Do we really need to use so much paper?

By Heather Rawding
Team Coordinator
29 04 2021

Discussion around sustainability has been very much on the increase, but what does it mean?

Sustainability is:
Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Simple, right? When issues are framed with such lofty goals as a desirable future for all humanity, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge and lose sight of what can be done, whether on a personal or business level. There are many issues and areas to choose from, but a prominent example is reduction of paper use across business.

In 2018 – 2019, Australia consumed 30,095,000 tonnes of paper and paperboard products (IndustryEdge, 2019). The majority of this comes from our own native forests, which are managed by State Governments to be sustainable. However, with natural phenomena such as bush fires and droughts on the rise, it will become increasingly difficult to manage these forests into the future. This is without taking into account the many important ecosystem functions intact forests provide for the benefit all of society, such as:

  • Water filtration and storage
  • Regional climate regulation
  • Habitat for wildlife
  • Soil stabilisation
  • And many others

Yet our modern society depends on robust economic activity and much of that activity, especially in the corporate world, involves some level of paper consumption. So how can we continue to run businesses efficiently while putting less pressure on our precious forests? Some suggestions include:

  • Print less - This can be difficult when we have become accustomed to certain ways of working, especially when comparing or checking information. However, technology offers many alternatives - so many of us work with at least two computer monitors these days, meaning such tasks can remain entirely digital.
  • Use your phone or tablet to take notes while in meetings or seminars instead of a paper notepad. The note-taking functions on devices often allow for basic formatting such as highlighting and underlining, and for many they are easier to read later!
  • For those who really do not enjoy typing, many devices allow use of a stylus, so notes can still be written.
  • And, if a document really must be printed, change the settings to print double-sided and only half as much paper will be used.

Such transitions take some getting used to, but typing is much faster and neater than handwriting and we are all much less likely to forget our phone than a notepad, meaning one less thing to remember.

To show our commitment to waste reduction, our Sydney & Newcastle business advisory services teams, changed the way we send out nearly all our client documents when we started using DocuSign & HelloSign in 2017, web-based applications that allow electronic reviewing and signing of documents. It not only allows us to send out documents instantly but also gives clients the flexibility to review and sign things anywhere there is an internet connection.

DocuSign provides estimates for the resources saved by using their platform, they derive these figures using a variety of factors, including number of documents sent and number of recipients, they also factor in the different aspects of paper production and supply. Since making this change, our division has saved approximately 4,317 kg of wood, 106,078 litres of water, 10,133kg of carbon and 702kg of solid waste. This is a simple illustration of the impact reduction of paper consumption can have - it is not just the forest ecosystems which will remain intact, it is the water not used, the carbon not released and the landfill not utilised.

When considering these wider impacts, it becomes easier to appreciate how one objective, no matter how narrow, can have impacts and benefits beyond what are immediately obvious. Each of the above suggestions mentioned above involve simple technological solutions that are easily adopted and help businesses work more efficiently. Making the changes necessary to facilitate a sustainable future can seem like an overwhelming challenge, but we must all recognise that embracing simple changes that are within our control will not only improve business practices, but also contribute to a more stable future.