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The True Carbon Footprint of Your Paperless Business

The True Carbon Footprint of Your Paperless BusinessIn an effort to “green” their operations, businesses worldwide are increasingly going paperless. It’s not difficult to see why. 

The environmental impact of paper is enormous. 

  • There’s the “paper” itself, which requires clearing forests and carbon-capturing trees. 
  • You also have to factor in printers, photocopiers and faxes — all of which use precious metals, plastics and energy. 
  • Don’t forget the fuel used to transport materials and letters. Mail delivery is good for the consumer, but it’s bad for the environment. 

A generation ago, paperless simply wasn’t an option. But modern technology now allows us to reduce — if not eliminate — our reliance on paper-based solutions. 

  • We can use email to communicate, instead of sending letters by post and courier. 
  • Invoices, receipts and accounting ledgers are now all digital, allowing us to process these items in the cloud. 
  • Many companies now advertise exclusively through social media, SEO and email marketing. Print advertising is increasingly irrelevant. 
  • We can even accept electronic payments instead of having to collect, process and deposit paper checks. 

The more of these strategies we adopt, the smaller our collective carbon footprint becomes. But can going paperless ever reduce that carbon footprint completely? 

How Green Is the Global Paperless Movement?

Going paperless clearly offers a host of environmental benefits, but this movement isn’t nearly as green as people often think. For example, sending a brief email releases about 0.14 ounces of CO2 into the atmosphere. Sending 100 such emails is equivalent to driving a standard car for one mile. 

This pollution is largely hidden from view. But when you factor in the data centers, cooling costs and energy consumption required to make email communication possible, it becomes clear that cloud-based solutions aren’t as green as we’d like them to be. 

That’s just email. Search queries, online billing, instant messaging, VoIP calls and web hosting collectively release ungodly sums of CO2. Although we’ve become less reliant on photocopiers and printers, most paperless solutions still require some type of hardware interface — i.e., computers, smartphones and tablets. 

  • Building these devices consumes a lot of raw material and energy.
  • Using (and disposing of) these devices requires even more energy. 

Take the Amazon Kindle, for example. At first glance, it seems like a more ecological alternative to paper-based books. But environmentally speaking, you don’t break even until you’ve read at least 33 books on your e-reader. Some might argue that the Kindle can never catch up to paper books since the former: 

  • Can’t be easily recycled
  • Must be constantly recharged 

So, if going paperless doesn’t make you truly green, why do it at all? 

Why Your Business Should Still Go Paperless

When you embrace cloud-based solutions, your carbon footprint will never reach zero. There always will be an environmental impact of some sort. 

However, going paperless can reduce that environmental impact — that alone is reason enough to make the transition. There are other compelling reasons for making the switch, reasons that have nothing to do with the environment. 

For example, paper is expensive. Let’s use a physical check (or money order) as an example: 

  • It costs money to make (i.e., print) each check.
  • Sending and receiving checks also costs money.
  • Printers suffer more wear and tear (and need repair).
  • Paper-based storage and filing systems aren’t free.
  • Paid employees must open, process and record each check. 

Most companies overlook these expenses because they’re distracted by the monetary face value of that check. By some estimates, accepting checks can cost companies up to $20 (per check) once you factor in the hidden fees. 

Eliminating these costs results in savings that you can use to reduce your environmental impact in other ways, such as installing solar panels or instituting a company-wide recycling program. With these additional greening efforts, it’s possible to reduce your carbon footprint even more. 

Going paperless can save you money in other ways as well. For example, you no longer need staff on-site to physically process all of this unnecessary “paper.” This allows your business to explore cost-cutting measures such as telecommuting. You won’t have to spend as much money on rent and equipment if your employees are allowed to work from home. 

In addition, telecommuting can also: 

  • Help green your city since employees no longer have to spend fuel on commutes. 
  • Make your company more productive. Studies have shown how telecommuting can lead to higher output. 

These financial and environmental savings aren’t possible if your company still relies on paper to conduct business. Sticking with the old way of doing things will always cost you more money. It will also have an impact on others, due to the pollution and waste involved. 

However, all of these green and money-saving benefits become yours the moment you go paperless. 

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Topics: Small Business Tips

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