthcare cards has helped to save 2 billion sheets of paper, not to mention the additional resources required to package, post and process these documents.

E-ticketing is already widespread in Europe as transport systems using ‘touch in, touch out’ technology allow users to keep track of their top-ups, as well as view their journey history. The e-ticket has been part of our lifestyle for over a decade, but we’re only now starting to see the truly mobile aspect of it – shedding the need for a printer.

The NFC wallet is a great example of how NFC could save resources. For the London Olympics 2012, NFC will function as an all-encompassing aggregator for speedy and efficient event management at the greatest show on earth. Smart-tickets will have the dual function of acting as both contactless payments and travel cards. By 2014, it’s estimated that NFC technology will be used to pay for US$110 billion across North America and Europe – with Disneyland already successfully trialled.

Speed is undeniably attractive to consumers, but it’s not without detail that the world will embark on such a change of habit without understanding all of its benefits. Intelligent marketing isn’t about making sales, it’s about justifying them. The environmental prospects of using NFC and M2M communication mean that without a physical paper trail, this decade, we’ll have more trees to put fairy lights on.