It is generally accepted that the first use of the phrase “the paperless office,” or something close to it, appeared in a June 30,1975 issue of Newsweek titled; “The Office of the Future.”  The article spoke of; “the concept of a fully automated office without paper.”  So how was their projection?

Not even close!

So here we are 38 years later – almost to the day – and we are still using 71 million tons of paper according to EPA statistics from 2010 for paper and paperboard.  The Technical Association of Pulp and Paper reports that each year we publish more than 2 billion books, 350 million magazines and 24 billion newspapers.

Guess we didn’t learn much in the last 38 years, did we?

However, there is hope on the horizon.  There is a renewed interest in sustainability and preservation or our precious natural resources.  Spurred by the technology and popularity of smartphones and tablets – that now surpass computers in total sales of these devices – it does appear that we humans are finally starting to figure out how to live without paper!

We take photos and videos with our phones, we read books on tablets and we conduct financial transactions by flashing a barcode or QR code on the phone for a clerk to scan.  Not a single piece of paper used here!

I suspect there isn’t anybody reading this that is not ready to acknowledge that although we may never achieve nirvana here – we can certainly start to reduce paper consumption in our personal and business lives.

Since this is a business blog, let’s all agree that the consumerization of technology in our personal lives is forcing the younger generations to drive behavioral changes in the workplace.  The technology and wizardry of smartphones and tablets, coupled with the ever-changing landscape of social media, has fundamentally changed the way we do business today.  We will keep changing and will finally start to see a decrease in the use of paper at the office.

If your company or organization has not adopted a digital imaging system to replace your paper-intensive business applications – what are you waiting for?

How can scanning all the paper in your office help reduce the amount of paper your company uses?  Let me count the ways:

  1. If you scan your business documents you can recycle the paper because in the future you will work with electronic images and not need paper and file folders.
  2. Once your documents are digital, you will move them through the organization electronically with event-driven workflows that control who sees the document and what they can, or cannot, do with it.
  3. A digital image in an industry-standard PDF format can be moved from computer, to tablet, to smart phone and never be printed.
  4. And speaking about printing, or copying, your digital images can also be stored, retrieved and distributed electronically so you don’t have to print them – and kill more trees.
  5. Working with electronic images, you can conduct financial transactions, pay your bills, and receive payment all electronically so you won’t have to print another invoice or waste time opening bills coming in the mail and processing the payment through a paper-based system.
  6. Hospitals will scan patient records, adopt Electronic Health Records and conduct business all without paper.  They will even send your prescription to the pharmacy electronically and never again have to try to figure out what the hen scratching on the prescription is supposed to say.
  7. Many consumers now file their state and federal tax returns electronically and their refund check – if they are lucky enough to get a refund – is electronically deposited in their bank account.
  8. In manufacturing companies we create drawings on CAD systems and provide the drawing and all supporting documents throughout the supply chain without ever printing copies.  Even sophisticated 3D modeling drawings are drawn, approved and integrated into the CAD systems of suppliers – flawlessly – and without an engineering aperture card or large format print of the drawing.

So here we are 38 years after Newsweek projected the decline of paper in the office.  They were a bit premature, but we can now show solid evidence and significant cost savings and production efficiencies if you do indeed remove paper from your business processes and help make the publication’s predictions come true.