Can and Should Your Business Go Paperless

Is your printer constantly warm? Do your regular customers get receipts a mile long? If so, then you may have considered going paperless more than once in recent years.

The paperless movement is on the rise, now that so much of our information can be stored digitally. With a recent but ongoing push toward green initiatives and sustainability in the corporate world, you may be wondering if your business is using too much paper. The truth is, it probably is. Matt Peterson reports on Forbesthat for every 30 copies printed, 39% are trashed. That’s a lot of preventable waste heading to the landfill or recycling center.

However, just because everyone else seems to be talking about going paperless doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Some businesses can benefit from ditching the printer, while others suffer. Can (and should) your business go paperless?

Apps and Cloud-Based Services

One of the reasons going paperless is becoming “trendy” in the business world is because the way we do business is changing. There are many companies operating in the Software as a Service (SaaS) space, and many others participating in the “sharing economy”, which includes services like ride-sharing.

Currently, around 9829 companies participate in the sharing economy and more enter space each year. These services use apps and cloud-based platforms, which makes it simple for a company in these industries to go paperless from the very beginning. With other companies catering more to the demands of customers who are becoming increasingly mobile, the need for print materials has been drastically reduced.

Before you can decide if your company can cut the printer cord, ask yourself a few questions.

What Type of Business Do You Run?

The first thing to consider when deciding whether or not to go paperless is the type of business you run. There are some industries (such as accounting or insurance) that could benefit immensely by reducing or eliminating paper records.

For example, if you’re an upcoming entrepreneur in the healthcare industry, then you probably help develop or maintain some of the 165,000 mHealth applications that allow patients to view health records from the convenience of a smartphone. However, if you run an e-commerce business and need to include invoices in your shipments, going paperless might not be as convenient or realistic.

Going Paperless Helps the Environment

Of course, one of the main reasons so many businesses are moving toward paperless operations is sustainability. It’s a much more environmentally-friendly option than using paper, since paper adds up to about 25% of the waste found in landfills, and causes the emissions of millions of tons of greenhouse gases. As we move toward sustainable changes like a circular economy, these changes can be a huge boon for the environment.

Paper isn’t the only environmental hazard caused by printing. The ink itself contains chemicals and heavy metals that can pose a risk to the environment if allowed to break down in a landfill and enter the soil.

Production of ink also requires the use of fossil fuels, which put a strain on the environment. Even recycling isn’t 100% clean since it takes energy and fuel to process the paper for recycling. Not all paper can be recycled, so some will end up in a landfill regardless.

Cheap and Convenient

In addition to being environmentally friendly, going paperless is cheap and convenient in the long run. Initially, making substitutions and ensuring that all necessary information is available digitally can be a slow and frustrating process, but it’s more convenient over time.

This is especially true if you’re like 80% of business executives that are planning to outsource or expand business internationally. Just imagine managing and organizing all of that paperwork! Or even consider how much money you save by not having to mail documents back and forth.

Any business looking to cut costs and increase efficiency in 2018 should consider making the switch. Going paperless can mean that more tasks can be automated, information can be backed up, and updates can be made quickly.

Security Risks, Fire Risks

Of course, cutting out paper isn’t without its downsides. Cyber attacks and data breaches are on the rise, and it can be difficult to stay one step ahead of hackers.

Many experts agree that it’s impossible to prevent all breaches and that the best businesses can do is apply security measures and have a damage control plan in case of a data breach. If customers’ data is compromised, they can lose faith in business quickly, or worse, the data could be deleted altogether, interrupting normal operations.

Most Americans have been victims of cyber attacks on major organizations, putting credit card information and even social security numbers at risk. Though the likelihood for the loss of physical data is much lower than for digital data, physical documents can also be at risk from theft, fire, or other damages.

Little Inconveniences and Viable Substitutes

While it’s easy to shift most operations over to paperless options, there are some small inconveniences and substitutions that need to be made. Document signing, faxing, and other traditionally paper-based tasks must be switched over to digital programs. Many of these are cloud-based, but most charge a fee for businesses for a certain amount of usage each month.

Depending on these costs, sticking with paper might make more sense for some businesses. However, some customers don’t have easy access to printers, fax machines, and other equipment they might need to share, and would prefer online forms and e-signature options.

Going Paper Light?

So should you go paperless? That just depends on the kind of business you run and your current dependency on paper. More and more customers these days want to support sustainable businesses, but it’s not always possible to completely cut out physical documents. If you can’t go fully paperless, you may want to consider going paper light.

Not all businesses can afford to get rid of paper altogether, but most could stand to cut down on how much they use. Think before you print. What really needs to exist in physical form? Probably less than you think.

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