Time, money and environmental impact: the true cost of unsustainable working

Image of colleagues working on laptops.

While hybrid working is becoming more common, many businesses are still behind the curve when it comes to streamlining processes; which can positively impact our environment, save money, and boost productivity.

We recently commissioned research of over 1,500 employees at large enterprise companies in the UK to analyse the impact hybrid working is having on sustainability practices, as well as how paper-intensive practices are affecting the environment, productivity and the bottom line of businesses. The research found that collectively, employees are losing more than 28 working days each per year on low-value paperwork such as printing, physically signing, stapling and collating documents and scanning documents.

Paper-intensive practices starting to give way

Broken down, time was most wasted on:

On top of this, each employee prints almost 450 pages per week on average, and surprisingly, it’s the younger generation of employees (aged 18-24) printing the most – at nearly 650 pages per week on average. Although it’s clear that there is still a reliance on paper-based practices, some workplaces are intentionally trying to reduce their environmental impact with nearly a fifth (19 percent) of employees reporting restricted access to printers and 18 percent stating their employer is now rationing paper.

Businesses are also continuing to embrace digital technologies, with almost two thirds (60 percent) of employees reporting that their employer has increased the use of digital signatures, digital document storage and management technology since the start of the pandemic, helping drastically reduce paper use. In fact, most said (83 percent) the move to hybrid working has helped improve their own sustainability practices, with over half (57 percent) of employers stepping up their sustainability goals to attract new talent, as well as to improve workplace culture (33 percent).

Sustainability initiatives gaining momentum

Yet unfortunately, there remain some hurdles to overcome, as the survey found a quarter (27 percent) of respondents said sustainability is not one of their company’s top priorities and 21 percent lack clear instruction on how they can be more sustainable in their roles. Worryingly, nearly a third (31 percent) are unclear if their company has a sustainability strategy at all.

NatWest Group saving paper and water with Adobe Acrobat Sign

Two examples of businesses that have made positive strides in this area are NatWest Group and Norfolk County Council. NatWest Group saved nine million sheets of paper and 960,000 gallons of water by implementing electronic signatures with Adobe Acrobat Sign to support more paperless workflows and saw a 90% reduction in the contract cycle time for two million contracts. Speaking on the subject, Eddie Cullen, Managing Director of Commercial Banking at the Ulster Bank told us, “electronic signatures have transformed how we work, increasing agility and reducing time spent by our valuable frontline staff. Electronic signatures eliminated significant amounts of paper while increasing process efficiency, making lives simpler and more convenient for both colleagues and customers.”

Norfolk County Council on-track to achieve net zero carbon impact by 2030

Similarly, Norfolk County Council put its efforts into high gear at the start of the pandemic by eliminating paper and printing costs by switching to paperless workflows. Even though the Council long had e-signatures a part of its plans, it had to move faster than expected by rolling out a pilot of Adobe Sign which resulted in it saving hundreds of hours each month by automating signing and sealing workflows in line with its goal to achieve net zero carbon impact by 2030. It has also reduced its print volumes by more than 75 percent.

The impact of climate change is a constant reminder of the work we need to do to protect our planet and it’s one we can constantly contribute towards. Whilst reducing the environmental impact of workplaces—in office, hybrid, or remote—is a work in progress, it’s reassuring to see that employees have a passion for getting involved. The future of work is already changing and we’re looking forward to seeing the role that sustainability plays in the next few years.

To read more about how businesses are reducing their impact on the environment – and calculate your own estimated environmental savings by avoiding paper use – please visit the Adobe Sustainability Hub.