image: paperless officeThe old rule of paper was, “File, Don't Pile".  However, with growing eco awareness, there is a clear environmental need for paperless offices.   The paper industry is one of the world’s major polluting industries and one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases with over 900 million trees cut done annually. The EPA reports that paper is the number-one material thrown away, comprising 40% of our waste stream.

Additionally, according to FDE, the global volume of purchasing documents is approaching 150 billion per year with invoices representing up to 50% of the total outbound business paper volume.  While there is an abundance of work being done to create electronic solutions, the reality is that emerging markets represent the most significant increase in paper volume.  Is there any chance of stopping the seemingly unstoppable avalanche of paper?

Fortunately, progress is being made!  "Research shows a significant number of Americans plan to cut their paper consumption in half in the next 5-10 years. That’s one of the findings of a new survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by TNS global on behalf of Nitro – the maker of PDF products. Nitro developed the survey to find out why offices have not gone paperless in the age of iPhones, tablets, and computers".  ~ Ecopreneurist

As shared in our business sustainability consulting practice, most business leaders identify cost savings as the driver towards moving towards a paperless office.  Granted, reduced consumption and eliminating storage space does save money.  However, the added bonuses of increased worker productivity and the availability for employees to work remotely make moving to a paperless office appealing. Additionally, going paperless is a sustainability concept that is easy to grasp and implement.  It is also rewarding because employees and management learn sustainable processes as well as see results.  Specifically, a long term benefit is that by taking actions to incorporate sustainable business practices of going paperless, it  re-orients thought processes and business approaches to view other areas of the business with a sustainable mindset.  

We mention in a recent post, Small Business Tips and Tools for A Paperless Office, ways to identify and reduce paper use.   In this post, we'll explore electronic business solutions to engage stakeholders and suppliers in adopting paperless solutions.  As with any business sustainability implementation, stakeholder buy-in becomes the most critical aspect of change management.  To entice suppliers and consumers to utilize an electronic solution, FDE presents a multi-phase approach:

•    Phase 1: Define the Value – Offer clients an electronic invoice solution as a mutually beneficial hard-dollar printing and mailing cost savings.

•    Phase 2 Offer an Easy Solution – Often a single point of contact (third party aggregating website, online banking) for invoices for all suppliers.

•    Phase 3: Target Highest Value First – Large organizations, typically the innovators for e-invoicing, push their larger trading partners with higher volumes.

•    Phase 4: Leverage Consumer Interest – The public sector is in an excellent position to initiate the breakthrough in the mass market.

In addition to procurement activities, there are a variety of online document management systems available. The best options offer the ability to manage different types of data:  emails, contracts, logos, reports, forms, drawings, web pages, blogs, etc.  

So yes, going paperless is sustainable.  Becoming a paperless office can be part of a sustainability plan or be an independent environmental action taken to reduce the business' carbon footprint.  Take the Paperless Challenge!  For strategies and tips to becoming a paperless office, read our post A Guide for SME's: How and Why to go Paperless or Social Media Helps Create A Paperless Office