The Paperless Office – More Hope Than Reality?

When we moved into the digital era in the 1970s, it was confidently predicted that we would develop into a “paperless society”. Since then, we have struggled towards achieving this utopia, particularly with the concept of the paperless office.

Trying to go paperless
photo credit: EFF

Paper and the Environment

Over the past 30 plus years, there has been a rising consciousness about the impact of paper production on the environment and the destruction of trees. This has led to increased moves to reduce over-dependence on paper within the office environment, leading to waste reduction initiatives and better recycling facilities. The onset of recession in 2008 also led to drives to reduce operating costs across all areas of a business, not least by reviewing the consumption of office supplies and paper.

The Mobile Office

This gradual shift in mindset has coincided with constantly developing technologies. In theory, we shouldn’t need to print anything off now as we can transfer everything as digital documents, communicate via email and sign up for paperless billing. Readily affordable smartphones and tablets also mean that the mobile office is now a fully functioning reality as all our information can be stored on gadgets the size of a paperback without the need to print off extensive documents to be able to read them.

So this means we can throw out the office printer, right?

It’s a great theory, and I think we would all very much welcome the day that might happen, when we are no longer surrounded by towers of paper on our desks. I think the reality is very different.

WRAP’s Green Office Guide in May 2013 estimated that an average office worker uses as much as 45 sheets of paper per day – more than half off which is likely to be unnecessary waste. And whilst global production capacity has fallen from its 2005 height of 110m tonnes, capacity still remains at 102m tonnes for 2012. Overall, these figures indicate that our dependence on paper is still as high as it’s ever been, slowing down as a result of the recession, not a concerted effort to reduce our usage. On a more positive note, we may be consuming as much paper as ever, but recycling has increased from 52% to 72% over the same period.

Eco-friendly office
photo credit: Aurimas

The cost of a paperless office

It may sound like a great way to reduce your business’s overheads – cutting the cost of spending on paper, printers, toners and inks and so on, but it can actually cost a great deal to make the transition. A paperless office means that every hard copy document needs to be checked, individually scanned and stored electronically, then disposed of securely. The National Archive carried out a study to find out how much it would cost them to do just this. It came to a staggering £259m to reduce the contents in their reading room by only 20%.

Meanwhile, it’s been calculated that only 1% of businesses in Europe have achieved the paperless nirvana, so there seems to be a long way to go.

About the Author: This article is written by Pitney Bowes suppliers of postal materials including franking machines, envelopes and letter folding machines.