The myth of the paperless office

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Research shows that the paperless office isn’t as environmentally friendly as some proponents of the concept might have us believe.

French President Emmanuel Macron last week reminded us all that “there is no Planet B.”

With most of the world focused on reducing its carbon footprint and delivering on environmental objectives under the Paris Climate Accord, misleading claims about the eco-benefits of going paperless take on a new significance.

Improving the awareness of the benefits of print on paper

The ICT sector is responsible for approximately 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions – roughly the same as the airline industry. Also, the end-of-life processes for the disposal of unwanted electronic devices is problematic, at best.

Meanwhile, the claims around the benefits of going paperless ignore the sustainable nature of print on paper.

Paper comes from a renewable resource and comes from proactively managed woodland that contributes huge benefits for the environment and the people who live close to them – creating important green spaces that contribute to local flora and fauna, provide leisure opportunities and help achieve clean air targets.

An eco-conscious industry

What’s more, the paper industry enjoys one of the best closed-loop recycling systems in the world.

Recycling rates are high: in 2013, the paper recycling rate in Europe reached 71.7 percent.

The demand for that recycled product is also high: 53.5% of the fibers used in new paper and board are sourced from paper for recycling.

The implications for business

The potential for claims about going paperless to overstate the green credentials of business has two key implications for business leaders.

First, the decision about whether to move to a paperless office needs to be considered in the round, without the automatic assumption that moving from paper to computer-based systems is inherently “green.”

Second, managers need to rethink the way they market their own operations. Moving to a paperless office isn’t enough to warrant saying your organization is “environmentally friendly.” Careful consideration of the claims being made is important.

Going green does not mean going paperless, but it sure means be more eco-aware and preferring true earth-friendly products like paper made from the wood of sustainably managed forests.