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The Elusive Paperless Office

Guest post by Paradigm author Denise Seguin

The beginning of the year is a time of reflection, renewal, and purposeful resolutions designed to better one’s life. This year, I found myself thinking about resolutions beyond the typical diet and exercise regimes. I wanted to consider a resolution that would have an impact farther into the future. I started by looking around my home office for inspiration. First, I had to clear up all the paper that had piled on my desk before the Christmas holiday. Ah ha! I had found my inspiration.

When computers arrived in the workplace, many people predicted that offices would go paperless. But the paperless office has eluded most workplaces. By the end of 2017, the consumption of paper had not decreased. Consider these facts published by The Paperless Project (a coalition of companies focused on changing the way organizations work with paper and electronic content):

  • An average office worker continues to use 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year.
  • 45 percent of printed paper in an office is put in the wastebasket/recycle bin by the end of the day.
  • The average document is copied 9 to 11 times.
  • Paper in the average business grows by 22 percent per year.

Over 15 trillion pages are printed globally each year, according to a managing director at Xerox in the UK and Ireland. If the negative impact of workplace paper consumption on the environment does not sway businesses to look for ways to go paperless, the cost of handling all that paper might motivate change.

The Bank of Montreal in Canada uses a metric to quantify the use of paper. A sheet of paper is assigned a value of 0.8 cents, which represents their estimate of the cost to print, scan, transfer, store, and eventually destroy a page. At the bank’s annual usage of approximately 1.6 billion sheets of paper, the cost to the bank for handling paper documents is $128 million (Canadian) per year!

Reading these facts astonished me. However, as I looked around my home office, I realized that I was doing no better than the average office worker to reduce paper usage. For reasons I cannot explain, I still get many of my bills in paper format, pay them online, then dutifully file them away in my filing cabinet. Why don’t I have all my bills come to me digitally? A few years ago, I converted one of my credit card statements to paperless. I told myself this would be a trial run to see if I could remember to pay my bill if a paper copy did not show up in my mailbox each month. Turns out I can. Yet, I didn’t bother following through and converting the remainder of my bills to digital.

I had found my first 2018 resolution—I resolve to convert as many bills as are possible to paperless.

Next, I will tackle my tendency to print an email or a document without first considering why I am printing it and then attempting to do what I need using only the digital copy—printing only when no other option is available (referred to as paper-light).

I’ll end with a note about software provider Decos, a European company that has gone entirely paperless since 2011. To incentivize their employees to go paperless, Decos put their last remaining printer in the furthest corner of the office located in a ball pit. An employee who absolutely had to print a document, had to struggle through the balls to get it!

How will you resolve to reduce your paper usage in 2018?

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