Killing Paper with the Digital Age–Pomp, Circumstance, and Something Else

Why do we still use so much paper? I am no different. I use a lot of paper, but in each instance I believe that paper could very easily be avoided. Much of paper’s need might be attributed to so-called security—if there is no paper trail, well then, there is no trail. But this is fallacious in so many ways. I no longer get paper bank statements, rent statements, car-payment statements, or paper paystubs. Why then is their still so much paper?

I use a lot of paper both in my professional and personal lives. I will not transfer all responsibility for the unnecessary paper to third parties, though I would like to believe that in many instances I could personally do without the paper. Below I will document, without printing, three instances in my life that require paper. When I say require, I mean that I have no alternative. I am powerless. I wish I had more power but I do not. Perhaps there are alternatives that I am not seeing, or perhaps I am not savvy enough to present the paper pushers with non-paper alternatives. However, believe you me, if I could, I would.

1) My boss routinely needs to sign documents, which I scan and send to another party. Detailing further, I create a document electronically, print it and have it signed, and then scan it so that I may transfer it in electronic form to another party. Every single time I do this valuable paper resources are wasted. My boss could very easily read the document on her computer, as she does many other documents. She could then proceed by adding an electronic image of her signature to the document. As an easier alternative, she could approve the document (which I send to her electronically) and I could insert her saved signature into the document in the proper place. I have asked to implement such a process, and my boss has refused, likely out of fear that I will use her signature to transfer the deed on her home.

2) Once again, work (go figure). Our accounting department requires that a copy of every single supporting document accompany every payment that the firm makes. Thus, if an international vendor submits two invoices within the same week, the accounting department requires two invoices, two copies of the bank transfer information, two copies of the purchase order, and a cover page detailing the payment information for each payment. Yes, this gets very repetitive, quickly. The claim is that it helps prepare the accounting department for any potential audit. My issue is not with our accounting department, because I largely understand where they are coming from. What I do not understand (I understand but am fed up) is that the federal government (our client) still requires paper copies of every single page and process when conducting its audits. Hello federal government—it’s 2012 and we have computers and hard drives. Yes, you can store the entire contents of your federal project on a drive the size of small book, yet you insist that we print 100 small books just to back up your data. Have you heard of the environment?

3) I went to the doctor and the doctor asked that I complete numerous documents and return them. I have never worked in a doctor’s office but I am almost positive that most if not all of the information that I provide on paper is entered by a data-entry professional or office clerk into a computer and the rest or same is stored in my file on the shelf. As for the info that was put into a computer—why could I simply not enter it into the computer myself? Send it to me at work and let me fill it out online! I will send you the documents and you can store them—Doc! That way, when I switch doctors, all I have to do is go online, enter a secure database, and have my personal medical files transferred as I please. But no, we are stuck in 1980, and I have to stay on the phone with your office hoping that we don’t get disconnected, your office manager doesn’t hang up on me, and I am given enough time to properly transmit the details of transferring my records to my new doctor.

We have computers, smart phones, tablets, cars with digital doodads, and little children that know computers better than we adults do. So why do lawyers, doctors, and the majority of others continue to perpetuate a paper-driven world that considers pulp a free product.

Trees are Godly, people—they breathe our waste and give us air, so let’s stop treating them like we have no other option. Go electronic, fight the government, and teach the auditors that files can still be stored on a floppy. And step up to your boss by showing her the inconsistencies of her ways. Set precedent by eliminating paper in your life and doing what you can to eliminate it in others’. And when the paper keeps coming, send it back!

About Emerging Environments

Thoughts about environmental policy, sustainability, cancer, and more.
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2 Responses to Killing Paper with the Digital Age–Pomp, Circumstance, and Something Else

  1. Anonymous says:

    Medicine has been slow to adopt computer based stuff, but things are finally changing.

  2. We used to have a huge paper industry here in Washington State. The paper was made largely from the waste of the timber industry. The sad thing to me is that the timber and paper industries have diminished in the last several decades largely because all those forests have been replaced by houses and cities. Millions of acres that used to get replanted now get replaced – with cul de sacs and strip malls. While I reduce my reliance on paper as much as possible, and recycle what I can, I can’t help but miss the prevalence of the forestry industry here. Fortunately there are still sustainably maintained tree farms here – one just a short walk from my house. And, fortunately, there are enough regulations and new ideas that the environmental impact of cutting down a tree doesn’t need to destroy the salmon streams, for instance.

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