Imagine this world. The calm and meditative silence that remains after the constant hum of a hungry community paper shredder ceases to exist. The end of the corporate waste paper basketball league as the ladder collapses department by department due to a lack of suitable equipment. Stark sentries of armored metal file cabinets disappearing; in their wake, rows of carpet tiles as clean and bright as the day they were installed.
What does a paper-ending apocalypse leave behind? The hum of an office hard at work. People with purpose, focused on the things they were educated and trained to do. Documents available to everyone, no matter where they are – in the office, at home or on the road. A business environment – nay, a global playground – that is just a little bit richer, cleaner, safer and more sustainable, contributing to a better future for employees, customers, markets and grandchildren everywhere.
Until now, the idea of a paperless office has been a story passed through boardrooms since the dawn of technological innovation. A legend. Some might say a myth. But with the encouragement, support and advocacy of the business community, including the Association for Information and Image Management’s World Paper Free Day (https://www.aiim.org/wpfd), which is celebrated on November 4, 2016, we’re discovering that some fairy tales do come true… and we can live happily ever after without piles of paper taking over our valuable office space.
“Paper-Free” is not Just a Day of Sacrifice… it’s a Sound Business Practice
World Paper Free Day is a day of education and the start of a journey. It’s a commitment to reduce paper waste, print less, and digitize more. Sure, it’s a change in habits and a shift in culture, but the benefits are incredible. More companies than ever are finding that by going green, it really is possible to see more green. How?
- Reducing the company’s environmental footprint is simply the right thing to do
- Employees work more productively
- Using less paper reduces business costs
- Better processes create business efficiencies
First, let’s take a look at the dark underside of that ultra-white, general purpose paper that your employees load by the ream into the printers and copiers across your company.
The Surprising Environmental Impact of Paper
Clean manufacturing and the proliferation of service-based businesses in the United States have resulted in a skilled and educated workforce facing far less occupational risk than our parents and grandparents may have encountered. As we handle more information and produce more documents in our daily work, many of us are unaware of the dangers a simple piece of paper pose to our environment. In fact, it’s not far-fetched to consider every sheet of paper your company purchases to be a “toxic asset.” Here’s why…
From the pulp mill to the landfill, the manufacture, transport, and disposal of paper has negative environmental consequences. Even as the paper and pulp industry has improved over the years to become cleaner and more sustainable, it remains a major contributor of pollutants and a significant user of energy and water resources. To maintain consistent product quality, the industry often promotes forest monoculture and deforestation, which harm the health of forests around the world, as well as the surrounding environment, including rivers that supply water to places where people live. The industry also uses a variety of chemicals and compounds in the making of paper products, including BPA, chlorine gas, sodium hydroxide, and thousands of other hazardous and potentially toxic substances.
In a world where working people are more concerned than ever about what they eat, the chemicals they use on their body and in their homes, the fuel that propels the cars they drive, and who often hit the gym for a daily workout or yoga practice, we have to ask: why would you want to handle paper products made like that dozens of time each day?
And why should you have to handle paper at all when you can use technology to eliminate the cost of consumables and increase business process efficiency?
How Much Does Paper Really Cost?
Sure, it’s easy to spend $6 or $7 on a ream of paper. Why fix something that’s cheap and not broken? Easy. It’s not so cheap, and manual processes can cause huge breakdowns for your business.
Think about these stats from The Paperless Project:
- 45 percent of the paper your employees print finds its way into the trash can by the end of the day. You have to ask yourself, why are these things being printed in the first place?
- S., companies spend more than $120 billion a year on printed forms, many of which are obsolete within 90 days. One new field, one compliance change… more wasted paper.
- A four-drawer file cabinet holds about 10,000 to 12,000 documents, takes up to 9 square feet of floor space and costs $1,500 per year. Not to mention that storing large amounts of files can require architectural changes to ensure that an office floor can handle the load bearing weight of the file cabinets and contents. Then add in the administrative time, cost and effort it takes to file, retrieve, copy, and refile documents. You get the picture.
- A single misfiled document can cost the company $125. A lost document can cost $350 to $700. Large organizations lose a document every 12 seconds. We’ll let you do the math because numbers that big give us a headache just thinking about them…
Cheap isn’t cheap. The cost of paper adds up fast.
Change Makes Your Business Run Better
The best reason to go paper-free might just be the one your employees, stakeholders, customers and accountants think about the most. A company that runs better is more profitable, more satisfying to work for, and creates more value for the business and its customers. And frankly, technology is getting really good at helping enterprises meet those goals.
A study by AIIM suggests that a host of real efficiencies are driving electronic document access. These include:
- Improved searchability/sharability of business documents. Tracking a piece of paper is hard. When a person that has it often forgets they have it, and when a person who needs it doesn’t know who to ask, it’s worse than a “bottleneck.” It’s a business failure. Technology systems can centralize the storage of documents, index them, and make them accessible to everyone (or those who have express permission to see them).
- Improved process productivity. Imagine trying to get a document reviewed, and then having last minute changes. Suddenly, there’s two – or three or four – versions of the same document moving through the system and increasing the chance of process errors. Automation makes it possible to quickly track and archive versions, notify stakeholders of changes and make sure that everyone is accessing an authority document – wherever it is in the document life cycle.
- Reduced physical storage space. Have you seen the size of hard drives lately? You don’t need to be an IT wizard to compare the small size, tremendous storage capacity and reasonably low cost of a single server to a cumbersome metal filing cabinet. It’s no contest, really. And one server room can support the enterprise needs of multiple offices and remote users, providing significant benefits for saving space and making equipment maintenance easy.
- Records security and compliance. The best processes in the world don’t work if people don’t follow them… a serious risk as many industries are becoming highly regulated and subject to governmental laws and industry policies and best practices. Document management systems can streamline processes, making them extremely consistent and enforceable from document creation to record disposition.
- Faster response to customers/citizens/staff. With easily accessible and indexed documents, customer service staff can quickly find the documents they need to handle inquiries, provide status and solve potential problems. Automated communication can ensure that employees are alerted to tasks related to documents in process, resulting in faster action and handoffs.
The screen quality of devices continues to improve, allowing individuals to comfortably read documents at workstations and on mobile phones and tablets. Furthermore, a recent study shows that on-screen reading of documents may help people better understand concrete details, aiding in problem-solving and analysis.
On November 4, we encourage you to e-mail more and print less. Electronically distribute more company documents like HR policies, procedural guides, and company newsletters. Maybe even replace that paper towel dispenser in the restroom with an air dryer. Every action helps to save our planet and save your business some hard-won dollars. At the same time, think ahead to November 5, December 31, and next year. What if you keep using less paper? What if you streamline your document life cycle with technology solutions? What if you could make document creation, storage and even backup and recovery more efficient for long-term benefit?
What if you took that paper-free journey?