Less Paper, More Money: National campaign for electronic documents

Do you know how much money your company is spending on purchasing and using paper? Planet Ark thinks there are some serious savings you could be making by switching to e-documents.

EVERY dollar invested in reducing the amount of paper your office uses could generate returns of up to $30, according to Project Paper-less.

Planet Ark founder Jon Dee has presented the case for going paperless to businesses in Melbourne and Sydney.

He is hoping to get thousands of companies behind the cause that he believes will help save money at the same time as helping the environment.

Mr Dee told an April business breakfast in Melbourne it was estimated that every dollar invested in reducing paper consumption could generate returns of up to $30.

"Saving paper will definitely save you money," he said.

"If we maximise the use of electronic documents and digitise existing paper documentation, you get some really significant benefits."

Mr Dee said printing and copying on both sides of paper was an obvious step, but that there were a lot of people who still did not even do that.

"What is good now is people are telling me that if they give a report to someone and they've only (printed) it single-sided, they're getting picked up by companies now on environmental grounds," he said.

He said businesses should also measure their paper use, distribute memos and documents via email, eliminate unnecessary forms and convert forms to an electronic format where possible.

Mr Dee said electronic forms and electronic filing made it quicker to find and process information.

"You get an improved bottom line because of the efficiencies in the workplace that you introduce," he said.

Mr Dee said the primary cost of paper use was the purchase price, but secondary costs could be 30 times that.

Excluding labour, he said secondary costs included printing, copying, postage, packing, storage, processing bottlenecks and increased delays.

He said one company saved $250,000 per year on postage by reducing paper use.

Employment costs could also be reduced because fewer people were needed to process forms, finances and other procedures. If the number of employees was reduced, savings could be made in office space and infrastructure costs.

Mr Dee said two areas of businesses operations where paper savings could be made were in human resources and finances. Pay slips could be emailed as password-protected documents accessible only by the employees for whom they were intended, and accounts departments could send and receive accounts via email, and conduct online transactions.

Mr Dee uses a tablet PC with handwriting recognition software to eliminate the use of paper in note-taking. He also photographs business cards with his phone, sends the image to his email account, saves it to his computer and can then search for a person by name or company.

He said Project Paper-less was a corporate alliance of people committed to making a difference and saving money.

"From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, we've all got to look at ways in which we can create a more sustainable future for Australia's kids," Mr Dee said.

"Really, paper reduction is one of the really simple and easy ways to actually make more money, become more productive, but you're going to leave the world a better place."

Project Paper-less supporters include electronic document storage company Redmap; data storage and security company iomega; Toshiba; and Indigo Pacific, "the form experts."

Indigo Pacific representative Kevin Tattrie said PDFs could be password-protected for confidentiality, could be embargoed and not able to be opened until a specified time, and that the writer of the document could control what changes a recipient could and could not make.

He said one document could be enabled 10 different ways for 10 different people.

"I can take a PDF document as a form and attach my word documents inside, attach my excel spreadsheets inside that document, and send it along as a single container," he said.

"I can highlight the fields that are mandatory for my uses; I can enter data. I can prompt and validate and give control and choices."

Jon Dee said he did not expect the world would ever be completely paperless, but that the time had come to be paper-less, to use less paper.

He said when paper did need to be purchased, it should contain recycled content or pulp from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Used paper should be recycled.

"The average Australian employee uses 10,000 sheets of office paper every single year, and Australians are using about 1.4 million tonnes of printing and fine paper every year.

"Some industry sources say if you work on the basis of 24 trees to the tonne … maybe think 10% of paper's recycled, you're looking at about 35 million trees worth of paper. Even if it's less than that, you're still talking tens of millions of trees every single year."

For further information go towww.projectpaperless.com.au.

This article first appeared in Business Community Intelligence, May 2008