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Is It Possible to Go Completely Paperless?

Updated on April 18, 2014
Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannie has been writing for HubPages for over 7 years. She covers a wide variety of topics—anything from hamsters to office work.


Paperless - Can It Be Done?

Going "green" is a hot topic at many offices today. Even if they are not doing it yet at your office, surely you know someone that works at a "green office" by now. So what does that mean? Aside from energy-saving technology, making sure everyone turns off lights, and having to share real silverware (ewww... give me my plastic forks back!), it also means offices are trying to go paperless. But is it really possible to go paperless?

I don't want to sound overly negative, although I am sure I will come off that way, but I don't think we can ever go completely paperless. Maybe if we were living like the Jetsons, this would be possible. However, in today's day and age, it is not possible right now. I think the paperless term is probably inaccurate. Maybe the terminology would be better if it was something like: lower paper usage. Yes, we can certainly use less paper. I just don't know how we can function without using paper sometimes. Let me give you some reasons why I think we can't go 100% paperless.

Paper Poll

Do you love paper?

See results

I Love Paper

Let's face it, some of us love paper. We can't help it. We like to read real books, we like to still get the newspaper, and we like to work with paper. Not everyone of course, but there are still some paper lovers out there. Can I save a bunch of stuff on spreadsheets and in Word documents? Yeah, sure. Can I read my work as well on a computer screen? Nope.

Sometimes I am proofreading something for work and I want to take notes on the side. Yes, there is software for this task, but it is lacking. Nothing beats taking out a red pen and marking away on a real sheet of paper! Other times, I need to compare a document to something on the screen. I have to print out one to compare it to the document on the screen. Even with dual monitors, this can still be a challenge at times. Going paperless does not always work.

The more you use the computer to work with all the time, the more electricity you use. Sometimes I would like print out paper, and sit outside in the sun and read it. I am using far less electricity this way. So see... I am sort of going green!


The Recycle Bins of Shame

Now that people are supposed to be going paperless, those that are still printing out materials to work with during the day are often filled with shame by closing time. Have you ever wondered why people quickly take their recycling bin hoping to go unnoticed? It is the shame and guilt they feel for not going totally "green" in this new paperless system.

The mere fact that recycle bins exist suggests the office is not going totally paperless. In a paperless world, you would only need a recycle bin for cans and bottles... but not paper. After all, if you are recycling paper, you must be using paper, and that is a no-no! Furthermore, I still notice a hefty supply of boxes of paper coming in each day at work. Well, that can't be... because we are paperless! Why do we have paper if we are not using paper?

The Customers Demand Paper

Another problem with the concept of going paperless is you have to get all the customers on board with it, too. If your customers still demand a paper invoice and they want to fax it back to you, you'd better comply. It is a tough market now and I can speak from experience when I say there is a major lack of enthusiasm from customers when I explain, "Oh, we are paperless now."

Guess what? The company down the street is not paperless yet. Who cares about trees? That company cares about customers. You are going to lose a few if you insist your customers have to go green with you. It is great to give your customers options. Some are going to jump right on board with you. Others are going to be hesitant and you need to have a plan B set in action for that group of people.

The Mail Keeps Rolling In

No matter how much you might despise paper, plenty of companies insist on using it. I get so many unwanted paper credit card offers, "free" magazines, and catalogs, all the trees outside must be weeping when I get my mail. Not to mention the steady stream of junk mail that comes into an office every day. Have you ever tried to shake these people off? It is practically impossible. I dare you to attempt to "return to sender" your junk mail. It just does not happen.

Even the people you must deal with because they are associated with your company or you owe them money often insist on sending paper invoices. If your office is going paperless, this now means you've got to take the paperwork to the scanner and scan all those invoices in to a shared drive. Gee, thanks. That is easier than just filing it away. You've basically got to get every company you work with (and the companies that beg to work with you) to go paperless as well.


Not Everyone Owns a Tablet

When I sit in meetings now, it amazes me how many tablets sit on the boardroom table. Everybody is taking notes on tablets (while maybe playing Solitaire)... that is, everyone except the lower paid employees. They are taking notes in notebooks. Uh-oh, paper!

I have a gentle suggestion for all you managers out there that want employees to go paperless, even at meetings. Buy them tablets, laptops, or iPads! I've worked at jobs that expect everyone to use tablets, yet they do not provide them to all employees. Even more ridiculous, they usually provide tablets to the employees making the most money, not the employees that can't afford them.

My suggestion would be if you want employees to go totally paperless, you need to help them do so. Even if you give tablets as a Christmas gifts or simply loan out tablets and laptops at meetings, that is better than nothing. No one should be forced to buy a product that is out of their price range. If you see some employees clipping coupons, talking about taking the bus because they can't afford a car, or find out they've moved back in with their parents, buying a tablet is probably not their highest priority.

Going Green?

Although I am certain we can all use less paper and we should all do more for the environment, it is ridiculous to think we can get rid of paper entirely right now. Too many people still use it, and many people don't have the resources to stop using it. I think it is reasonable to limit paper use.

Also, let us remind ourselves the real reason most companies want to go "paperless" - to save money! I worked for a company once that could not afford to run the electricity during certain hours anymore. The public was told the company had a new "going green" initiative. In truth, the company was going bankrupt.

Limiting paper use will help the environment, but so will running computers less and switching to more energy efficient appliances and light bulbs. Never forget there are other ways to go green and save money.

Copyright ©2014 Jeannieinabottle


Submit a Comment

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    ologsinquito - It is nice to have hard copies of some documents - and required at times, too! Thanks for the vote up and for sharing.

    informationshelte - I never thought of the water or fuel being used to make paper, but that is true. I am sure that does not help matters. Also, I heard once that it takes a considerable amount of fuel to gather all the recycling people leave out and then to actually recycle it. It might not even be worth it! I don't think going "green" is as simple as some people believe it can be. Thanks for your comment!

  • informationshelte profile image

    informationshelte 3 years ago

    Going paperless or not is really a hot topic with all the debate that takes place around climate change.

    Apart from the use of trees, which makes 1/3 of the paper produced (1/3 comes from recycled paper and the other 1/3 from wood chips), there are also other issues to be considered.

    According to the American Forest and Paper Association, paper manufacturers use more water per pound of finished product than any other industry. Paper manufacturing is in the third place of the top users of fossil fuels worldwide.

    There is also the paradox of actually using more paper as a result of the increased level of computer use (for printing documents, as web users print the astonishing number of 28 pages on a daily basis in average!). Despite this, environmental initiatives have secured the protection of large areas of wild forests.

    And all this confusion is further highlighted by the fact that a large number of readers would still prefer to read printed books rather digital ones, myself included.

    Like with other cases of green marketing myopia, the intention of going paperless by using computers more had the opposite effect, since, as cited above, in many cases digital documents have to be printed, and therefore the "green" benefit disappears.

    Source: Facts about paper and paper waste-

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    It would be very hard to go paperless, for all of the reasons listed. Plus, it's nice to have hard copies of important documents. Voted up and shared.

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    Wow, thanks so much for all the comments. I had not checked my page for most of the weekend and I was really surprised to find so many comments. I am also pleasantly surprised to see everyone is on board with me. I was sure some paper-haters would post a comment, but thanks everybody... you totally get it, too!

  • chander mehra profile image

    Chander Mehra 4 years ago from Delhi

    Being a newspaperman in the old ethical style, I am disillusioned by today's media with the preponderance of checkbook journalists and empire-building moguls without ethics and no courage against wrongs being done by the ruling elite. And most of the fame-and-fortune wordless geniuses are inaccessible.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    I am another who like paper. This was a very enjoyable hub and I think you made some good points.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

    Every time I complain about junk mail or suggest electronic delivery over mail, my husband reminds me that he makes his living selling to paper companies. We feel okay for the next few years at least.

  • Homeplace Series profile image

    William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

    ... still a work in progress! ;-)

  • tsmog profile image

    Tim Mitchell 4 years ago from Escondido, CA

    Great article offering much to ponder. I agree immensely with who uses tablets in the workplace and even those who have Smart phones too vs. being a requirement. I have never owned each and was downplayed for not. I used a steno pad and gave out land line numbers - home & work and email checked on the PC's.

    I think you article points out nicely there are oddities with innovations for lowering usage vs. increasing usage. Some magical ratio must exist :) It worth reading this article for discoveries. I am glad I did and sending to former co-workers.


  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

    I'm a firm believer in paper. What happens when your network crashes? If you have paper docs filed away you can still function. Frankly, when I worked in an office I found it much easier to go to a file drawer and pull out what I needed than it was to navigate thru multiple folders on the computer to find the document. Not to mention the extra time it takes to scan all the docs, then arrange them in folders. Talk about time that could be better used doing actual work!

    I find going paperless ridiculous. Yeah, some docs are created on the computer and that's all well and good. But when the lights go out, a file drawer comes in real handy.

    As for books... paper all the way for this reader!

  • profile image

    sheilamyers 4 years ago

    You make some great points. It's impossible to go paperless unless everyone is on board with it and our employers give us the tools to do it. I'm sure the place where I work could go paperless if every employee had a tablet or some other gizmo hooked to the main computers so we could document what we've done during the manufacturing process. As it is, we need a work jacket full of papers to accomplish that task.

    I like Heidi's motto about going "as paperless as possible". For now, I think that's as good as it's going to get.

  • lambservant profile image

    Lori Colbo 4 years ago from Pacific Northwest

    Give me paper or give me death. I want to read a novel or any other lengthy writing in a book. I love my computer for storing information and writing, but for reading, I want paper. As much as I hate junk mail, I would rather have hard copies than email junk. At least I can throw the paper in recycle or I can reuse it for something else. I actually prefer reading paper magazines. When I am online, I am in the "instant and fast" mode. I get bored very quickly with online stuff, which is strange since I write online with the hope that people are reading my stuff.

    At church now many pastor's use IPads and other electronic devices to read the Bible and their notes, as do many in the congregation. It took awhile getting used to. I like the sound of turning pages in church, but it is so much easier for many to get around in the Bible by using electronics. Hymnals went out years ago. You have big screens with the song lyrics and Bible verses on it.

  • Author Cheryl profile image

    Cheryl A Whitsett 4 years ago from Jacksonville, Fl

    It is impossible. I work at a paperless hospital and we have more paper now then we had when the patients had paper charts because releases, living wills, designation of surrogate or any other legal documents have to be scanned into the patients chart. Then there is down time and everyone has to use paper and that has to be scanned to the patients chart. In the real world people would love to be paperless but there are just some things you cant get rid of and in the medical field it is just impossible.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    I've adopted a "paperless as possible" stance as well. There are some things that just need to be in this form. Interestingly for us writers, having a physical printed book at in-person events carries so much more weight than "you can buy my book on Kindle." Go figure!

    Great discussion of the dilemma!

  • eugbug profile image

    Eugene Brennan 4 years ago from Ireland

    Paper is great and low tech, no technology is required to read or write it (other than eyes and a pencil or pen) . You can scrunch it up without data loss and records last for centuries. I hope the bathroom doesn't go high tech and paperless!

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    Thank you! I love paper and one day I fear it will be frowned upon to even fly a paper airplane across the room. I don't want to live in a world like that. ;-)

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    You are just too funny....but more than that, you are creative as well. You see an article in the mundane and make it amusing. That's talent my friend. Yes, I am a Greener, and I love paper too. So shoot me!