The Government and Paper

The US is one of the biggest producers of paper and paper products in the world. A study carried out in 1999 revealed that, on average, every American used up about 800 pounds or slightly over 350 kilograms of paper and paper board over the year. In spite of the information revolution, a substantial amount of information is still stored in a paper-based format. Over 1 trillion pieces of paper originate from American and Canadian businesses year after year. The use of so much paper has an undeniable, massive negative impact on our ecology. Clearly, it is imperative that we bring about a change in perception here and invest much more energy into going paperless. The US government can set a very powerful example by taking initiatives to transform into a paperless entity.

Improving Efficiency by Going Paperless

Here are some telling facts that show how going paperless can actually enhance cost efficiency and productivity in any organization, but especially in a widespread entity like the federal government:

  • On an average, a billion photocopies are made each day, which translates into a billion sheets of paper being used up to create a document that already exists.
  • Half of the working time is spent by the average office worker in handling paper or carrying out data entry. By eliminating the need for paper or data entry, half a work day can be freed up for other, more productive work (could this be translated into hours of pay that equal $X of labor wasted by the govt.?).
  • Federal employees print about 7,200 pages a year. 92% of those employees said that slightly more than a third of the print-outs they made were never used.
  • About $1.3 billion of the federal government expenditure in a year can be attributed to employee printing.

In fact, as the study carried out by Lexmark and Keefe and Company (March 2009) showed, the federal government spends almost as much in a year on unnecessary printing as it does on printing US currency. The facts are clear. Going paperless is not merely an ideal initiative for environment protection. It can actually bring about immense savings and a significant improvement in productivity and operational efficiency, too.

Government Initiatives to Go Paperless Yield Savings

At the beginning of 2012, the government took a huge step forward in going paperless by bringing to an end the era of paper US Savings Bonds. From this time on, these ubiquitous savings instruments have only been available in digital form. As per projections made at the launch of the new system, it was expected that as much as $120 million would be saved over a period of 5 years thanks to this initiative. These savings will arise from the elimination of printing, storage, mailing and processing costs.

From March 1st, 2013, social security checks will follow suit. The Treasury will no longer mail checks to beneficiaries. Instead, the payment will be credited through direct deposit to a bank or credit union or by loading the funds onto a card. According to Rosie Rios, Treasurer of United States, the switch to paperless electronic payments is beneficial to both the government and the recipient public because of the increased savings, better security, and more convenience they offer. In dollar terms, this move translates into a $1 billion savings in tax-payer money.

In every department of the government, in every activity where the paper trail can be replaced with an electronic one, savings like these are possible. In addition to the cost savings, there is an increase in efficiency, better access to records and data, and more options to secure data and restrict its visibility within the organization. In effect, by going paperless, the government can improve operational efficiency immensely, utilize employee man-hours much more optimally, and have better control over data as well as save money.

Saving the Environment

Beyond the fact that going paperless makes perfect sense from a cost-cutting, efficiency-enhancing perspective, it is also a much more environmentally friendly option. The government needs to set an example for business houses in the economy to do their bit for the ecology. And, there is no better way to send the message in a clear, effective way than to go paperless itself.

Paper-making is one of the primary causes of deforestation. In addition to this, paper production contributes significantly to air pollution, stunting tree growth. Also, waste paper and printer ink pollute the land in landfills, making it toxic and unsuitable for plant growth. The facts are before us—going paperless will make a huge difference to saving the tree cover on the planet. Here are a few statistics from to mull over:

24 trees go into making a ton of uncoated, non-recycled printing paper (a pallet of #20 copier paper comprising of 40 cartons weighs a ton). More than 5 trees are cut down for every ton of coated, high-end, magazine-quality virgin paper. Low-end magazine quality paper claims 8 trees per ton.

By switching to electronic data management systems in place of the paper-based systems, the government can save tons of paper that are being used and discarded every day in offices across the US With every ton of paper saved, a few more trees are left standing to continue to purify our atmosphere, making the air more oxygen-rich for us.