Towards a Paperless Office

Last updated on by

It’s Raining PaperThe paperless office idea emerged along with the personal computer, its premise being that someday in the future, we will no longer need to use paper because everything will be in a digital format. While the truly paperless office may still be a myth and a seemingly impossible goal, it is still something we can move towards in our business operations. Paper and paperboard products constitute the largest portion of our waste stream, so reducing our paper use and recycling paper materials has a lot of potential to reduce the waste flowing into landfills and save trees at the same time.

While planning my business, I have been trying to find a few ways I can be a nearly paperless operation. I already send digital PDF files for invoices, agreements, and proofs rather than sending my clients paper documents. I use digital signatures for contracts, communicate via e-mail or phone, and avoid printing anything that I don’t absolutely need to. Still, my office is hardly paperless and there’s a lot more I plan to do as I formalize my practices and launch my business. Below are some suggestions for going paperless.

Digital Filing and Record Keeping

Paper files stack up quickly, and can easily take over a small office. Digitizing every document that you can helps reduce clutter as well as waste. Most of the work that I do starts on the computer, and there’s really no reason it needs to leave the digital world until the final printing (for printed pieces) or at all (for web-based projects). Digital file sharing and collaboration software such as Basecamp can help keep communication between team members and clients in the digital realm. PDFs and other digital documents can be used for contracts, agreements, and invoices. Online databases can be used to file and store business documents, and are easy to back up. Dragging and dropping files in a computer interface is certainly easier than lifting and moving boxes and filing cabinets full of paper!

With the right mix of software, digital storage space, databases, and bookkeeping skills, you can do most of your business record keeping digitally. Once a system is in place, digital files and records can be very easy to maintain. And no trees have to be harmed! More green document management ideas can be found elsewhere on Ecopreneurist.

Faxing, Copying, and Alternatives

The copier and fax machine are found in nearly every office, usually accompanied by a stack of discarded paper. While I doubt these machines are going away any time soon, one way to reduce energy usage and still be able to make faxes and copies with ease is to purchase an all-in-one machine that can handle printing, scanning, copying, and faxing. And as with printing, be conscious of the paper you’re using and if it’s really necessary to make paper copies of a document that you could just as easily send digitally. A good tip from PC Magazine regarding printing or making copies is to always preview your document digitally before hitting the print button. Making sure a printer or copier is set up correctly and previewing the document can prevent unwanted copies that are later discarded.

Alternatives to faxing such as eFax services have been discussed previously on Ecopreneurist. With new technologies emerging, hopefully fax machines will soon be a thing of the past.

Publications

I’m a designer with a bit of a magazine fetish. I’m sure I’m not the only one with boxes and stacks of magazines in my office relating to my industry. I tend to be a magazine pack rat. Recently I began cutting down on the number of magazines that I subscribe to, choosing to keep subscriptions to publications with a commitment to using recycled or sustainable paper. And one of these days I’ll recycle my magazine collection in favor of online versions of my favorite articles. Online e-zines, blogs, and PDF versions of printed magazines are becoming more and more popular, both as a replacement for and a supplement to printed publications. One recent example is ReadyMade Magazine’s April/May 2008 issue, which is entirely digital with a magazine-like online interface. I see magazines and other publications moving in this direction. With the advent of hand-held devices that can make reading blogs, news, and other online content even easier, publications are taking on a new digital form, much to the delight of trees everywhere.

So, in the spirit of going paperless, try condensing your magazine collection down, scanning and saving anything really important so you can easily refer to it later. Recycle old copies of publications and seek them out online instead. If your business publishes a newsletter, magazine, or annual report, consider taking it digital. Not only will you save paper and money by not printing, but your publication will be easy to access and update.

Paper = Trees

In your quest to reduce paper usage in your office, one thing to keep reminding yourself and your staff is that paper wasted translates to trees killed. Keep the big picture in mind on your journey towards a paperless office and instill eco-consciousness into every decision you make. When you think of trees every time you see paper, it makes your decisions to save paper easier. Saving paper saves trees, and we certainly need all the trees we can get. Be sure that when you do need to use paper, you use recycled or tree-free paper. There are many sustainable paper options available to make both you and the trees happy. Of course, reduce always comes before recycle, so it’s important to reduce paper usage as a first step on your journey to a paperless office.

This article is the ninth in a series called Green Dreams following my journey starting a green design business. You can learn along with me: read the series introduction, see some green business resources, get inspired, learn how to write a business plan, find out how to name your business, learn why sustainability should be a part of your planning from the beginning, avoid commuting by working from home, and building green business practices into your daily workflow. Stay tuned for more on starting a green business!

Photo by Jason Sussberg via flickr.