Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Paperless Ethic

The future of efficiency in work management is in adopting a completely or partially paperless system, whether through recycling of paper or switching to digital technology.

Most South Asian countries were largely agricultural economies until a couple of decades ago. Industrialization brought in economic benefits plus an extra burden on environment. Yet, as the developed world adapted in technological management and transferred paper record-keeping to digital data processing, most countries of South Asia still remain buried under piles of paperwork for various reasons particular to the specific needs of these societies, and mostly rely on what is still considered the more reliable and convenient method of record keeping - heavy ledgers and paper sheets. In one of the region's largest economies, India, the consumption of paper is set to double in the next eight years, according to the Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA).

The idea of ‘going green' has been a major motivation for using less paper to reduce the carbon imprint. The Copenhagen Summit last December brought to focus the effects of unchecked carbon emission into the environment with food and water wars, species extinction and rising sea levels as possible consequences threatening the poorer regions of the world, including South Asian countries. Yet, for most of the South Asian countries it is difficult to embrace rapidly the green movement of advanced technology to replace paper record maintenance. Along with the question of funds, replacing the current workforce with a technologically savvy workforce in countries with a not so impressive literacy rate and no access to training facilities can bring about a whole new set of problems. Providing substitute jobs to those rendered redundant due to their lack of new skills also poses another huge dilemma. In Pakistan, although private companies are engaged in updating to digital technology, many government departments still rely on obsolete systems and obtaining computer technology remains a challenge with funds stretched to the limits to fulfill more pressing needs.

Some programs in South Asia have focused on importing recycled computers at cheap rates to provide easy accessibility to technology. However, this can turn into a double-edged sword as one sad aspect of recycling of computers was described in a New York Times report titled: ‘Technology's Toxic Trash', published in February, 2002, which talks of exploitation of developing countries through the process of electronics recycling. Mr. Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network, is reported to have said, "They call this recycling, but it's really dumping by another name." The authors of the report have implied that the developed world has found a scapegoat in exporting hazardous material to developing countries where regulations regarding environmental and occupational hazards are insufficient for adults and young children involved in recycling programs. In one study by an environmental protection group, alarming levels of toxic pollutants were found in some samples from River Lianjiang in China where an electronics recycling center is located. Unless recycling is done responsibly, paper efficiency may be a better solution than providing cheap technology.

The advantages of using digital technology responsibly are enormous - though maintaining a regular backup and installing a well-recommended anti-virus program is a pre-requisite to any such endeavor. Shifting to digital database system increases pace of accessibility, circulation and hence decision-making - a definite plus for businesses. They also have the ease of accessing records anywhere, not just at the office. Hence advantages in terms of efficiency and economics are multiplied when time and costs are better managed, and environmentally responsible work ethic is established.

Also, paperless procedures show dividends with busy services such as those provided by banks and billing agencies. This results in efficiency of response time which saves, and generates, valuable capital. In addition to that, office space reserved for storage of paper records or for use in copiers etc may be completely removed if they are scanned and archived digitally, and better utilization of open office space improves the overall comfort level of workers as well as clients.

There are also many other ways of adopting the paper-efficient work ethic. Cutting back on paper can be a simple affair if we choose to take part in it. When printing, 50% reduction can immediately take place by just setting the printer to default duplex, and doing away with extra paperwork like fax cover sheets etc. For more progressive and expanding businesses, it works better to simply install software on the company's print servers so machines don't print out unnecessary pages etc. According to tips provided on office paper reduction sheet, the Environmental Protection agency suggests a regular practice of using e-mail communication among office staff to send and review reports, edit, request information electronically, and save on hard drive, CD-ROM or other electronic memory device.

Another environmentally friendly method of efficient paper management is paper-recycling, even though there would always be need to make paper from new sources as individual paper fibers can only be recycled 5 to 10 times. Economic benefits of recycling include its cost effectiveness in comparison with waste collection, landfill and incineration, not mention environmental benefits. Incentive may be established in corporations for recycling to advance this useful method. It also pays dividends in terms of new jobs created - estimate given by the National Recycling Coalition suggest that for every job collecting recyclables, there are 26 jobs in processing materials and manufacturing of new products.

Since statistics are not so well documented and readily available in the poorer countries of the South Asian region and recycling is has not really taken on as an organized process of dealing with waste, a fair idea may be obtained from the information provided by National Recycling Coalition in the U.S. regarding the benefits of recycling: every ton of paper recycled saves 17 trees, and recycled paper supplies more than 37 % of raw material used to make new paper products in the U.S. A national recycling rate of 30% would reduce greenhouse emission equivalent to removing 25 million cars from the roads. One year of recycling on just one college campus, Stanford University, saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees. Also, manufacturing with recycled materials generally saves energy and water and produces less air and water pollution than manufacturing from new materials. Some estimates suggest that world paper consumption has grown almost 400 % in the last 40 years and nearly four billion trees worldwide are cut down annually for paper alone. The U.S. Toxic Release Inventory report of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states that pulp and paper mills are among the worst polluters of air, water and land of any industry in the country. The costs of paper consumption may be gauged by the fact that about $4 billion is spent in the U.S. every year to buy four million tons of office paper.

In short, it is more than evident that conservation of natural resources through efficiency in their use, recycling or replacing with other alternate technologies has huge potential benefits. The developing countries need to adopt a more well-informed ethic regarding the use of paper, and create awareness in that respect. Electronic media campaigns, which are accessible to youth like social networking sites and TV, can be of use, while businesses can promote a positive company and community image by starting and maintaining a paper-recycling system. Incentives from the government would go a long way in establishing a long term workable system. Parents can also help by promoting a clean environment and a healthy lifestyle and teaching their children the benefits of recycling paper.

Published SouthAsia March, 2010

1 comment:

  1. Interesting approach to a problem that is big and difficult. We have been looking for ways to pay bills automatically and have been able to find on excellent automated bill payments service that does just that!


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