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Sowing Seeds for a Sustainable Future with Paperless Workflows

As Canada prepares to mark its annual National Forest Week in September, it’s a reminder for all of us to turn our attention to the heavy reliance the world has on paper. Globally, paper use has increased by 400% in the last 40 years. Perhaps that’s not a surprising statistic, but what is surprising is that despite the increasing need for companies to reduce their carbon footprint and their reliance on paper, many still haven’t implemented a digital transformation framework.

Making the transition from paper to digital alternatives may seem daunting, but technology companies are continuously thinking of ways to help various industries to go paperless. The support is there, and the time to make the change is now — for the good of your business, and the environment. Here are some sharp arguments against cutting down trees, as well as some benefits of going paperless in business, and how to get started on your digital transformation journey.

How many trees are needed to make paper? 

To get to the root of this, let’s look at a few numbers:

  • People cut down 80,000 to 160,000 trees around the world every day
  • It takes 24 trees to produce 1 ton of standard office paper, which is about 200,000 sheets 

Aside from the obvious impacts on biodiversity when lands are repurposed for commercial forestry, there is another grave concern — greenhouse gas emissions. Trees store vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), and when they’re cut down, they release all of that back into the atmosphere, which contributes to the warming of the Earth’s average temperature. Our over-reliance on paper comes at a tremendous cost to our planet and our environment.

Paper use in business

Most businesses still rely heavily on paper. According to past studies conducted by EPN, U.S. businesses alone spend over 120 billion dollars on paper for printing, while Xerox found that nearly half of all printed documents are thrown away within 24 hours, and Acapella reported that a survey found that 30% of printed documents are never even picked up from the printer.

Compounding those numbers is the fact that paper is easily misplaced or damaged, and on average it costs $120 to find a misplaced document and $220 to restore a lost document.

This is why companies are striving to implement “smart technologies” to optimize work order planning and scheduling, with larger companies in the renewable energy and construction sectors also aiming to utilize technology to maximize asset lifecycle and minimize plant shutdowns.

Office-based paper consumption sharply declined in 2020, as teams shifted to remote work due to Covid-19. Companies had to figure out how to keep moving forward without relying so much on paper, and now that they’ve started the digitization process, it would be a shame to take a step backward.

3 objectives of a paperless office

In addition to the environmental damage caused by paper production and consumption, there are other reasons to evaluate a company’s paper consumption. Here are some of them.

#1. Printed documents aren’t secure 

Data security and compliance is a big issue. Considering the aforementioned number of documents that are never retrieved from printers, companies are leaving themselves wide open to data breaches when documents are freely available to anyone who passes by the printer.

On top of that, if missing documents or poor data protection protocols are detected during an audit, it can result in substantial fines for noncompliance.

#2. Paperwork is time-consuming and expensive

Paper costs are not limited to buying sheets of paper. Printing, scanning, storage, and other related costs take a substantial chunk out of the company budget.

The aviation industry, for example, rents special storage spaces to keep their paper documentation – with associated costs estimated at over $125 billion per year. Mostly, the money is spent on shipping and storage charges, maintenance of physical space for keeping records, and travel time for the crew to deliver and review records. This is a familiar issue encountered in many other industries, such as construction, shipping, and manufacturing.

Even without the need for external storage, printer ink and toner are an ongoing cost that can’t be avoided if you’re solely relying on paper. Did you know that a gallon of printer ink can cost $12,000?! In cartridge form, that’s more expensive than vintage Champagne!

Then there are the hours (and regular overtime!) that office managers and staff spend manually copy-pasting and aggregating handwritten data from paper files to the computer, as well as chasing up incomplete documents and dealing with lost or soiled paperwork.

#3. Inconsistent processes

The bigger the organization, the more complex and distributed its processes become. Hundreds of emails with scanned files can quickly turn into a chaotic mess, with time then being needed to clear up document journey bottlenecks, paperwork delivery scheduling, signing, and rework – all of which can lead to costly project delays.

Now that we’ve outlined the three main reasons why companies want to set up paperless workflows and processes, let’s dive into how you can get started with your own paperless journey.

Calculating costs

So, how much do all these factors cost your company each year? To get a rough idea, pull out your expense reports and follow these formulas: 

File printing costs: Number of Printed Sheets per day x Cost per Printed Sheet ($0.05)

Data processing costs: Number of hours spent on data retrieval per day x Hourly salary

File Storage Costs: Number of Filing Cabinets x 16 sq. ft. x Cost per sq. ft. of Office Space

There is also a way to calculate your expenses with the help of our ROI calculator.

These figures may hit you like a bolt out of the blue, but these costs do not even come close to accounting for another essential element —  the cost of inefficiency.

How to run a paperless office?

Truth be told, there are many ways to go about it. We understand that it can sometimes be difficult to see the forest from the trees when it comes to choosing software, so we’ve detailed some digital transformation tools and features that make daily processes more secure, practical, and effective. Let’s see what’s what.

  • Digital forms

Digital forms bring some pretty solid advantages:

– Mobility: digital forms can be filled out literally anywhere and anytime, and delivered to the office or customer in seconds.

– Consistency: digital forms have a standardized look that teams can get used to quickly, thus avoiding the risk of empty fields/missing data and rework, which in-turn speeds up data processing.

– Versioning: you can edit forms and share the latest versions with the whole team in seconds.

– Images: you can add as many photos as you like, to give more details at the time of filling in the form.

– eSignatures: digital forms can be designed in a way the form will not be passed until it is signed, confirming the work has been done.

– Secure data: controlled access to the app containing the files eliminates the risk of data falling into the wrong hands.

And best of all, you won’t have to worry about paperwork being soiled or damaged by dirty gloves, wind, rain, or any other weather or working conditions. Paper is limited by its environment, but digital forms aren’t.

  • eSignatures

eSignatures save hours on delivering documents to the client and the office, and all the associated back-and-forth. Online signing of documents enables you to receive signed copies instantly and, if necessary, make any required changes on-the-go. 

  • Cloud storage

Archiving documents no longer means having to print them out slowly and search for them manually later. Digital cloud storage solves the problem of file storage and backup, with regulated access to documents.

In addition, it ensures the files can be found in seconds and presented immediately for any audit or compliance purposes.

  • Digital collaboration

The digital work environment erases geographical boundaries and opens up the possibility of cross-departmental collaboration. Thousands of people can do their part of the job at the right time, while also sharing, reviewing,  and approving in real-time, ensuring everyone is fully synchronized with each other’s workflows.

It can be hard to believe that your business can achieve so much without investing a ridiculous amount of money; “buying all the tools listed above is expensive, no less expensive than spending on paper”.
Luckily, paperless document management isn’t about paying a fortune for dozens of apps. The market offers digital transformation platforms, which cover all of the functionality described above. Document workflow automation systems are among such solutions.

Paperless Workflows

Since ‘workflow’ is a popular term nowadays, let’s first limit our choice to a system that covers functions such as form creation, data filling, editing, sharing, review and approval, storage, and other document processes associated with business processes.

On a high level, workflow automation software is aimed at streamlining routine business processes and boosting team productivity.

Among such systems that offer workflow automation is Fluix – a platform that allows you to fully digitize and automate all of your business processes. 

Using TaskStream in Fluix, you can build a set of tasks for your team to complete on a regular basis and control their performance in real-time, while reviewing all documentation needed to be completed during each Taskstream. In such a way, all participants involved in the process are always aware of their to-do lists, and they can stay informed of changes and updates while spending less time on tedious documentation. And of course, no paper needs to be used!

Fluix сan be a perfect alternative solution to paper, or multiple tools that only solve one problem each. With our software, you and your team can enjoy a centralized workflow and document automation experience, while also saving some trees — it’s a win-win!

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