Going Paperless – Is it As Eco-Friendly As We Are Told?

Samsung Cloud Print

Offices across the globe are working hard to reduce paper waste: avoiding printing where possible by signing documents digitally, creating electronic contracts, taking meeting notes on electronic devices rather than on notepads and more.

But this Earth Day we’re asking: is going paperless in the office as good for the environment as we believe?

Statistics show that the average office prints 5,000 pages of paper each month – which, on average, works out at 60% of the paper produced by a single tree.

Moving as many processes as possible over to digital solutions may seem like the obvious solution. However, the environmental impact of digital media should also be considered.

Paper and digital media have plenty of environmental issues in common, namely:

– Energy and water used to create them
– Transportation of both raw materials and the finished product
– The environmental cost of manufacturing plants, warehouses, shops selling these products, data libraries and more.
– The extraction of raw natural materials for their creation
– The environmental impact of recycling at the end of the product’s lifetime.

The paper-making process is sustainable: in the UK our target recycling rate for paper, as set by the EU, is 60% – however, in 2016, a total of 81.9% of paper waste was recycled. In addition, the government has a long-term aim to have 12% of England’s land area covered by trees in 2060: a target that could see paper sustainability increased yet further.

What’s more, our digital devices are huge consumers of energy, with research claiming that internet-connected devices could consume one-fifth of global electricity by 2025, and account for 14% of total global emissions by the year 2040 – suggesting that going digital may not be better for the environment after all.

While paper has long been used in the office environment, the true impact of going paperless – switching to digital solutions – has yet to be established. However, while computers, tablets and mobile phones may not create tangible waste, it’s hard to deny that their impact on the environment may be greater than many of us think.