The Perils of Paper

scrunched up peices of paper surround a peice of paper in the centre that has been coloured to look like a tree, whereas the others are white

The environmental tax of our favourite textile

Around the world, we’re seeing businesses and individuals changing their behaviours to reduce their impact on the environment. With technology, there are ways to reduce the environmental footprint of your organisation, and improve the experience of your users at the same time.

Do businesses care? 

While the bottom line remains a key primary consideration, many businesses are now exploring ways to contribute to a greater good.

Environmental and social governance (ESG) has been racing up the priority list for companies over the past few decades. The general premise of ESG to consider factors not listed on the balance sheet, but that have financial relevance.

ESG principals look at how companies treat their employees, manage supply chains, build trust and foster innovation, and how they respond to climate change.

The goal is to evaluate how a company is positioning itself for the future. These factors are increasingly important for potential investors, and thus of great concern for the board.

Many of the moves companies are making to become more eco-friendly are driven by new and emerging technologies. The uptake of technology has been accelerated by continued development. That development makes technology more accessible and affordable, feeding back into further R&D.

A great starting point

Since the dawn of the digital era, we have had less and less reliance on paper. Keeping in touch with friends and family, reading the daily news, record-keeping and reporting are just some of the previously paper-based parts of our lives.

These days, all these activities can now be done online.

Do we really use that much paper? 

Despite a reduced need for paper, according to the ABS, Australia’s consumption of paper, and thus waste created from paper, remains relatively consistent. In the three-year period from 2016-2019, 17.5 million tonnes of paper went to waste in Australia.

The contribution of households to total waste was 16.3%, leaving 83.7% to come from businesses and government. This equates to approximately 14 million tonnes of paper waste over a three-year period.

Does it really matter?

In the grand scheme of things, paper seems innocuous in terms of its environmental impact. After all, it disintegrates in water, so can’t be as harmful as plastic, and it comes from trees, which are organic matter.

While paper may have less of a detrimental effect on the environment when compared to plastic, the impact it does have may surprise you.

The paper and pulp industry was the 4th largest contributing industry to overall carbon emissions in 2020, and it shows no sign of slowing.

Unsurprisingly, paper and pulp production is responsible for 40% of all wood traded globally. Irresponsible and unethical wood production has extremely detrimental effects on the ecosystems and cultures within which they occur.

However, even responsible production of wood has a significant environmental impact. In developed countries, paper and pulp production is the single largest commercial consumer of water.

It takes approximately 64,352 litres of water to produce a ton of paper, equating to about 10 litres per A4 sheet. Water used in production of paper in turn produces wastewater, which contains harmful chemicals that wreak havoc on ecosystems they come into contact with.

At the other end of its lifecycle, paper’s detrimental effects on the environment continue. The paper that is sent to landfill is sent there to rot, during which process it will emit methane gas, which is 25 times more toxic than carbon dioxide.

Can't we just recycle it? 

In terms of reducing your environmental footprint, recycling paper goes a long way, but isn’t comparable to paperless solutions.

Recycling paper significantly reduces the demand for trees and wood, and recycled paper takes approximate 40% less energy to produce. Additionally, when paper waste is sent to recycle, as opposed to landfill, it reduces the burden of waste management, and methane production.

Once paper is in your hands, recycling is a way to reduce your environmental impact.

However, the greener option is to negate the need for that paper to be produced in the first place.

How to move on

For many of us, paper has always been a huge part of our lives. From flicking through children’s books, to furiously scribbling on an exam paper, to writing out work orders, paper has been a huge part of both our personal, and professional lives.

While we might lament the loss of things like letter-writing, in a business context, it’s easier than ever to go paper-free.

Software solutions like FMI Works offer a paper-free solution to facilities management processes. Data is stored securely in the cloud, accessible via any device with an internet connection.

Leveraging a solution such as this lets you leave paper in the past.

Every piece of paper that doesn’t need to be produced has a positive effect on the environment. Keeping only the paper that matters to you, and giving up the daily paper shuffle, can help your business contribute to the greater good.