Does the use of paper matter in environmental terms?

Put another way, should we be trying harder to move towards the paperless office?

In fact the paper making industry has moved very quickly in recent years to make itself sustainable, and well under 10% of the paper we use now is harvested from old growth forests, which cannot be replaced easily.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, recycling now recovers over 43% of all paper used and virtually all paper makers substitute ever increasing amounts of recycled paper for virgin wood in the pulp-making stage.  So even though the growth in the use of recycled paper has not been as big as some would want, virtually all of the paper we get contains growing amounts of recycled content.

What’s more, the stalks of crops such as wheat, oat, barley are now being combined with recycled paper and other fillers and can result in paper of the highest quality.

We could, of course, go much further and use hemp as a substitute for wood.  This idea has been around for 2000 years, but the problem is that despite the rich history of using hemp (the American Declaration of Independence was written on hemp), hemp is frowned upon as a substance as it is a variety of  cannabis and thus considered to be a Bad Thing.  (This is maybe why people in America are more likely to remember that the first paper merchant in the USA was Benjamin Franklin, who launched a whole chain of paper mills in Virginia, rather than the material the Declaration was written on.)

Anyway, back to the issue of recycling. The big benefit of using recycled or part recycled paper is that it uses less water and less energy – often around 50% of the energy level of working with non-recycled paper. This is because there is no “pulping” in the use of recycled paper.

What’s more, the production of recycled paper generates less air pollution, because most recycled paper is not bleached, which is a major pollutant in the process.

So paper isn’t such a bad thing overall – and that’s why we keep using it, despite the advent of digital technology.

All that is left is the issue of storage, which is where we come in.

There’s information about our storage on our website –

The paperless office: what went wrong?

In 1975 Business Week magazine ran an article which (for the first time) used the phrase “the paperless office”.

35 years on, the phrase is still well known, but no one seriously expects the concept to happen.  At least not in our lifetime.  So what went wrong?

The problem with the notion of the “paperless office” was simply that it was a notion.  It was supposed to be a route to cost-savings and efficiency, but in the end turned out to be anything but that.  Digital data, we now know, creates as many problems as it solves.

True, these days we can look things up in a trice, and make notes on our PC or Apple, and yet most of us still jot things down with pen and note pad.  And most institutions (from legal practices to garages) feel that relying entirely on a computer system to hold valuable data (from legal contracts to sales invoices) is not actually the most reliable way to go.

Worse, anyone and his son can walk out of an office with 100,000 pages of information on a memory stick stuffed into a pocket.  Try walking out with 100,000 pages of printed information and someone is likely to look up from a desk and utter the immortal words, “I’m not sure you should be taking that out of the office.”

So, there’s security, and there’s reliability.  (Put your 100,000 pages in a safe dry store and it is likely to stay there ready for you to refer to it when needed five years later.  Put it on a PC and that might not be the case.)

And apart from that, there’s the issue of how we interact with the information we have written down.  Information on paper is much easier to handle than a computer monitor.  Paper is there.  You can read it, notate it, take it on the train to use, make notes, drop it into your pocket, take it out again, draw charts and mind maps, walk into a colleague’s office and show him/her…

Paper is easy, and it doesn’t give you the eyestrain that a monitor can.

Which is why we still use paper, why we hold information on paper, and when we come to store information that could be needed in five years time, we put it on paper and put the paper (not a computer system) in storage.

(Although I must say the notion of putting a computer system in storage and then coming back and trying to remember how the thing works ten years on would be rather amusing.)

Of late Amazon have been trying to have it both ways – selling us real live books and their Kindle reader.  Maybe it will work, and will catch on, but somehow despite all the extra weight, I rather like taking my six novels with me for the annual two weeks in the sun.  And I quite like having the novel next to the bed, even if most nights I fall asleep before getting half way down the page.

But that’s a side issue.  The key question is, is it safe to store vital documents for years on a computer system alone?  And the answer is no – which is why we have storage facilities for paper.  And why we exist.

There’s more on our storage services at