By Tina Martin
You’ve seen the signs and read the writing on the wall: the world is slowly but surely making the switch to digital. Almost everything we did on paper—from paying bills to filing taxes—we now handle electronically. As a business manager or owner, you’ve likely contemplated moving your business to digital. You may have also asked yourself: is it worth the (likely significant) time and money investment? However, one question you may not have considered: what is the environmental impact?
While going paperless has been hailed as eco-friendly—and there is certainly value in being mindful of your paper use—there is some debate on whether or not digital is actually the greener option. Both digital and paper have their costs or “carbon footprint” and the evidence is inconclusive if one is better than the other in terms of the environment.
A report from the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the UN E-Waste Coalition found that, if current trends continue, global production of e-waste is on track to reach 120 million tons per year by 2050. It detailed that the world produces up to 50 million tons of e-waste per year, while only 20 percent of this is formally recycled.
Preserving our forests is also critical and, with a net loss of 440 million acres of forests globally since 1990, there has been an increasing emphasis on sustainable forest management practices as well as efforts to protect existing resources. Whether you opt for paper or digital it is important to recognize the environmental implications, be aware of excessive waste, and take a more sustainable approach.
Eliminating paper is not as easy as it sounds. Most systems are designed for paper, and it takes time, effort, and plenty of experimentation to get a working digital equivalent going. Below are some suggestions to help you get started, while keeping sustainability in mind:
- Address electronic waste. Whether your company is 100% paperless or not, it is important to consider the environmental implications of e-waste. Educating your employees on this issue and initiated an e-waste recycling program should be a key component of sustainability efforts for every business.
- Get employees on board with the upgrade. People don’t always like change – and technology is a major change. You must reduce resistance from employees and acquire their support. Have a conversation with them, talk about what the new system would entail, and how it would affect (or lessen) their workload. Make it positive and try to put their minds at ease.
- Perform a paper-free audit. Digitization is tough. When you’re attempting to digitize complex tasks, it requires serious expertise, manpower, and resources. However, most organizations won’t have trouble going digital when it comes to the basics—like document storage, sharing, billing, and collaboration. Look at your processes and see where you can go paperless and what’s too prohibitive for you.
- Find good software and hardware. You will need to create a digital infrastructure for your documents. Critical paperless software tools you should look into getting are a cloud storage app (like Google Docs), a note-taking app, a to-do list app, an e-signature tool, and a scanning app (to convert paper to digital). A document management system may also be necessary to control everything. You may also need hardware, such as computer servers and storage.
- Digitize existing documents. You’re now ready to digitize your documents. You can put every department in charge of its own files and ask them to scan important documents by a certain date and shred the rest. You will need to come up with an organizational system (or use a document management app) before you digitize your documents.
Going paperless doesn’t mean the same thing for every organization. Look at what your competitors are doing, research industry trends, and don’t be afraid to experiment and refine as necessary.
A Sustainable Approach
With or without paper, we live in an increasingly digital world, which means even more e-waste. Like any area of life and business, it is important to try and keep sustainability at the forefront. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but doing what you can to offset negative impacts to the environment can make a significant difference.
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