Companies are finding digital paper more efficient, secure, and economical than the tree-pulp-based variety
A paperless world is a long way off, but many businesses are taking strides to at least create a less-paper world. Companies across various industries are finding ways to cut paper waste, from issuing electronic tickets and PDF receipts to incorporating electronic document management systems.
As with so many other green technologies out there, the driving influence here isn't necessarily sparing trees nor reducing one's carbon impact on the environment (though saving one ream of paper means five fewer pounds of CO2). Rather, it's a matter of boosting efficiency; making an easier-to-maintain paper(less) trail (nice for compliance purposes); boosting continuity (a digital copy of your files is handy if a natural disaster hits); and saving cash in the long term on costs associated with printing and mailing. (For some perspective on mailing costs, U.S. businesses spent an estimated $800 billion on direct mail correspondence to potential and existing customers last year, which translates into over 115 billion pieces of mail.)
Also a boon: less time wasted tracking down evasive faxes and archived paper documents, as well as transferring the data on those pages to electronic format.
Yeah, that's the ticket
One of the growing trends is so-called paperless tickets. ("So-called" because there's still paper involved; just far less.) Last week, the IATA (International Air Transport Association) -- which represents more than 240 airlines comprising 94 percent of international scheduled air traffic -- said that it would stop issuing paper tickets come May 31, 2008. The AITA says that airlines will save $9 per paper ticket that way, which adds up to $3 billion in annual savings for the industry. (Whether any of those savings will get passed on to Joe and Jane Aisle-Seat remains to be seen, but let's not hold our breath, lest we cause that little oxygen mask to drop.)
The IATA says the move will also spare "the equivalent of 50,000 mature trees each year."
Now, I've read some comments about this move, the authors of which have expressed concern that the cost of the paper tickets is essentially being passed on to the consumer, but I think that's a misconception or an exaggeration, depending on how you look at it.