By Joseph O’Brien

Many would like to scream yes but, in reality, offices today are far from paperless. People find it hard to let go of paper, with reams and reams of it being consumed in offices around the world. What is the appeal of paper? We look at some of the pros and cons of a paperless office, and explore tangible ways in which you can reduce paper waste in yours.

Global paper stats put things into perspective

Paper is a global commodity, and its production hinges on a huge global industry. The paper industry places an obvious pressure on our environment, but paper can also be bad for business:

  1. Globally people consume circa 57 kg of paper & cardboard annually, with the US topping the charts with a whopping 229 kg per annum (more info here).
  2. In 2009, paper made up 16% of US landfill waste.
  3. The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper a year.
  4. Large organizations lose a paper document every 12 seconds, costing them $350 to $700.
  5. More than 70% of the world’s businesses would face imminent failure in the wake of a large scale paper-destroying incident like a fire or a flood.
  6. 45% of office paper gets trashed at the end of the day (paper statistics from the Paperless Project).

The environmental and business case for paper waste reduction is obvious, but changing office habits of a lifetime takes its time.

What are we waiting for?

Despite being part of the corporate zeitgeist for a few decades, the paperless office is still far from reality (as are those hover boards that everyone thought we’d be getting around on). It’s not that technology hasn’t move forwards, but businesses haven’t followed. What makes it so hard for us to move on from paper? Here’s some reasons why businesses are holding back:

  • People are wary of change and some paper-heavy processes have been around for ages.
  • A discrepancy in staff abilities means some newer technologies have low adoption rates.
  • Lack of proper facilities can hinder adoption of paperless methods.
  • Lack of environmental awareness and education means business owners don’t always see the need for change.

Why does paper still matter?

But aren’t there business processes that actually benefit from paper? The truth is that many legal, creative and educational industry practices are still heavily reliant on paper. From signing contracts to drawing and editing – sometimes paper is unavoidable and the best medium for a task.

  • Paper allows for a creative connection with a task and is favoured by many artists, designers and illustrators.
  • In the higher education sector, there has been a significant push towards online submissions and online marking, but many editors still feel the need to mark on paper copies.
  • Similarly, complex legal documents need to be reproduced as paper copies.

How to make your office more paperless (painlessly)

What sort of behaviours should a paperless office cultivate? What are the key ways to manage paper consumption, without interfering with business processes?

Starting simple

Starting with these simple steps is a great way to shift your company culture towards a more paperless future. Adopt the following practices:

  • Duplex (doubled-sided) printing as standard.
  • Scrap paper provided for internal printing.
  • No email printing policy.
  • Shared meeting agendas.
  • Cloud computing for document edits and version control.

Integrating paperless into your company culture

Make reducing paper consumption part of your company ethos. Shout about it in newsletters, post about it online and anywhere else relevant. Get key members of staff on board to be your paperless advocates.

Utilising paperless innovations

Online notes, online mind-maps, CRMs, e-payslips, cloud computing- there are loads of paperless tools out there for small businesses that could help you save money, time and resources. From paperless payments to online HR portals, the beauty of adopting paperless methods is that they are often cheaper than traditional ones, and you will always have an online support team to lean on.

Investing in technology & digitisation

Investing in the right technology will increase staff engagement and productivity, as well as reduce paper waste. Invest in dual monitors, online portals and consider whether staff could use smartphones and tablets over paper notes.

Managing paper processes efficiently

This isn’t just about going on a complete war-path with paper, but about focusing business processes around the right kind of paper and technology. Question whether you could smarten up your business procedures by investing more heavily in cloud computing. Following the latest best practices will make a big different to waste, productivity and efficiency. Make sure you use high-quality printers that don’t waste energy or paper, and invest in secure shredding services so that the paper you do consume is properly managed. Always buy the right sort of paper- you want paper that is responsibly sourced and non-chlorinated.

Paperless office benefits

Not ready to go completely paperless yet? Even just cutting down on paper has huge benefits:

  • A less wasteful and more environmentally-friendly office.
  • Less will be spent on paper, printing, photocopying and recycling/waste disposal.
  • A more streamlined, less cluttered, office atmosphere with less archiving.
  • More efficient and accountable office processes.
  • Less human error & increased productivity.
  • Inefficient single hard copies replaced by backed-up data on cloud systems.
  • Increased competitiveness in the global marketplace.