In this month’s series, we are going to explore the idea of going paperless in your business along with the benefits of going paperless, and tools and practices to make it happen. To get started, let’s consider why it is important.
In today’s world, we are well aware of the fact that the world’s resources are finite. However, not very long ago, the vast majority of people lived and behaved as if the world was a place of infinite abundance. The resources of the world were considered mankind’s birthright. They were ours for the taking, to do with as we saw fit. This was the attitude of the age of imperialism and of the ‘Manifest Destiny’. It gave rise to huge resource extraction industries, such as logging and mining, which allowed modern nations to develop and thrive.
The problem is that no resource is infinite. Any resource extraction, when practiced on an industrial scale, is certain to eventually deplete the resource in question. In addition, in doing so, that extraction industry is certain to leave environmental scars that can take decades and even centuries to heal. In some cases, the damage is so extreme and widespread that it is essentially unrepairable. Let’s take a look at an example.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, vast amounts of pine were logged from the, until then, primordial boreal forests of the northern United States. These forests were thousands of years old and consisted of trees that were hundreds of years old. This vast swath of old growth forest stretched from Maine in the east across to Minnesota in the west. It was a nearly unbroken canopy of ancient red and white pine.
Walking through this forest would have been like walking through the nave of a gothic cathedral. The floor of the forest would have been largely free from undergrowth and covered in a soft carpet of pine needles. The mature trees were not crowded on top of one another. Rather, they were spaced well apart, each claiming the area around their trunks as their own. Those enormous boles, well over six feet in diameter and covered with a thick, fireproof bark, would have soared nearly one hundred feet before reaching the canopy – a canopy so lofty that it was well out of reach of all but the most massive forest fires.
These trees, numbering in the millions, were designed to survive what nature could throw at them, but they were not designed to survive mankind’s need for cheap and affordable wood products. You see, red and white pine in the size and numbers available were the perfect building material for the burgeoning cities that were being developed in the largely treeless frontier of the United States. Pine was light, durable and easily fashioned into any number of products – from fence posts to shingles to doors. Pine also floated, so it was easy to transport large numbers of logs from the forest to the mill using the many rivers that were also present in the northland.
What was the end result of this perfect resource meeting a nearly insatiable need? By the second decade of the twentieth century the forests of the northern pinery were largely gone. All that remained were vast tracks of waste land filled with stumps and the branches and other unused portions of the trees that were felled. This land has still not recovered and likely never will again see any ancient growth forest develop.
At this point you may be asking yourself what all of this has to do with going paperless in your business. The answer is twofold. First, it demonstrates the finite nature of all natural resources and because paper is a byproduct of lumbering, the comparison is especially apt. Second, it also demonstrates that all resource depletion is driven by technology and its needs.
You see, there was a time when resources were, essentially, limitless. When our technological needs were small, those small needs were easily met by the available resources. However, as our technology grew, so did our need for resources. So, when we all lived in small bands of hunter gatherers our numbers and our technology were small enough not to have an impact on the environment. When we developed agriculture and began to settle in one place, our numbers grew and so did our technological level. We started to have a definite impact on the environment, but it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that our technology became big enough that the environmental impact caused by that technology truly became a problem.
Technology also has another impact. It requires time, specifically our time. The average hunter-gatherer spends about two hours a day satisfying his or her needs. The rest of the day is completely open. The average worker today spends around 40 hours a week working. Why the difference? Bigger technology needs more time to run efficiently.
The increased time demands of technology are not limited to the workplace. Big technology also impacts on our personal time as well. For example, let’s take a look at social media. The more connected we become, the more time we spend staying connected. The average person spends nearly two hours a day on various social media platforms. Remember that those two hours are relatively exclusive of the time spent working each day. Entertainment made possible by technology also costs time. The average person will spend an incredible five hours each day watching video entertainment in some form, either on a mobile device, tablet, PC or television, or some combination thereof.
When you add it all up, technological demands consume a whopping sixteen hours of the average person’s day. This is an enormous drain of personal time that can have repercussions in productivity, interpersonal relationships and more. Our time is being used up largely due to increased technology. The planet’s environment is being permanently impacted because of technology. Climate change caused by our technology and the energy it demands may be the single biggest threat to survival that our species has ever faced. In a supreme irony, the very technologies that allowed us to build our civilization are now threatening to bring the entire edifice down. At times, it can seem like a nearly hopeless situation. We are tied to our technology, it provides great benefits and extracts a great cost in return. There has to be an answer and, luckily there is.
We need to continue to use technology wisely, while finding ways to improve some of the negative side effects that this use brings. One of the easiest ways for any business to accomplish this is by going paperless. By moving away from paper, a business can derive multiple benefits while improving the planet’s overall condition in the process. The best thing is that going paperless is much easier than it seems.
To begin with, we’re going to take a look at specific benefits that going paperless brings. Next, we’ll look at paperless tools including various software applications in several different categories. We’ll also look at what hardware is necessary for a paperless office, paying attention to OCR technology. Finally, we will look at the best habits your business can implement to begin and maintain a paperless environment. This will include an examination of workflow and the specifics of paperless security. So, stay tuned for episode 2 next week when we explore the benefits of going paperless!
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