Your Paper Footprint – Environmental Murder?

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WASTE – Trees and killing the Environment

A barrow-full of waste paper

Recently, I had to clean out the attic to make room to store some more stuff I no longer require – just in case I need it in the future. Confused? Read on …

One of the things I came across (which I added to my “rubbish to throw out” pile) was my old accounting documentation. I had a wheelbarrow full of papers, dating back more than 10 years to when I started my business. They were all neatly bundled, categorised and labeled, and, of course, buried under a ton of dust.

Apart from the schlepp to now move and get rid of all this paper, there is the BIG issue of WASTE. Why, I asked myself, had I produced and kept this paper trail for years?

The answer lies in some relic of an accounting/legal requirement that we have to make hard copies of all our transactions and keep them for 5 years, in case there is an audit by SARS. It’s not only bookkeepers, but also sales, logistics and a number of other disciplines that are stuck in this paradigm of “one original with triplicate copies” – white, pink, green and yellow – to give this waste some colour.

Please understand that I have nothing against paper (SAPPI is one of my World Class clients), bookkeepers, copier and printer companies or sales and delivery people per se. I do, in fact, understand and subscribe to efficient systems and controls to keep track of and account for money and assets. Furthermore, the world cannot function without paper for packaging, printing and books. Paper is still the #1 means for knowledge transfer and will continue to be for ages to come.

What I do have a problem with is the WASTE of resources like Time, Money, Energy, Space and also Human Resources. There is waste in producing paper we don’t need in the first place, handling it, filing it, storing it, disposing of it and, ultimately, filling up our waste dumps or having to collect and recycle it. The irony is that, in most cases, the information on the paper is transferred by data capture clerks into one or other computer system! Why not enter it directly into the system, without any paper? The legal/auditing reason I mentioned earlier is a poor excuse. Nowadays, even money-sensitive operations like SARS and banks are going more and more PAPERLESS. With the growth in EFTs, the cheque book will soon become a true museum piece. Yet, I am frequently asked to provide a “cancelled cheque” to verify my account details when completing a vendor application!


Forget the carbon footprint for a moment and look at your PAPER FOOTPRINT. In areas under your control, like your safety systems, how much WASTE are you creating through your paper systems? All in the name of being able to have a “paper trail” which you can audit? There are tons of smarter ways to do this using technology.

Start at home, in your safety area of responsibility. As long as you have files & folders, filing cabinets and archives, monthly reports, board papers and the glossy annual reports, you leave a huge paper footprint. You are killing the environment. Incidentally, printers and copiers are paper eaters of note. If you place these devices and filing cabinets in offices, people will feel obliged to use them. Period!

You need to break the habit of “let’s make / keep a copy” by firstly changing your systems and attitude towards data capture and storage. Issue all employees with a memory stick to “take a copy” if they have to. Better still, keep documentation in a controlled network location, where access to it can be logged electronically (security feature) whilst still being accessible to those who need the information. Then, once you have proven it can be done, go to the EXCO and make a case for using this concept to drive home the issue of WASTE and actively contribute to taking care of the ENVIRONMENT.


Watch it! If you are fuming by now, you might set all the paper around you alight. 😀 😀 😀


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