As businesses around the globe try to keep up with environmental standards and trends, pressures to “go green” remain ever present. But is every “green” initiative as good for the environment as we think it is?

If your business is considering going paperless as a way to minimize your carbon footprint, it’s time to step back and ask the question of whether going paperless is the more eco-friendly choice—or if it’s just another trend. Understanding eco friendly printing and the myths surrounding paper and the paper industry is a good start, but a deeper look at the whole process of going paperless can help you decide if this choice is right for your business.

What does it really mean for a business to go paperless?

Despite popular belief, “going paperless” is a bit more complicated than simply eliminating paper from our business operations, as we then must invent methods to replace paper-based operations and obtain the resources that will allow us to do so. The environmental impact of going paperless is also more complicated. It is not just a matter of eliminating waste; it is a matter of converting waste.

Many organizations are going paperless by switching to electronic means of recording and communicating. This involves reshaping infrastructures and user interfaces that were once centered around paper to ones that can serve both employees and customers without the use of paper. Though this step is mostly a one-time investment, there are also long-term costs associated with making the switch, such as electricity usage and product updates and replacements.

To understand the full environmental impact of going paperless, we must take a look at every stage in the production and elimination cycles of paper and online media.

Understanding Your Options: Paper Vs. Online Media

While it’s easy to conceptualize the difference between throwing a piece of paper in the rubbish versus not having paper to throw away, we often misunderstand internet usage as footprint-free by overlooking the energy that’s required for being online. According to the Swedish Royal Institute for Technology, “With a reading time of 30 minutes per day, the environmental impact of a web-based newspaper is, in general, in the same range as a printed newspaper’s environmental impact.” This is because of the electricity that is required to create and use online media, not to mention the electronic waste that builds up as we constantly upgrade and replace our technology devices. Millions of tons of electronic products are discarded every year into landfills.

Paper, on the other hand, is a natural and renewable resource that can be—and in large numbers is—recycled. Though paper production relies on cutting down trees, the paper industry is also responsible for growing semi-natural forests throughout the world. Using paper in a responsible way, by making recycling a crucial part of doing business and supporting printing companies that are committed to the environment, can be better for the environment than switching entirely to online media.

Don’t Forget About the Middle Ground

The paperless debate can be a confusing one, especially when you begin to apply it to your business. But it doesn’t have to be so black and white. Because your business faces unique challenges and requires specific methods and resources, the yes-or-no approach to going paperless is just not practical.

By considering your business’s particular needs and understanding the whole truth behind paper production and the waste associated with online media, you can find a balance that works. Here are a few options for the middle ground-minded:

  • Find the areas of your business where you’re doubling-up, using both online media and paper to accomplish the same task, and reduce your impact by minimizing your method to minimize your waste.
  • Think of ways you can cut back on energy usage in your office: turn off lights when they’re not in-use; unplug rarely-used appliances; minimize the number of screens.
  • Reuse paper whenever possible. Cut up scrap paper instead of buying post-its.
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle.

Don’t be fooled by those who say “print is dead” and the trend to “go green” and “save trees”: As we now know, it’s just not that simple. Look at the whole picture before deciding to go paperless to be sure that your business is making the changes that really are better for the environment.

Author: Chris Holloway is MD of Manor Printing Services in Bristol and is passionate about helping clients drive and develop their brand through print. Chris has grown Manor Printing for the past 27 years and has seen the company develop into one of the foremost environmental printers in the UK. You can connect with Chris on Twitter, and LinkedIn or call Manor Printing on 01453 843 891.

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