The True Costs of Paper

By Gerad Hoyt, docSTAR 

The paperless office – at this point it’s becoming a little cliché. We’ve all heard for years about how in the near future our society and business will become totally paperless. The truth is, we’ll probably never be paperless due to the many areas where digital simply can’t match the tried and true paper and pen. However, many parts of our society are still consuming far too much paper. Most paper consumption comes from an inability or unwillingness to change our ways, as well as a lack of clear incentives to entice a reduction in the usage of paper. The reality is, your paper is actually costing you dearly. Here’s some food for thought:

  • The average worker in an office uses 10,000 sheets of paper annually.
  • It can cost up to 31 times the original cost to send information on paper (printing, copying, postage, storage, filing, recycling, etc.).
  • 7.5 billion documents are created and 15 trillion copies are made each year.
  • The average four drawer cabinet costs about $25,000 to fill and $2,000 per year to maintain.

These stats are staggering but knowing that most offices simply cannot go 100 percent paperless, there are a few key techniques for incentivizing reduced paper consumption and technology that when applied over time and in conjunction have a dramatic impact.

1. Identify documents that can be maintained without paper

The largest step you’ll need to take is to identify what documents and files need to have physical copies and which don’t. You can separate your files into those that are long term and those which are more transient in nature. The nature of your business will go a long way toward determining how much goes into either category. For example, anyone in a field with large amounts of regulations, like legal or insurance, will require that many of their files exist in physical forms which will limit the amount that can potentially be reduced.

2. Develop a strong records management policy and strategy

While this is easier said than done, it’s a vital part of making sure that there is an organizational commitment that will drive your paper reduction. Once you’ve mapped out your document structures to how they should be maintained make it policy so that organizational change occurs. Without having a policy to enforce how to manage each type of document, your paperless strategy is bound to fail. Depending on how comprehensive you want to get and the amount of documents you need to work with you may want to consult with a records management expert.

3. Encourage the use of online resources

Instead of keeping track of several calendars for work, school, home, etc., make use of programs such as Google’s online calendar, or Microsoft’s Office tools to share information, stay organized and be on time.  Google has a wide variety of services that can help you minimize paper consumption, and the best part: a lot of them are free! GoogleDocs, GoogleCalendar, Gmail, etc. allows you to communicate easily, create and store files online, and has a behemoth amount of space available.  There is a plethora of online tools that can help you stay organized and paper-free. To name a few: Dropbox allows you to store and share data files with multiple people, and can edit from any computer; Prezi is an online presentation program (similar to, but a little more interactive than PowerPoint) that you can easily share with a quick copy and paste of a link.

4. Get an electronic document storage system

Depending on the size of your organization, the options above may not work for you or really be able to handle the mass you produce. The system doesn’t need to be overly complex or advanced, it just needs to be able to serve the requirements of your organization. The key to choosing a correct system for document management is to know your organizational needs well, ensure the system is user friendly and that it has a commitment to usage.

5. Make Recycling a Must

Not only does this mean throwing yesterday’s newspaper in the bin, or breaking down cardboard boxes; use scrap paper! Find little ways to recycle what paper you do actually use. Write down your daily list of things to do on the back of this week’s grocery receipt; print on the free side of a single sided sheet.  Bring it up in an office meeting, share ideas, give rewards!

6. Spread the word!

Whether it’s in the office, or casually with friends, or in a deliverance speech to one of your clients, spread the word about how you feel about going paperless. This will encourage others to research, and follow suite, as well as help keep you conscious of your progress.

In striving to reduce the amount of paper we use daily, we make a stronger effort to keep our planet healthy, our bills low and our time well-spent. People are constantly looking to educate others about the positive effects going paper-less has, as well as finding new ways and techniques to do so.   With the endless amounts of tools and help out there, a good way to do your part is to stay current on what’s new, and to share your knowledge with others to keep the!

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6 responses

  1. We found a 100% paperless solution for our small company.   We have remote employees so it had to be in the cloud so that was important.   Its a service that operates 247 in the background and they name and organize all the documents for us as they come in.  We told all customers and vendors to start scanning or faxing all paper to us.  Told staff to print to PDF not paper. We went to a sect. service that receives our mail and scans it first – so we only get digital copies on line.  Since it manages work flow in the back ground our documents across the company all move on one dash board so everyone knows where every piece of paper is.  Today the only paper we keep are licenses and insurance contracts in hard copy – everything else is digital.    I found it at

  2. Great points about recycling. Another thing to think about is the type of paper being
    used: if you’re buying paper, make sure it’s responsibly sourced – look for the
    Forest Stewardship Council-certified logo – or made from recycled content. And
    setting printers’ default settings to print on both sides of the page is another way to save.

  3. Good points all.  In my experience, the main problem is resistance to change.  I think as the cost of not changing becomes higher and more recognizable, more people will be opening their eyes and minds and considering change.

    1. Always be wary of a company with a conflict of interest providing numbers that have no substantiated evidence and are not referenced. If I were a potential client looking for paperless document management, that blog post would be a huge red flag.

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