The Myth Of Going Paperless


The Myth Of Going Paperless

Somebody lied.

Back in the late 1980s, when computers became personal and email became the standard for business communication, we were promised a paperless future. Businesses would no longer be producing reams and reams of paper waste each and every workday. No more mountains of inter-office memos, bloated binders, or crammed filing cabinets. No more trees sacrificing their lives for the minutia of business.

Business Backbone

But somewhere along the line, the memo about the paperless office got lost (or recycled). Hard copy printing is still the backbone of many businesses around the globe. For example:

  • 1 billion photocopies are produced every, single day.
  • The average US office worker goes through approximately 10,000 sheets of paper each year.
  • A typical US business will increase its paper output by 25% per year.
  • There are over 4 trillion paper documents in the US alone, and that number is growing at rate of 22% annually—that’s approximately 880 billion new paper documents each year.
  • US companies end up spending more than 120 billion dollars per year on printed forms. Unfortunately most of the forms will become outdated, thus obsolete, over the span of three months.

What A Waste

Those are huge numbers, yet nearly half of everything printed or copied ends up in a garbage can (or, at best, a recycling bin). According to the Paperless Project, almost 45 percent of the pages office workers print end up junk. According to the Office of Waste Reduction Services, the average business generates 1.5 pounds of paper waste, per worker per day, while the financial industry generates an average of two pounds of paper waste per employee per day. Almost 50 percent of office waste that goes to landfills is comprised of paper that could have been recycled.

Email was supposed to herald the arrival of the paperless office, but studies show the use of e-mail increases paper consumption by an average of 40 percent. For whatever reason, email makes you print more, not less.

To Print, Or Not To Print

Authors Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper examined paper usage in their seminal work, The Myth Of The Paperless Office (MIT Press, 2001). The authors claim paper will continue to play an important role in office life, arguing that paper is often better than digital when it comes to:

  • Authoring: When writing, users prefer to have their references and materials printed around them — perhaps because they can be located within a three dimensional space and grabbed as needed.
  • Annotation & Review: It's easier to comment on a colleagues work.
  • Planning: It's easier to organize projects and activities on paper — perhaps because it is easier to see a larger timeline emerge.
  • Collaboration: People can annotate and follow the groups discussion easier with a hard copy printout. a shared paper or a shared whiteboard at hand.
  • Organizational communication: Print it out and leave it on a co-worker's desk when you want them to see something important.

Less Paper, Not Paperless

Rather than pursue the unrealistic notion of a paperless office, we should work toward a future in which paper and electronic document tools work in concert. With this reality in mind, striving to become “paper-light” is not only a more realistic approach, it eliminates the unnecessary over-reliance on paper as the main way to distribute information.

Hard copy printouts are fast and easy to access, allowing employees to work smarter and more efficiently. Perhaps most importantly, documents printed on paper help companies make better decisions and provide better customer service.

It’s time to wake up from the pipe-dream of the paperless office, and put our energies towards creating a realistic “paper-light” environment. Forward thinking companies—like Toner Buzz—will find and employ information technologies that enhance the benefits of both paper and digital documents.

Rob Errera

Rob Errera

Rob Errera is an award-winning journalist embedded in the world of printers and printing supplies. Rob has nearly two decades of experience writing about cutting edge technology, business trends, and the ever-evolving industry of printing.

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