Going paper-light is good for the environment, but it’s even better for business

(Image credit: Image Credit: Geisteskerker / Pixabay)

The concept of the ‘paperless office’ was introduced back in the 1940s driven primarily by concerns about efficiency, and with the technological advancements that have emerged since then, one would think we would have put the concept into practice by now. However, despite this talk of reducing our reliance on paper, according to Environmental Paper Network, global consumption of paper increases year-on-year and recently exceeded 400 million tonnes per year.

The paperless office has clearly proved more difficult to achieve than many anticipated for a wide range of reasons, be they practical, cultural or technological, but it’s important that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The logic of reducing our paper dependence is sound, and cutting our consumption can deliver considerable cost, efficiency and sustainability benefits. But instead of aiming to not use paper at all, which is perhaps too high a bar to set, they should aim to go paper-light.

Indeed, with the right tools and solutions in place, organisations can fast-track their moves towards going paper-light easily and with minimal effort. However, for these initiatives to be successful it’s important that all stakeholders understand what the organisation wants to achieve by going paper-light – and why.

To that end, we have compiled a list of the top four reasons why businesses should move towards paper-light ways of working.

1.            Accelerated processes and better agility

The majority of businesses have started their digital transformation in the hopes of driving the efficiency of core business processes, but by depending on paper many are making their lives harder for themselves. Information locked away on printed pages isn’t easily shared, analysed or found, impeding collaboration and slowing down the business tempo. By digitising your documents you can automate a number of processes, making them faster and more accurate, minimise admin overheads and increase productivity per employee.

To exploit the advantages of digitisation and deal with the sheer volume of content, organisations are turning to Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems. ECM solutions capture, store, analyse and automate content that was previously unstructured and difficult to access. When effectively managed across the organisation, accessing digital documents, images or audio files is secure, compliant and efficient.

ECMs have existed for a quarter of a century and have improved continuously over the years, retaining the key features of the basic model of a complex suite of technologies based on the business premises which have made it a hit.

Content management is in a period of transition from ECM services to cloud platforms. One of the driving ideas behind the implementation of legacy ECMs was to put content online, where it could be accessed more easily than paper. But with the cloud, content is even more readily available. Workers in remote locations, including in different time zones, are able to collaborate easily by accessing documents in the cloud anywhere in the world on multiple devices.

Furthermore, by cutting down on paper usage, and digitising and automating process, organisations can reduce the amount they spend on consumables associated with printing and consolidate the number of print devices in their offices.

2.            Security and compliance

Another benefit of becoming paper-light is that digitisation enables document controls, which reduce the risk of confidential data leakage associated with printed paper that may be left unattended.

By digitising documents, the security and control of documents fall under the auspices of organisation-wide cybersecurity strategy. This includes employee acceptable usage policies and ISMS (Information Security Management System) controls such as ISO 27001.

As security threats are constantly evolving, continuous monitoring is essential to establish ongoing governance of print infrastructure and ensure compliance through the ability to trace unauthorised access.

Monitoring, controlling and auditing access to documents used to be very time-consuming, but time associated with these tasks can be lessened thanks to the use of document digitisation technologies, allowing most processes to be automated. 

3.            Reduced paper consumption

Not only does going paper-light by digitising help to accelerate processes, and enhance security and ensure compliance, but it also results in reducing costs and environmental footprint.

Print management solutions can help organisations achieve a much greater level of control and visibility over their print activity, enabling them to identify where there are high levels of unnecessary printing and put policies in place to reduce it. Less printing means lower costs, lower energy usage, fewer carbon emissions and fewer environmental impacts associated with the production of paper, plastics and chemicals.

Adopting digitised document processes can reduce the use of printed documents to an essential minimum. This not only reduces paper consumption overall but also eliminates ‘accidental’ or duplicated print jobs and the need to use paper for unnecessary purposes.

4.            Greener reputation

Awareness around environmental sustainability has grown significantly since the introduction of the paper-light concept and is clearly gaining momentum. According to Global Web Index, Millennials especially seem to care more about it with 60 per cent of them stating that they would pay extra for eco-friendly or sustainable products. This compares to 55 per cent of Gen X and just 46 per cent of baby boomers. So, what does this mean?

To really make a difference, businesses have to look beyond their own offices and use their influence over their supply chains to grow a broader culture of sustainability, taking it from a buzzword to a better way of doing business. This means asking suppliers difficult questions about how they manufacture their products and the steps that they have taken to reduce their own environmental impact.

Of course, there’s a difference between intention and action, but businesses could miss out on opportunities if they’re not making this move.

A positive outcome for everyone

Organisations that fail to digitise and move toward a paper-light future risk their document processes becoming outliers and obstacles to digital transformation. Minimising paper-centric processes and optimising the use of digitised documents helps to have a wider visibility of digital opportunities from the early stages of the organisation’s digitisation process.

For organisations that still need to print, it’s all about choosing the right partner to deliver your printed documents in the most environmentally positive way. It would be a missed opportunity to look at environmental sustainability as simply a box-ticking exercise when considering your next print and document management solution.

Sustainable print and document management is not only about printing less or using recycled paper but limiting the environmental impact of the whole product lifecycle, from packaging and day-to-day use through to the end-of-life process of decommissioning the machine and its components.

And while environmental sustainability changes societies, lives and futures – it also makes sound economic sense too. Reducing energy, materials usage and waste is a positive outcome for everyone.

Chris Gaskin, Document Solutions Consultant, Kyocera Document Solutions UK