The Wisdom of the Paperless Office

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Twenty years ago Sting was going on and on about saving the rain forest. Every time you'd turn around, Sting was with some group griping about deforestation. It was easy enough for many to tune out Sting and his "save the rain forest" buddies, but it turns out we should have been listening.

Worst of all, not only didn't we heed Sting's urgings, we humans got even more greedy for wood. Each year the U.S. alone consumes around 200 million tons of wood products, and this number increases 4 percent each year. The biggest source of wood consumption is paper production. U.S. paper producers consume one billion trees. That's the same as 12,430 square miles of forests each year, resulting in 735 pounds of paper for each American. Although the U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world's population, it consumes 30 percent of the world's paper.

Given our love of paper consumption, we can make a huge impact by going paperless. That might sound impossible, especially given our mental relationship with paper. After all, we've always done work on paper. That's how work is done.

It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing shift. Even if you just reduce some of the paper you normally consume, you're helping. Whatever the scope of change, we can (and probably need to) make a paradigm shift.

Beyond saving Sting's friends – and like so many other green efforts – you'll save money.
A 1997 report from Gartner indicates that the average document is copied nine to 11 times at a cost of about US$23. To file a document, it cost US$25. Even worse, the cost to retrieve a misfiled document is US$153.

Given that thousands of pages of documents can be backed up onto a CD-ROM, can you imagine the savings in backing up a filing cabinet full of paper documents? Although this incurs some initial cost and takes time to do, what would happen if the office caught fire? And this is just copying existing paper. If you adopt a paperless office, you only have to do it once, and then it's all maintenance.

The paperless office brings sundry benefits, not only to your organization, but also to the environment, including the following:

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