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Electronic Documents: Fast, Secure, and Green

by Jocelyn Broyles (bio)

Published 6/1/11


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Electronic documents and file transfers are beginning to displace traditional paper printing and the way businesses communicate both within an office and with the world at large. Not only does this save trees, but it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions significantly. Previous concerns about secure document transfer or sharing are being met with intelligent security provisions and an overriding ease of use.

In a paper on the economic and environmental benefits of broadband utilization, Joseph P. Fuhr Jr. and Stephen B. Pociask found that by 2017, "Business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce are predicted to reduce greenhouse gases by 206.3 million U.S. tons;" while "teleconferencing could reduce greenhouse emissions by 199.8 million tons, if 10 percent of airline travel could be replaced by teleconferencing over the next 10 years." [1]

"The average office worker in the US uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. That’s four million tons of copy paper used annually. Office workers in the US generate approximately two pounds of paper and paperboard products every day." [2] Based on a rate of  .014 cents per sheet of paper, each office employee uses $140 worth of paper a year. That may not seem like a large figure, but if your company employs just 1,000 people, that's a cost of $140,000 per year in paper alone - not to mention the printer, the ink and the electricity.

Waste Paper by Wilson Adams
Waste Paper © Wilson Adams

Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Switching from paper to paperless communication is obviously the green choice in office operations, and the only barrier to wide use (after changing long-established business habits) is the question of security in online transferring of information.

Often times, security is not an issue and open sources like Google Docs can be utilized in meetings at each employee's computer or projected onto a screen instead of using printed material in front of each person at the table. When documents need secure methods of transfer, certified companies are plentiful and offer the assurance of safe data storage, transfer and utilization across a wide platform of options. Two of the top contenders are YouSendIt.com, (an SAS Type II 70 that is Deloitte and Touche, LLP and TrustE certified; Better Business Bureau accredited; and VeriSign trusted); and ShareFile.com, named #104 to Inc. Magazine's list of the 500 fastest growing private companies in America.

For documents that need signing, EchoSign.com has been rated number one on AppExchange and gets glowing revues from The New York Times, Computer World and The Wall Street Journal. Many more free online transfer services can be found in this online compilation by eConsultant.com.

Shredded Paper by RL Hyde
Shredded Paper © RL Hyde

When you do have to print, you can follow these instructions on how to set your printing parameters to maximize words per page; implement these tips on reducing paper; take advantage of free Green Print software that will help you eliminate excess pages and non-essential data; and use PaperCalculator.org for reducing paper use and finding out where your office is least efficient in paper consumption.

Whether your office is just starting to reduce paper usage, using recycled printer paper, or are nearing a zero-paper state, small steps often prove to be the most profound. Each copy made double-sided, each note written on the back of an envelope, each document signed electronically, each file transferred and shared by computer and not photocopies, makes a difference, and when all those steps are added up, it will be just another single small step that will push your office past its green and paperless goals.

[1]  Joseph P. Fuhr Jr. and Stephen B. Pociask "Broadband Services: Economic and Environmental Benefits", October 31, 2007 for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research or ACI.

[2] Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory