Becoming paperless

Everyone knows the situation where they find themselves in front of a screen. One tries to read a document online, but then decides to print it out for comfort’s sake. As a result, we print more than necessary. A large part of it ends up in the garbage in the twinkling of an eye, which encourages the waste of paper. What does that mean for companies that are forced to do a lot of administrative work?

Paper consumption is increasing from year to year. Compared to 2017, it recently exceeded 400 million tons per year. China, the USA and Japan consume more than half of this, while Europe bears a quarter. In comparison, Africa has a meager share of 2% and North America the highest. A person wastes an average of 55 kg. In North America it is four times as much, i.e. 215 kg per person. The increase in paper consumption in Asia is significant, whereas it is declining in North America (Environmental Paper Network, 2018).

The following graphic shows us the worldwide consumption of paper per person:

Source: (Environmental Paper Network, 2018)

Paper consumption in the office
The individual is not the only main consumer of paper. An office covers its paper consumption with digital prints, notepads or toilet paper. In the USA, an office worker consumes an average of 10,000 sheets of paper per year, this figure only refers to the printouts. Almost half of it ends up in waste. For a company this represents a loss of 120 billion dollars per year, for the forms alone that are printed. After all, paper consumption in business does not decrease. It is growing at an average rate of 22% per year, which will double paper consumption in three years (Record Nations, 2016). In addition, it is important to mention that most of the paper used in the global industry, is for packaging. As can be seen in the following graph, more than half of the paper is used for these purposes (Environmental Paper Network, 2018).

Source: (Environmental Paper Network, 2018)

The problem with relying on paper
A problem with the use of paper is the increased risk, because data loss is a big problem for companies. Lost, damaged or misplaced documents can lead to data breaches or loss of customers. Manual input of paper also increases the risk of errors. Employees become frustrated because they have to fill out, organize, and file long and tedious forms so that they can be retrieved when needed. All this leads to wasted space, lost productivity and ultimately increased operating costs, considering that searching for filed documents can take up to 30-40% of working time.

Source: (Device Magic, n.d.)

In addition, up to 20% of print jobs are never retrieved from printers. So it happens that sensitive data is accessible to everyone. Remember, many employees either don’t have access to shredders or simply don’t use them. This is how data protection is violated on a daily basis (Device Magic, n.d.).

Environmental harm
Paper production has an important effect on the environment. Deforestation has become a major problem caused by the high paper consumption. In addition, the paper industry has an impact on the environment due to air pollution. During production, they cause pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and carbon dioxide. Nitrogen and sulphur are dioxides responsible for acid rain and carbon dioxide is a cause of climate change. Environmental damage in paper production is also affected by other problems such as water pollution. Companies produce other substances such as alcohol or inorganic materials such as chlorates. This type of environmental impact pollutes rivers and lakes. 26% of solid waste is paper thrown away (Worldatlas, 2018).

Source: (Exposing Truth, 2015)

For a further insight on this topic watch this video:

5 tips for offices to go paperless
To make it easier for companies to gradually approach the process of becoming paperless in the future, here are a few tips:

  • Create an understanding and get everyone on the same page
    As the company is dependent on its employees, a deeper understanding of change must be fostered so that everyone pulls in the same direction. Workshops or presentations on sustainability will help to show your staff how beneficial the reduction of paper use could be to the company, to the individual and to the world.
  • Invest in the right technology
    If an office copier is essential for your work, you should consider good quality and sustainability. A model with a built-in scanner and software is particularly suitable. Documents can be both copied and converted to a digital format. In the long-term this means further savings in expenditure for the company (Ross and Ross International, 2017).
  • Use digital services like Dropbox or Google Drive
    Dropbox, Google Drive or Evernote are good examples of how you can sort and store your data online. In addition, they can also be accessible to others as needed, saving time and money as these services will cost less each year. Make sure your employees are familiar with these tools and train them as needed to ensure they all have the same level of knowledge (Lifehacker, 2018). Paper consumption is estimated to be reduced by 10-30% with targeted use of available technologies (WWF Panda a, n.d.).
  • Reuse the paper
    Paper always ends up in the trash with only one side labeled. You can counteract this by using the paper or envelopes for notes or idea sketches, for example. Once the paper is completely written on, it can end up in the trash specifically for paper (NIBusinessInfo, n.d.). In addition, double-sided copying of images saves up to 50% of paper costs (WWF Panda b, n.d.).
  • Leave out unnecessary prints
    Before you go to the printer, you should consider whether you really want to print the document. Many documents can also be processed digitally in a simple and time-saving way. In addition, every printout costs money. This money, which is saved, could be used for other purposes, which provide added value for the employees and the company (WWF Panda c, n.d.).


Device Magic, (n.d.). What Paper is Actually Costing your Business. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 03 November 2018]

Environmental Paper Network, 2018. The state of the global paper industry. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 30 October 2018]

Exposing Truth, 2015. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 30 October 2018]

NIBusinessInfo, (n.d.). Office resource efficiency. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 02 November 2018]

Lifehacker, 2018. How to take steps toward a paperless office. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 01 November 2018]

Record Nations, 2016. How much paper is used in one day. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 30 October 2018]

Ross and Ross International, 2017. Top 10 Paperless Office Technologies that will Increase Your Productivity. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 02 November 2018]

Worldatlas, 2018. What is the environmental impact of paper. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 01 November 2018]

WWF a. (n.d.). Using technologies and better systems. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 01 November 2018]

WWF b. (n.d.). Use paper more efficiently. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 01 November 2018]

WWF c. (n.d.). Use paper more efficiently. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 01 November 2018]

How smartphones harm our planet

Do you remember when you got your first smartphone and what changed with it? Exactly eleven years ago the first smartphone got presented. Since then a lot has changed. Most people take pictures with their smartphones, paper maps turned to google maps, internet is omnipresent and electronic calendar became usual.

Time has come for us to realize our smartphones despite their grand mighty also come with a great price. (Techradar, 2015) This article will show you how unsustainable our smartphones actually are.

The lifespan of a smartphone can be put into four periods:

  • Production
  • Customer use
  • Transport
  • Recycling
Figure 1: Greenhouse Gas Emission of a Smartphone

Smartphone’s production holds from far the major responsibility for CO2 emissions (80%) of this product life cycle, as users averagely dispose of it for two years (Wirtschaftswoche, 2015). Furthermore, leading smartphone producers use and abuse of programed obsolescence both on hardware and software, bringing the global production to more than 7 Billion in less than 10 years. Every human could then potentially be smartphone equipped by now (Greenpeace, 2017).

The production
Permanently increasing, the demand almost tops 1,5 Billion by 2016. It is a long road since 2007.

Figure 2: Produced smartphones (units/year)

Besides of CO2 emissions, smartphone production conceals variety of polluting factors. Made out of 60 different materials, 30 of them are metals just as copper, gold, silver, palladium and aluminum. (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit, 2014)

 Demand increasing thrives the mining of raw materials, destroying forests, mountains and natural habitats. However, extraction is only the first step of a long treatment process. Chemicals are then used to refine rocks and obtain the final merchandise, polluting rivers, grounds and threatening any close living organism. Very few are the company able to sustainably produce their smartphone today.

The usage
Despite their relatively small size, smartphones can be real battery devourer. Every message sent, every app downloaded every call made contribute to carbon emissions. Their use also hides another reality, not only the device in itself is energy greedy, but also infrastructure at use to operate the system. By 2040 the impact of technology will be one of the main climate changer (Lotfi Belkhir, 2018). Approximately 14% of the complete carbon footprint could directly be related to this industry, representing half of carbon footprint made by transportation industry. (Fossbytes, 2018)

The recycling
German household alone holds 124 Million smartphones unused and unrecycled. (ZDF, 2018) Likewise, rare earth scarcity generates economic, political and environmental issues. Therefore, there recycling becomes a global stability stake for nations sake. So far only 16% of the world-wide e-waste gets recycled properly and it is estimated that less than 1% of smartphones get a proper recycling(Fastcompany, 2018). One million smartphones could thus deliver nearly 16 t of copper, 350 kg of silver and 34 kg of gold (BBC, 2016).

Nowadays, more than 80% of the e-waste are not recycled and end up in landfills causing further damage to water, soil and air. Unfortunately, recycling still comes at a high economic cost, and hardly comes as an attractive market for private companies although the environmental cost is way higher. Recycling turns to be even more difficult with smartphones complexification. Most of them are built to be hardly disassembled (Greenpeace, 2017). Even a lot of recycling companies sell the phones to other retailers and most of the time they end in developing countries (Wirtschaftswoche, 2015).

What can we do?
Do the following steps to keep your phone longer than two years:

  • Turn your phone on to airplane mode at night. This helps preserving the battery.
  • If needed, changing the battery represents a cheaper alternative to buying a new phone or an upgraded version (incremental innovation make the newest version just slightly more performant).
  • Optimise your settings (dimming your screen, using Wi-Fi rather than cellular network when accessing data to preserve the battery)
  • Update the software regularly
  • Avoid exposing it to high temperatures. Remove the case when charging to avoid excess heat and damage to the battery (ABC, 2016)

Conserve your smartphone as long as possible, changing it if only absolutely necessary. Remember they can be repaired and recycled!

What the industry does so far
Ultimately, there is one smartphone which is created for a longer life, easy to repair and produced in ecologically conditions: The Fairphone.

Even though Apple officially only uses renewable energy, their smartphones are still extremely difficult to repair and are not made to last long. The recycling is difficult due to the complex composition.

Figure 3: Ranking of smartphones

What could the industry do?
As the consumers get more concerned about the environment, the industry has to adapt.

Using recycled materials
Reducing the need of raw materials in using more recyclable materials.

Avoiding harmful substances
To be able to have an effective end-of-life treatment, the smartphone industry should stop using toxic substances in the designing / production phase.

Easy repairable smartphones
Instead of making the smartphones more and more complex, the brands should start to make their devices easy-repairable. Software updates should not be harming the lifespan or even terminating the product.

Renewable energy
The phone industry should be forced to minimize their emission and use renewable energy.

Over long-term, the phone industry should focus on creating a complete circular economy.

Figure 4: Circular Economy


ABC 2016. Environmental impact of the iPhone. Online: abgerufen (15.11.2018)

BBC, 2016. Your old phone is full of untapped precious metals. Online:

Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit, 2014. Handyproduktion – Umweltfolgen und Arbeitsbedingungen. Online:

Fastcompany, 2018. Smartphones are killing the planet faster than anyone expected. Online:

Fossbytes, 2018. Smartphones are destroying our planet faster than we think. Online:

Greenpeace, 2017. What 10 years of smartphone use means for the planet. Online:

Lotfi Belkhir, A. E., 2018. Journal of Cleaner Production

Techradar, 2015. Our smartphone addiction is costing the Earth. Online:

Wirtschaftswoche, 2015. So umweltschädlich ist der Handy-Verbrauch. Online:

ZDF, 2018. Energieintensive Herstellung: Smartphones 2040 die grössten Klimakiller. Online:

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