Pixel This: No Paper!


By Samuel Greengard

Once upon a time, consultants and futurists overwhelmingly predicted the paperless office. As computer adoption skyrocketed and a spate of new applications and capabilities came along, the results were entirely predictable: People used all these new systems to generate more paper. They printed files, they printed e-mails, they printed just about everything they could possibly print.

Global paper consumption has risen by about 50 percent since 1980. According to Gizmodo, the average person devours about 5.57 40-foot trees per year in order to print all their stuff.

Some of the receipts I receive at retail outlets are nearly long enough to take out an entire Douglas fir tree. And I'm not sure why so many businesses—including health-care providers and auto repair facilities—continue to hand out reams of paperwork that nobody ever looks at again. What happened to PDFs and e-mail?

Even worse are companies that mail envelopes with confirmation letters for signing up for paperless billing. Don't laugh, it really happens.

It's time for industry to get its collective act together. Ten years ago the idea of a paperless business (or at least a less-paper business) was a joke. However, thanks to marked advances in software and the widespread adoption of mobility and cloud computing, it's now possible. Kudos to Apple, Macy's, Nordstrom, Wells Fargo, Whole Foods and a growing number of others that offer paperless receipts. The approach saves money and it benefits the environment.

Now, organizations, especially government, must take the paperless business to a much higher level. Most transactions can take place online. Obtaining e-signatures or authorizations isn't exactly rocket science. The concept is especially valid for paper-intensive tasks such as open enrollments, retirement plan management, and travel and expense chores. Industries, such as real estate, have a big bull’s-eye painted on their back.

Seriously. There are now apps to exchange business cardsscan documents from an iPad and transform handwritten notes into typed text. There's also Evernote and Dropbox, which make it possible to access documents at all times and share them on demand. At the enterprise level, a slew of collaboration and communication tools exist from the likes of IBM, Microsoft and others.

In other words, there are very few valid excuses for printing more paper—on a personal or enterprise level. Paper is just a bad addiction. It's expensive, it crumples efficiency and it's not green.


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