Going Paperless Is the Easiest Way to Go Green at the Office

Transforming your office into a less wasteful and more energy efficient space really isn’t that great a challenge — especially since the technology available today makes going green so easy.

And while it’s true your actions alone aren’t going to make environmental issues suddenly go away, you should still be proactive in reducing your organization’s ecological footprint. It’s both the socially responsible thing to do and will ultimately save your business money, which definitely represents a strong incentive to going green.

In other words, there’s no excuse not to take a good look around your work space and consider what you can do to change your habits, namely in terms of paper consumption.

Here are a few facts that will give you a clearer understanding on why the environmental footprint of a single sheet of bleached white paper is off the charts: it takes 324 liters [85.6 U.S gallons!] of water just to produce one KG of paper — that’s already insane, but it’s worse when you understand just how precious a resource water is fast becoming. Yet Americans casually throw away 4.5 million tons of that office paper every year. That’s just what we discard, but even the paper we actually use at work tends to be redundant: Recent studies indicate that 45% of documents sitting in filing cabinets are nothing but duplicates and worse, 80% of those documents will never be referenced again.

On the positive side, however, there’s a slew of affordable, easily accessed and implemented technologies out there that will either eliminate, or at least substantially reduce, the amount of paper needed to run most businesses:

1. Ask Your Employees to Start Thinking About the Issue

Let them know it’s important to you and to try and reduce the amount of paper they use as much as possible. Meanwhile, set the office printer default to double-sided and make sure your employees keep, re-use and eventually recycle scrap paper at every opportunity. Then reduce your font sizes a notch, use smaller margins, and edit the “fit to page” layout. These are all little things but collectively they’ll make a noticeable difference to your paper consumption.

2. Switch to Electronic Invoicing

Who mails invoices out anymore anyway? There’s plenty of inexpensive software out there to simplify the process, and most of your customers will probably prefer being billed electronically anyway. You’ll also save on expensive paper, ink, envelopes, stamps, and the time required to put it all together and go over to the post office to mail everything out. Throw in the speed and efficiency that comes with electronic invoicing and going green is really a no-brainer.

3. Use Online Fax Services

Yes, I know, the good old fax machine seems pretty antiquated these days. However, it remains surprisingly common in some industries — doctors, for instance, continue to use faxes in an effort to ensure HIPAA compliance. Certain law offices and real estate agents also depend on them to distribute contracts. All that has been made obsolete by digital signatures, secure online consultations and online fax services.

4. Use Digital Signature Services

Most of you probably already realize that in most jurisdictions, an email message is considered a legal document. So if somebody confirms a given price to you in an email and doesn’t respect the agreement, your original email will serve as a fairly powerful resource for you in court. Consequently, for in-house communications like confirming purchase orders or approving decisions, you need nothing more than an email server.

Things gets a little trickier when you’re dealing with external and/or more complex documents, or agreements that are reached in person and in different places, such as real estate deals. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of inexpensive software services available that enable you to imprint your digital signature from your tablet or smart phone, or embed multiple signatures on the same document and share them in the cloud. When you stop to think about how much paper needs to be printed out just to sign your average full-length contract, the ink and paper expenses alone might be all the justification you need to start seriously considering going the digital signature route.

5. Go Digital With Everything

Do you really need to print out an agenda for every employee for every meeting you conduct?

Of course not. Why print out employee manuals or any other in-house documents when you can just make the information available online or through an email? How many of those documents are just going to be discarded or filed away without ever being looked at anyway? Going green has never had such a low barrier of entry.

There are of course countless other ways you can do your bit for the health of the planet — and your wallet — that don’t involve reducing or eliminating your use of paper. For example, switch over to LED lighting and/or try to use as much natural light as possible, switch off your air conditioners at night, use green cleaning products, reduce water consumption with the good ol’ brick in the toilet tank trick, avoid unnecessary packing materials by buying in bulk — the list is practically endless. But start with paper. As you can see there’s nothing to lose by going green and plenty to gain.

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Written by:
Chris Barry is a freelance writer based in Montreal, Canada. His product reviews and interviews with small and medium-sized business owners have appeared in hundreds of publications, both online and in print. Visit his website.
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