What could be a more appropriate time to think about a “paperless office” than today, Earth Day? I can think of lots of reasons to reduce the amount of paper used in your office that have nothing to do with ecological concerns. Electronic documents are easy to search, update, and store. No space-grabbing file cabinets needed. Filling out forms is faster when many fields are automatically populated with data from an HRMS system, and documents are sent with a click of a button. Utilizing software that facilitates moving from a “paper-heavy” workplace to one that’s “paper-lite” improves efficiency and reduces cost. But what about the effect of paper on the environment?

Paper and pulp industry

Did you know that the paper and pulp industry, world-wide, uses over 40% of all harvested wood? It’s the largest industrial user of water and is the third largest air, water, and soil polluter. Making about two pounds of paper requires over 85 gallons of water.  One piece of A-4 paper needs 2.6 gallons. Despite recycling efforts, 93% of paper comes from trees.

Chemicals used during the process, including chlorine-based bleaches, result in toxic waste that can find its way into water supplies and soil. Even when we’ve finished with a sheet of paper and it’s decomposing somewhere, it emits methane gas. Who knew?

Of course, technology is advancing, and some companies are making an effort to reduce their negative environmental impact. Still, the industry is a major polluter.

How much paper do we use?

Overall, Americans use about 9,125,000,000 tons of paper annually. That’s a lot of trees (about 7 per person), and deforestation is a big concern. We receive 6,500,000 tons of junk mail in a year. An office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. That adds up to about 4 million tons. Forty-five percent of that is in the wastebasket by the end of the day. That’s expensive trash—American companies spend $120,000,000 a year on paper forms.

And these statistics don’t include the “incidentals” like notepads, sticky notes, or the paper cups and plates used in many office kitchenettes.

It’s about more than saving money

So, while mulling over the impact of paper use and going paperless in your office, don’t consider only the bottom line. Think about the effects paper-heavy business practices have on our environment. What’s good for business can be good for the earth, too.






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Mary van Balen
Mary van Balen
Technical Writer at Delphia Consulting
Mary van Balen is based out of Columbus, Ohio and is a writer for Delphia Consulting. Mary contributes to the Delphia blog on Human Resources issues and Delphia Consulting and Sage product related updates.