The myth of the paperless office

Ever since computers were invented we have been hearing about the demise of paper in the office. But just like hover boards and flying cars – the paperless office continues to allude us. If we are supposed to be living in an increasingly digitised society, then why am I surrounded by paper and files?

I’m not a wasteful person, I try not to deplete too many natural resources – but the convenience of paper sometimes over rules this. It seems that all that computers have actually done is make it easier for us to create more paperwork.

Take contracts as an example. A typical scenario that can be seen in any office is: you send a contract to a client who reviews the document and fills in any missing details and emails it back to you. You then need to print the finalised contract, sign it, scan it and send it on again to your client. Your client, in return, goes through the same process. Wasting much paper printing these lengthy documents on both ends.

So why are we buried in more paper?

There are many reasons why the paperless office hasn’t come into fruition. Perhaps, we have a fear of losing information so we like to have a local copy of our documents on file – just in case.


18 trees cut down for every 10 employees per year.

Are you now looking around at your desk noticing the stacks of paperwork around you?

It’s also often much easier to read and mark-up documents in front of you instead of on a screen, giving your eyes a much needed break from ‘screen time’. There are great tools available for marking up and collaborating on documents, such as Google docs. However these are often not readily utilised within an organisational setting. The document also has to be in the right format to benefit from these tools. So what if it’s a PDF? This makes editing and marking up near impossible for most; so printing becomes necessary.

Now with scanners, papers can also be easily re-integrated into a digital system fairly easily. People are therefore less hesitant to print forms and contracts when they can simply be faxed or scanned, re-entering the digital workflow.

Perhaps another less cited reason is that old habits just die hard. It’s difficult to change inbuilt and unconscious behaviour for most people. And pressing that print button may just be a natural, ingrained behaviour.

Tips to ‘go green’ in your office

There are tools which can help businesses save paper, the environment, and at the same time money. Let’s face it, there are plenty of cost pressures on businesses these days and every bit counts right? Here are EmpireOne’s tips for going green in your workplace:

  1. Cloud computing: the proverbial cloud allows for simple document distribution and collaboration, as well as providing cheap storage, and backup options. This can help you cut down your printing of proposals, documents for editing and mark-ups, and can change how you back up your docs – from your file cabinets to online. This also makes it easier for your employees to have access to information on the go.
  2. Tablets: according to research by Roy Morgan, the proportion of tablet computers in Australian businesses is set to increase 31% in the next 12 months, with the number of tablets in business use growing by at least 50%. The adoption of this technology can also help businesses decrease their environmental footprint by allowing staff access to information on the go.
  3. Apps: see PC world’s list of applications which can help you reduce them number of culled trees in your office. At EmpireOne we already take advantage of Dropbox and Google Drive, but there are plenty more out there that can assist. Evernote and Camcard get a favourable mention.
  4. Digital signatures: I’m not talking about your signature scribbled on a piece of paper, scanned and then uploaded allowing you to paste it onto a soft copy document. Adobe EchoSign and DocuSign are two examples of more ‘mainstream’ digital signature products. Digital signatures are perfectly accepted nowadays in many countries including Australia, but take up is inexplicably low. They’re secure providing more evidence that an individual has signed a document over pen and paper, and importantly ‘cut down’ on wasted paper. Why not give these a try?
  5. QR codes and barcodes: you’ll see tech savvy individuals at the movies or airport no longer carrying around boarding passes and tickets – instead utilising their smart phones to show barcodes to get scanned instead of a printed ticket. As an individual this is just one way we can reduce unnecessary printing. As a business, if you host events, use tickets for anything, why not encourage individuals to stop printing unnecessarily and scan these barcodes straight from smartphones?

Wrapping up

Here at EmpireOne we have a lean & green philosophy and are always looking for ways to reduce our environmental footprint. In this digital age we need to embrace the capabilities of technology to cut down on wasted paper. Do you have any other tips or tools you could add to our list?

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Written by

A marketing professional with experience in the technology, research, and information services industries. Lyndal is fascinated by the intersection of communications, technology and the web and how this has transformed modern marketing efforts.

3 Comments to “The myth of the paperless office”

  1. Sebastien says:

    Lyndal, this is such an interesting topic! I for one try to do most things digitally, but tablet devices (and most importantly, the software they run) are still not a complete replacement to old fashioned paper. I was reading a paper with some pretty decent stats a few months back. Let me dig the link..

    In the end, I think is worthwhile saying is that EmpireOne has printed a total of 1883 pages (just checked the printer report!) over the last 2 years. That’s an average of 4 pages per FTE per month..!


    • Lyndal says:

      Thanks for your reply Seb. I agree that tablets alone won’t solve the problem – but a combination of the tips above can all contribute to reducing the amount of wasted paper in the typical office. As can having sensible policies and practices.

      It’s good we practice what we preach then, eh? Having a ‘lean & green’ approach in the business certainly helps everyone become more conscious – as proved by our own printers.

  2. Sebastien says:

    There you go (whitepaper sponsored by some “print & save” company btw.. nothing to do with me!)