The Paperless Office

Back in 1978, Micronet proposed that in the future offices would be paperless and everything would be done on the computer. Some 40 years later, paper consumption has risen 400% and today 35% of harvested trees are used to make paper and paper products which is staggering. 

At GEN

We've been virtually paperless since 1998 when we removed the majority of printers from all area's of the business except accounts. We also discontinued ordering business cards, brochures and other promotional paperwork. Accounts still had customers who wanted bits of paper in the post and wouldn't accept it any other way, and likewise those same customers used to pay their bills with bits of paper called cheques. As the years passed this requirement for paper invoices steadily reduced and as of Jan 2015 we only had four customers demanding paper invoices. At this time in a partner meeting it was decided that we would simply no longer provide paper invoices, nor accept payment by cheque and that we would support the four remaining customer through their transition to paperless all we could. I am pleased to say that despite their considerable resistance all four transitioned ok in the end. 

We currently have absolutely zero printers in the company (excluding those belonging to customers in for service/repair) and this is unlikely to change in the future. 

But we went one step further, and demanded of our suppliers that they send us zero paper and everything must be sent electronically, and here was where the dream stumbled. Many suppliers had 'systems' that automatically print out paper and send it and they have no control over that - which to my mind is incomprehensible. Others could only send paper because their accounts software didn't have the features to generate a PDF. We worked on these suppliers over the years and at annual supplier reviews those still sending bits of paper were highlighted and we gradually moved away from them. Today, in 2019 we have only two suppliers who simply cannot stop sending bits of paper in the post.  

  • Barclays Bank
  • Virgin Media

Now it should be noted that some suppliers may well be producing bits of paper and then just not sending them to us which would be a shame, but we don't have visibility of this and so we cannot quantify it. 

Environmentally

Worldwide about 69% of Green house gass production comes from the Energy and Transportation industries, but paper production only accounts for about 1% of this, but the breakdown of paper products in landfill produces methane which is a green house gas and this is not quantified because paper is not buried separately.

Printer consumables on the other have a huge impact with 500 million toner cartridges and 1.8 billion ink cartidges making their way to landfill per year, with an expected decomposition of between 450 and 1000 years, during that time leaching dioxins, PAH and heavy metal pollutants most known to be carcinogens into the environment. 

No matter which way you throw this, cutting down trees, pulping them, bleaching them, rolling and pressing them, cutting and transporting them to stores, then transporting them to offices to have plastic printed on them, then transporting those bits of paper in other bits of paper to other offices to take up space in metal cabinets is a ridiculous practice that serves no justifiable purpose in the 21st century. I'm sure our great grandchildren will be watching documentaries about this someday and laughing at the obsurdity of it all. 

The Future

We've done our part, and we've proven that paperless is absolutely achieveable. We strongly encourage all business leaders to take up the challenge and work to reduce or even eliminate the paper from their offices, because this doesn't just help the envirnonment but it also saves a bunch of money!