Elizabeth Wasserman: Why did QAI start using registered e-mail?
Hector Flores: We didn’t necessarily have any problems to solve but we were looking at cost and time savings by going electronic. We are accredited by the USDA to do organic certification under the National Organic Program. As such, we have certain record-keeping requirements at certain points in the certification process. In the past, we’ve done this by hard copies, sending out letters, postal service, return-receipt kind of thing. We had the cost factor and the time factor. In terms of it takes a few days to get a letter delivered and get the receipt back. Whereas electronically, w e were pretty sure we could save money and also get it done a lot faster. That has been the case on both sides.
The way the National Organic Program works is that things are certified from the field to your table. The USDA requires that there be a chain of custody from the field to the table if a consumer is going to purchase an item labeled as organic. We may not certify a given product all the way through. Another certifier may certify a product at the farm level and QAI may certify a processor or retailer of the product.
Wasserman: How does registered e-mail work?
Flores: The way it works is that we have an option of sending any given e-mail as registered. You don’t have to send all your e-mail as registered. You only need to send the ones that require registration. We use RPost Registered E-mail. RPost receives it and you get notification that they’ve received it. And then as various thing occur — the e-mail is opened by the recipient and read by the recipient — you get notifications back. If a legal issue arises, we can work with RPost to establish that, yes, this e-mail was sent by us in February 2008, it was received in February 2008, and it was opened or read. It has a real nice verification process that requires very minimal software. We use it with Microsoft Office but it works with other e-mail clients as well. We only need to load it on the user’s system.
Wasserman: What kind of results have you seen?
Flores: We’ve been using this system since the end of 2004. It’s enabled QAI to stop sending duplicate $4 hard copy mailings to clients and USDA officials. Instead, we use one registered e-mail for each notice — at an average cost of about 59 cents per message. We figure that we’ve been saving more than $7,000 a year in postal fees and materials, not to mention endless hours of tedious paperwork. And that number might even be higher since postal rates have gone up.