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A Paperless Office?

Copyright © Beverley Paine Dec, 2007

I came across an article on creating a paperless office on Dr Mercola's newsletter that started me thinking about New Year's resolutions.

According to FunkyPix, "Australia consumes 1.5 million tons of paper per year. This incurs a relatively higher environmental cost than most countries because of Australia's reliance on fossil fuels in the paper-manufacturing process". Of course, there are a few arguments in favour of paper: Recycling has reduced the need for new paper by at least 25% to 40%; and some paper products are now made from 100% recycled materials. Conversely, the disposal of old computers, computer monitors, and related equipment has become an enormous environmental problem. Paper, in the end, may prove to be the more environmentally friendly product. [Edward Poll and Associates] And nothing beats paper for brainstorming and mind-mapping, especially in groups. And I find the tactile nature of paper adds a wonderful dimension to when I'm feeling creative as a writer and artist.

As a writer and self-publisher I have more of less resigned myself to my part in the destruction of forests, easing my conscience with my annual tithe to Trees for Life, used to revegetate denuded areas of South Australia. Until we had a drastic cut in earnings we also paid a monthly donation to the Bush Heritage foundation, which helps to keep remnant bushland and forests intact. Our business isn't big or successful and doesn't even pay us pocketmoney. I wouldn't even classify as a micro-business (nano-business?), but we still worry about it's impact on the environment.

The tithe is calculated on how many books and booklets we sell, with a set amount from each book. This doesn't take into account the paper I push through my printer. I need to do something about that. Better still, cut out printing altogether, like Dr Mercola plans on doing. Is it feasible? I don't know. But it's worth a try.

The good news worldwide is that, although the advent of personal computers and related technology increased the consumption of paper, the emergence of the first batch of adults to have grown up with this technology has finally produced a downward trend in paper consumption. The availability and ease of use of electronic communication is one of the primary reasons for this welcome phenonemon.

Another article on this subject on suggests that transforming to a paperless office needs to be done in stages. This makes a lot of sense. They say to 'begin with the end in mind', and I've always found this good advice. It's something we did from the outset with home education, creatively visualising the type of person we wanted our children to be at age eighteen. Having that vision uppermost in our minds as we parented and educated our children helped us stay on track. Now that they are all adults I can happily attest to the efficacy of this approach!

I know there will be times I need to use the printer. Final proof-reading and copy-editing needs to be done away from the computer. And I still prefer to send official documents by snail mail. Sometimes it's good to have a paper trail - it can save a lot of time if conflict arises in business or professional relationships or transactions. So, from the outset, I know it's unreasonable to aim for a 100% paperless office. I'll go for a 95% paperless office instead!

We're lucky that efficiency isn't a huge operating concern. The wastage of paper in some companies is huge but cutting back will more additional expense, usually in staffing. Ultimately the environment pays for this economy, but few businesses can afford the drop in competitiveness unless everyone starts factoring true environmental costs into their bottom lines. There will need to be a paradigm shift before then, and I'm hopeful that the current global interest in climate change will help to bring this about.

For years we've been reusing paper that has been printed on one side. Like many people I find that duplexing causes considerable down time fixing paper jams, and now that our secondhand printer is near the end it's life it seems like we're spending more time repairing it than using it. Still, if paper arrives in the office printed on one side only, we use it for printing drafts that need proof-reading or for information that will be read away from the computer, or for our permanent records. Re-using is always better than recycling.

In practice what will this mean?

  1. Setting a target date to fully accomplish the change over: this time next year - Dec 2008
  2. Give up the need to 'feel' and 'see' paper... Think of bulldozed trees and dead critters whenever I see paper...
  3. Identify working documents (transient files) and those that are records.
  4. Make sure that all files are named, dated and filed in sensible and easily understood by anyone heirarchial system in the filing cabinet and on the hard drive. According to all the sources of advice I found on a quick search of the internet "a comprehensive paperless strategy involves a document management system that deals with all documents regardless of their source-scanned, e-mailed, faxed, computer-generated (such as Word documents), and so on" is essential. [FPA]
  5. Set a schedule for transferring published materials to e-books.
  6. Use only basic formats that are compatible with most operating systems.
  7. Rearrange my office; make it an inconvenience to use and store paper records.
  8. Seriously consider using two screens, or a networked computer, so that I can have more documents and programs open at once without crashing the computer...
  9. Inform others about our transformation to a paperless office. Accept only those communications that are essential or more efficient on paper. No junk mail!
  10. Check and upgrade old files to ensure they are still useable.
  11. Back up more often! (onto a server or remote hard drive)
  12. Adopt an 'if doubt, throw it out' policy. Stop hoarding information.

If you are serious about switching your office to using no paper you'll find some great - essential - tips for how to do this in the article as well as on the Financial Planning Association.



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Copyright © Beverley Paine 2002-14. Article from this website may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this entire notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained from the author in order to reprint this article in a published work or to offer it for sale in any form. Please visit Bungala Ridge Permaculture Gardens for more original content by Beverley Paine.