Moving Beyond Earth Day: A “Small” Change with Significant Impact
Every year, Earth Day marks an important milestone in the sustainability movement—rallying people, government and businesses around the world to focus on sustainability and preservation of the environment. Despite my appreciation for Earth Day, focusing so much attention on a single point in time carries risk—the risk that attention will be lost for the rest of the year.
So I’d like to help keep attention on sustainability beyond just today by sharing the impact of paper document use, the paperless practices some brands have implemented, the results they’re seeing, and where to start in your organization.
The Impact of Paper-based Practices
Making paper requires tremendous amounts of wood, water and fossil fuels. Mashable discussed this point on Earth Day 2015, backed by data from the Clean Air Council and the EPA, with a great infographic. Here are some more quick facts:
- The average U.S. office worker generates approximately 2 pounds of paper and paperboard products every day;
- Among U.S. companies alone, 30 billion paper documents are printed or copied each year;
- 500 paper documents are signed by the average authorized employee each year; and
- Corrections, revisions and updates on printed documents contribute to 90 percent of all office waste in the U.S., and the remaining 10 percent is taking up space in storage facilities
To the extent we can keep more documents in the cloud and off the printer, the lower the impact directly on our environment, hence greater sustainability.
Calculating the Impact
Many brands want to operate more sustainably, but need to justify any move with a significant amount of data to support a reasonable return on investment (ROI). The good news is, there are means to estimate impacts based on specific actions and they’re far easier to implement than one might think.
For example, non-government organizations like the Environmental Paper Network and the Environmental Defense Fund have collaborated to provide an estimate of the environmental impact of paper-based practices. In partnership with them, we’ve posted it as our Resource Saver Calculator on Adobe.com. Although sustainability leaders understand that at times calculations made by such tools may be questioned by the paper industry and others, this calculator provides a set of impacts that drive home the point that reducing paper dependency can lead to measurable outcomes.
Forward-leaning companies typically pay more attention to sustainability than simply greenwashing their messages. Let’s look at some real-life ways Adobe and our customers are getting more sustainable by transitioning to digital from paper.
- Documents created, signed, shared, and stored in Adobe Document Cloud drive a 90 percent cost savings and 91 percent reduction in environmental impact compared to paper-based processes.
- In 2015 alone, the total transactions completed with Adobe eSign saved the equivalent of 14 million pounds of wood and 43 million gallons of water—at a cost savings of over $10.4 million (US). That’s significant.
- In 2015, Adobe announced its commitment to power operations and digital delivery of products with 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. We are committed to leading by example, encouraging our customers to move from paper- and resource-heavy processes to electronic signatures powered by renewable energy. Today Adobe’s Procurement and Legal teams are running on paperless processes and the success from their transition is creating adoption by other groups including People Resources (HR at Adobe) and IT.
Successful Sustainability Practices
Examples of the impact of sustainable document management are everywhere. Take government, for example. The Washington Local Government Association reduced paper consumption by more than 50,000 printouts by moving to electronic signature workflows and supported sustainability goals by reducing paper consumption and printing supplies by more than 80 percent. The City and County of Denver improved sustainability practices by delivering contracts, agendas, and other documents as PDF files. And they lowered cost of ownership by reducing the number of software versions supported to a single license.
Using data from the Mashable article, if the U.S. alone cut its office paper use by just 10 percent by moving to digital workflows, it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.45 million metric tons. That’s the equivalent of taking 280,000 cars off the road for an entire year.
What Can You Do?
Brands from large to small are taking sustainability seriously. Are you looking at ways to improve sustainability in your business or enterprise? You can start by examining how you can reduce the vast wood resources, water and fossil-based energy that paper production and waste demands.