Some of us grew up when the three R’s were reading, writing and arithmetic. Those were the basics, the fundamentals…the foundation skills everyone needed to get by.
While the original R’s have morphed over the years, there are additional R’s now that are also fundamental and necessary. Three core Rs are reduce, re-use and recycle. Some add additional ones like re-think and recover. Patagonia, by the way—long a leader in sustainability—emphasizes re-imagine and repair. Encouraging customers to just plain use less of everything, Patagonia will fix products for consumers to help break the ‘buy, buy, buy’ cycle.
Ok, we all can’t be Patagonia. But we can be inspired by them. Regardless of how it’s packaged, it does all add up to sustainability: How do we conserve the resources we have, minimize waste, use materials that can be recycled, and re-use everything we possibly can? And how can we maximize our efforts, consumers and businesses alike?
The conversation ebbs and flows and seems to gain prominence in times of national disaster. Continuing to use plastic bags didn’t cause Superstorm Sandy…or did it? Given the interdependence of and cause-and-effect nature of all kinds seemingly unrelated factors across the globe, it’s probably safe to say that somewhere, somehow, they’re related.
We may feel we’re doing all we can, but many think there’s huge room for improvement, even in the most basic areas. Some myths definitely persist. Just as individuals ask themselves whether it’s possible to really make a difference, small businesses and their employees may mistakenly believe their environmental impact can’t be that all great. But it’s the aggregate effect that really counts. Here’s just one example: According to the state of Connecticut, some estimates are that across the U.S., businesses with fewer than 50 employees account for 40% of discarded printer and writing paper.
Paper. It’s so basic; haven’t we solved that by now? Some say we’re more hooked on paper than ever—and that this is a good place to step back and “take stock”. Reduce.org says this about paper use:
- The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year.
- The U.S. alone, with less than 5% of the world’s population, consumes 30% of the world’s paper.
- Over 40% of wood pulp goes toward the production of paper.
- Printing and writing paper equals about one-half of U.S. paper production.
- The costs of using paper in the office can run 13 to 31 times the cost of purchasing the paper in the first place! In addition to the cost of buying paper, there’s also storing, copying, printing, postage, disposal and recycling. Reduce.org says that a recent study in Minnesota found that all these “associated” paper costs can cause a $5 ream of paper to really cost as much as $155.
Why are we so hooked on paper—still? Habit? Fear of losing or not being able to retrieve important information? The need to have physical, tangible evidence of our efforts? Think about the copious files and folders we continue to create of notes, documentation, correspondence and whatever else. How many of these files sit, often for years, never to be seen again?!
If you aren’t already moving in this direction, it’s time to digitize for sure. Definitely the lion’s share of our files and records but also our many forms of communication—think bill payment, vendor ordering, invoices, online banking, email and faxing.
By the way, have you noticed how many retailers ask if you’d like an emailed receipt instead of a paper one? According to a survey of 3,900 retailers released earlier this year by marketing firm Epsilon, one third, or 35%, of retailers offer digital receipts, and half of them do so at all their stores. Epsilon says that digital receipts are not just environmentally friendly but are also proving to boost sales, since having a customer’s email address can be worth hundreds of dollars. Retailers just need to use that information with caution and be aware of their customers’ ‘email fatigue.’
There may always be select needs for paper but these should be an increasingly small minority, not the majority. The cloud and mobile devices have ushered in an era that may not ever be truly paperless but closer to it than we’ve ever been before.
Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid/FreeDigitalPhotos.net