While it's clear that the use of paper-based systems significantly reduces productivity and increases costs, reliance on paper also poses a significant risk to the environment. Going paperless reduces your impact on forests, decreases the amount of waste that is dumped into landfills, cuts energy use and helps lessen the impact of climate change.
According to the environmental advocacy group The World Counts, global production of paper and cardboard will amount to 420,000,000 tons in 2021. This corresponds to the world’s population of 7.9 billion people using two pieces of paper every hour. Despite an increasing interest in digitization, it’s time to double down and eliminate or reduce your paper use.The World Counts also reports discouraging statistics that you might not have considered:
- Producing 1 kilo (2.3 lbs.) of paper requires 2-3 times its weight in trees. If everyone used 200 kilos (441 lbs.) of paper per year there would be no trees left.
- It takes 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of water to produce a single A4 sheet of paper.
- The pulp and paper industry is the single largest industrial consumer of water in Western countries.
- 55 percent of the global paper supply comes from newly cut trees.
Three environmental consequences of using paper
Forest lossNearly all the paper generated in the United States comes from wood harvested through logging. Of all the trees harvested for industrial use globally, 42% of them go into paper production. This rapid deforestation has a negative impact on wildlife populations and increases the risk of major soil erosion. Residential communities in heavily logged areas may also see increases in both air and water pollution when trees, which have a natural ability to absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, are removed. Most significantly, forest loss contributes to climate change.
Production PollutionThe environmental impact of paper only gets worse after trees are harvested. Paper and pulp manufacturing contribute to air, water, and land pollution and are among the top 10 greenhouse gas emitting industries. Most of the paper in the U.S. is created through a process called kraft pulping. This process involves many stages of chemical washing to create wood pulp that is clean, white and ready for processing into paper. Only about half a tree ends up surviving the pulping process, and it requires around 98 tons of chemicals to create one ton of paper. Many of these chemicals, such as furan, chloroform and dioxin, are volatile and carry known health risks to humans.
Disposal pollutionWaste disposal is also a major environmental threat associated with paper. Paper waste represents a substantial component of municipal solid waste in facilities nationwide; it turns out we’re printing more paper documents on average than we actually need. Then this paper is dumped into landfills, it starts to decompose, releasing toxic methane and potentially leeching printing inks into soil and water sources.
Sustainability efforts increase employee engagementWorking for a company that has a sustainability initiative underway is increasingly important to employees. At DocuWare we’re working toward becoming a carbon-neutral company and are assessing the steps we must take to achieve this goal. As a report from Accenture notes, “The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted our global interconnectedness and collective reliance as never before.” That’s only one of the reasons why employees are more concerned than ever about whether their company’s business practices are kind to the whole planet.
If you already have a green initiative in place or are planning to start one, you'll find that going paperless or paper-lite is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. If you’re interested in learning more about how digital transformation can benefit your business while helping your company to become more environmentally friendly, contact DocuWare to find out more