Cost of taking action: £/$/€ SAVES MONEY
The idea of the “paperless office” has been around for a long time – back in the 1980s it was a vision for the future and even then there was an understanding of how wasteful offices were when it came to paper.
But we have all been wary; we want things backed up, we want things to be in hard copy “just in case”, and we have worried about the validity of electronic documents compared to originals, especially when it comes to documents that we normally expect to be signed. We are also creatures of habit.
But things have changed, and it is now entirely possible – preferable in fact – to avoid printing hard copies of anything. So take action and do your best to move to operating your business, office, home office, or simply your household filing on a paperless basis.
Think before you print!
There are a whole host of reasons for us all to try and reduce our use of paper:
- paper is made from trees, and we need trees as carbon sinks (natural CO2 capture)
- paper making and transport produces greenhouse gases and global warming
- making and shipping paper uses fossil fuels and other energy – it’s very heavy!
- it is an unnecessary cost, both to our economies and to us all as individuals
- at a global level, paper filing takes up vast amounts of space, energy and other resources
- printing unnecessarily also uses printer cartridges and toner, adding more costs
- printer toner is toxic and carcinogenic
- printer cartridges cannot be recycled, adding to plastic pollution
- paper filing systems are hugely inefficient and, generally, not searchable
- paper files get lost or destroyed in floods, fires and other disasters
- electronic documents can be accessed and worked on by multiple computer users
- electronic documents cost nothing to send to someone else, anywhere in the world
- electronic documents can be accessed, searched, sent and edited in seconds
Background reading: Papermaking
Making paper is a water and energy demanding process. Firstly, trees are cut down and chipped into small pieces. Then huge amounts of water and heat, plus chemicals, are used to turn this into a fibrous “mash” to separate the wood into individual fibres. Yet more water is mixed in, sometimes along with recycled pulped paper and more chemicals, including bleaches. This slurry is sprayed onto a moving flat wire screen where water drains out, and the fibres bond together. The resulting mix is then pressed through heavy rollers to squeeze out more water and smooth the paper, which is then dried using heated rollers which use large amounts of electricity. Finally, the paper is trimmed and wound into massive heavy rolls which have to be transported for further processing, such as cutting to office standard sizes or the manufacture of packaging.
Paper is readily recycled and of course when it has to be used it should then enter the recycling system along with cardboard. However, recycling is expensive as well as water and energy demanding, and is also limited by the quality of paper required (paper quality is lower if more recycled material is added). The recycling of paper is a finite process because eventually the fibres are too far broken down to be reusable.
Therefore it is much better all round to reduce or eliminate the use of paper in the first place than to rely on recycling.
Why is the paperless office possible now?
The only remaining barrier to reducing office paper use by NOT printing emails and other documents is our own insecurity. This psychological barrier prevents us from relying on our electronic systems. However, these systems are now more than capable of doing the job safely:
- modern computers/servers have massive amounts of storage space for our documents
- such storage space (memory) is very cheap
- PDF files are permanent and can be made secure / encrypted
- organisations (and even our legal systems) are now much more accepting of electronic documents
- cloud computing and cheap back up discs mean we no longer have to worry about document loss
- standardisation of file types around the globe means file incompatibility is no longer an issue
- banks, utility companies and others all issue statements electronically; it’s easy to save them to your PC
Please think before you print an email, statement or other document “just to be safe”. It really is not usually necessary except in the case of some very specific legal documents such as contracts that need to be formalised, a mortgage deed, or your Will.
Every piece of paper you save reduces carbon emissions and helps to protect our environment.
Think before you print!