Is Going Paperless a Digital Magic Bullet?

It is said that each person in the US uses about 749 pounds of paper annually, which equals nearly 4 billion trees being cut down. Compound that number globally, and we have a problem. The US consumes 30% of the world’s paper supply, and wasted paper accounts for close to half our trash. (1) Those are big numbers. Paper is the way we do business. If you need to remember something, write it down. Making a presentation? Print out packets for everyone. Everyday it rains paper in offices all across the Union.

Using paper to transfer information is what office politicians call a “legacy process.” In many settings, paper will long remain the most practical choice for capturing information. In some situations, it is the only choice: paper does not break, run out of batteries, risk security breaches, or need upgrading. (2) I believe it’s more of a comfort thing, like a security blanket for your maniacal boss. Instead of being a plush wrap made of fabric plastic with pictures of Spiderman or My Little Pony, it’s a sheet of thinly sliced dead wood with office jargon and corporate policy painted all over it. These sheets of bleached paper make people feel safe, warm and happy. Paper’s a familiar tool that managers are less scared of loosing in the shuffle.

It would seem that Americans are more environmentally conscious. Corporations enforce paperless policies to reduce cost and consumption. However, global paper use has gone up 400% over the past 40 years. Yet, people are trying. Going paperless for the transfer of information is on the minds of business and consumers. It’s something that we can all get behind. All joking aside, I understand that using paper to do business, and store information is a legacy process that people are used to, but at the end of the day, who really wants all that clutter in their home or office?

Sending emails and storing information on the cloud could turn out to be a digital magic bullet for paper use. This would eliminate the wasteful practices while doing some good for Mother Nature. Companies like SingleHop are trying to make that transition seamless.

SingleHop is a well-informed tech company offering no nonsense digital services to store your information using cloud technology. I say no nonsense because they lay out the dirty underbelly of going paperless to show that no part of the industry is without a carbon footprint. It’s almost impossible to function in this world without using some type of carbon producing resource. So anyone who tells you they have the magic bullet for using paper is full of it.

The energy needed to send an email produces 300 pounds of carbon dioxide. Basically, each year the average person emails an amount of carbon equal to the exhaust of a 200-mile car ride. Looked at from a different angle, all the emails sent scurrying around the Internet in a single day generate more than 880 million lbs. (that’s 44,000 tons!) of carbon per day. (3)

Even though cloud technology may not be perfect, these service providers are on the cutting edge of this market while remaining energy efficient. Before signing up, SingleHop advises on ways to reduce energy consumption so you can use less space in the ether(net). They advise to: Stop replying to all on emails. By choosing less people to carbon copy (CC), you send fewer messages and therefore reduce consumption; Learn to use the search mechanism to look for old emails within your inbox. This way you stop requesting the same information you may have already received; Don’t spam; Unsubscribe to unwanted emails you receive to help clean out your inbox and reduce the energy used by others who send you emails; And lastly, start a conversation. Don’t send an email to someone across the room. Get up and talk to somebody. It’s actually kind of nice to have a convo once in a while. Unless they have coffee breath. Then I’d stay away from them too. I’m not about that noise.

Looking at the big picture, maybe storing information on the cloud isn’t perfect. Data centers use a lot of energy. But some of the ways SingleHop managed to reduce their own carbon footprint is by installing LED lights, taking advantage of cool-weather conditions — such as that chilly polar vortex that swept down near their data centers in Chicago last winter — and making strides in server virtualization, which helps run their processors at peak efficiency. (3)

Those who run and design data centers are also doing away with the N + 1 mindset. Meaning way back when they were first built, the engineers who designed these data centers said (in so many words), “Hey if we need one HVAC unit, let’s put in two!” Using twice the consumption. This form of wasteful behavior is now being phased out. Companies like Bes-Tech of Omaha, Nebraska are figuring out ways to re-engineer these existing data centers to use half the designed load to operate normally, and cool the machines per specification.

We all know that global warming, climate change (or whatever politically driven term you’d like to use) will not be solved by any single individual. It’ll take the action and efforts of global masses to have an impact, but the decisions you make in daily life will help. The average person is not a mindless consumer. We all have thoughts and feelings that guide our hands. Making connections with people help fulfill our lives. So have a conversation with someone however you can. We all know how busy it can get out there. Reach out using Facebook, Twitter, email, or whatever. Just remember – there are ways to do it more effectively, but to CC 500 people on a chainmail is not without its cost.


(1) Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, Recyclopedia, 2014. “How Much Paper Do We Use?” Viewed on September 18, 2014.

(2) InformationWeek, Government, 2014. “5 Reasons Going Paperless Won’t Work.” Viewed on September 18, 2014.

(3) SingleHop, 2014. “How Green is Your Tech?” Viewed on September 18, 2014.

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