As the proud owner of Australia’s biggest small share portfolio (106 stocks worth just $73,144 yesterday), you do pick up some interesting shareholder correspondence. This week’s surprise missive came from retailer David Jones, which is no longer going to send dividend cheques. The letter explained the move as follows:

In the future, David Jones intends to pay all dividend payments by direct credit into your nominated Australian bank or financial institution account. This means that after this payment, dividend cheques will no longer be issued to Australian resident shareholders. Direct crediting of dividends is a faster and more secure method of receiving dividends.

The letter goes on to spell out the benefits, namely cost savings for David Jones, earlier access to funds for shareholders and reduced risk of loss or fraud. However, there is no mention of the environmental benefits.

Telstra was the first major company to refuse snail mail payments, as it was part of federal government policy. While David Jones says the “vast majority” of shareholders are already on direct debit, Telstra is withholding a $100 dividend cheque for me until I get around to filling in the form.

Other companies like AMP followed suit and now David Jones has made the move. When combined with the proposal to make the sending of annual reports voluntary unless a shareholder specifically requests it, we’re looking at some substantial paper savings, which is a good thing.

However, the size of documents sent to shareholders continues to get bigger by the year. For instance, a 284-page telephone book arrived from Record Investments last week spruiking its proposed acquisition of associate Allco. Here are some of the other big shareholder documents we’ve come across over the years:

Three way Westfield merger in 2004: 392 pages
News Corp move to America in 2004: 374 pages
CBA takeover of Colonial in 2000: 352 pages
Telstra 2003 annual report: 340 pages
WMC demerger in 2002: 320 pages
BHP’s 2005 US annual report (20-F): 320 pages
BHP-Billiton DLC merger in 2001: 304 pages
Brambles DLC proposal in 2001: 256 pages
Toll bidder statement for Patrick in 2005: 202 pages

There’s no doubt that increased regulation and disclosure requirements have not been good for the environment. Peter Costello says that his federal budget has blown out from 2cm to 8cm over the past 10 years and we all know that the Tax Act is up from 3,500 pages to 10,000 pages over the same period.

You’d have thought that electronic communications and the internet age would see paper consumption decline, but the reverse is happening. Newspapers have got larger, not smaller, and we’ve seen the advent of News Ltd’s giveaway mX littering the public transport system in Melbourne and Sydney every afternoon.

Junk mail is still on the rise and the likes of PMP, Australia’s biggest printer, and Salmat, Australia’s biggest direct mail company, continue to carve out a profitable existence. Even Christmas card postage revenue for Australia Post was up last year.

So what other tangible steps could be taken to get tree consumption down? All suggestions gratefully received, including on other large shareholder documents we’ve missed, to [email protected]