At this stage almost all of your business invoices and personal bills are arriving in digital form. Many companies are now charging for printing paper copies of bills, which probably go straight into the recycling after review. It is probable that your customers have insisted on paperless invoices to reduce their carbon footprint, increase their data privacy. Paper is dying out – but it is still an environmental crisis.
How big is the problem
ORS Group in the UK suggests things are bad. In traditional “papered” offices “The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. That’s 20 reams of paper (500 sheets per ream) or 4 boxes of paper in total with an estimated cost of £10 per box.” Of this amount, ORS reckons that 68% is wasted. This sounds like an unbelievable figure, but it is verified by other sources such as The Guardian at 1.5k sheets per month in 2008, and StatisticBrain‘s 2017 data points to a similar 10k/yr consumption figure. There are, of course, other paper streams that may make it into a typical business – the aforementioned invoices, also direct marketing, newspapers, packing slips, community flyers, payslips, contracts, delivery notes, bill of material and manuals… the list goes on.
The true cost of paper
The direct cost of copy paper may be about £10/employee/year but the additional costs are multiples of this. Along with the environmental damage caused by unnecessary paper use, there are also ancillary costs e.g. storage requires secure cabinets and space, destruction requires shredders or professional services (e.g. for bound manuals, etc). Also the cost of printing often surpasses the cost of the actual paper. The cost of lost hours to people waiting for prints, fiddling with printers, appropriately filing paperwork, etc is difficult to measure, but likely to add to the net cost of printing to businesses.
What items can go paperless?
Some items need to be printed and retained. However, most items are printed by businesses for perceived convenience, rather than actual necessity. Take for example packing slips on deliveries – it can be helpful for the recipient to have a paper copy attached to a package – but the same cross check could be performed via a PDF on a laptop or iPad. Equally, it can be handy for accounts to receive a copy of an invoice on paper to file, but it may not be legally required. Items such as payslips, contracts and manuals may actually make more sense to store and deliver digitally (for security, versioning, backup and access reasons).
In general some good tips to follow for the printing of materials, and requesting printed records:
- Is it legally required to be kept in paper form?
- Is it likely to be only viewed offline / away from a digital device?
- Is it something people will need to view every day? (e.g. a safety notice!)
- Is it something that is likely to be more secure in paper form than if digitally stored?
… so if it doesn’t make sense to print, observe those little notices on the end of paper conscious email users!