Shredding the myth of the paperless office

paper shredder paper usage in officeA common assumption in the back of every tech-head’s mind is that their use of technology is good for the environment, particularly in saving paper. Anecdotally, from my own observances, it has to be true.

This weekend, as I was waiting for my daughter’s gymnastics class to wrap up, a lot of parents, including me, were reading. But there wasn’t a paper book to be had among 25 or so adults in that room. There were regular Kindles, Kindle Fires, iPads, an iPad mini (just making sure you’re paying attention), a Nexus 7, and more phones than I could count.

Then I got home and did some work in my office. I looked around and the only paper I could find was a legal pad that I take notes down with. Everything else, including my files, is digital. I didn’t set out to create a paperless office. It just happened, logically.

It’s been more than 30 years since computers became commonplace in offices, and roughly 20 years since they reached that status in homes. With the advent of the Internet, people didn’t even need to write letters anymore. Our Postal Service is teetering on the brink of collapse, although you wouldn’t know it during election season.

These advances were supposed to rid us of all paper. The Brazilian rainforests could start growing back. We would only need garbage collection every other week, especially since everyone would be getting their information digitally. Right, Newsweek?

Yeah, about that…

Back in April, The Economist blew everyone’s minds by proclaiming that instead of worldwide paper consumption decreasing with all of our new gadgets and toys, it has actually increased by half since 1980. Americans consume 5.57 40-foot trees worth of paper per person each year. But we shouldn’t feel bad – because we’re not close to the top. We’re seventh.

stack of papers office paper usageThe premier tree killer in the world is Belgium, home of the European Union, simply because Brussels has to print all of their paperwork out in each of the 23 official languages of the Union. Each Belgian kills 8.51 trees per year.

That makes me feel a little better about not recycling as much as I should.

While we’re talking about consumption, our usage of electricity must be skyrocketing with all of our technology, right? Well, sort of, if you took “our” to mean “Asian.” Last year, global electricity usage rose by 3.5 percent over the previous year. The main cause of that was in Asia, where demand increased by 8.3 percent. On that continent, only Japan consumed less energy than the year before.

Again, the news is good for Americans: We used 0.8 percent less energy than in 2010. The EU was better with a 2 percent decrease, in a blatant attempt to make up for their paper practices.

The statuses of those two industries – paper and electricity – are completely divergent from what most people would assume in our modern age. Technology has made our world better in many important, critical ways. But environmentally, we’re still not making a dent. Technology apparently makes us use more paper, probably because everyone can now afford to have a “printing press” on his or her desk. And the trade-off we were prepared to make for our gadgets – more electricity – has actually incrementally decreased in the US and Europe while the rest of the developing world rushes to keep up.

There are many important technologies that are entering the mainstream to try and stem the tide of this planet’s environmental future. Electric cars are no longer a pipe dream. The impact of e-readers on paper consumption is yet to be measured. Common sense would say that if we were taking millions of books out of the equation, consumption would go down. Apparently, we shouldn’t hold our breath.

In my fantasies, my loyal readers all print my columns out and post them on their cubicle walls for weekly inspiration. That’s a wasteful illusion. Instead, my readers will simply take a screenshot of the column as use it as their background wallpaper for the week.

Real environmental change takes a fundamental shift in usage habits.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

Want to see how powerful the Snapdragon 855 chip is? Just rev up the Xiaomi Mi 9

How fast do you want to go? If the answer to this is “as fast as possible,” then take a long look at the Xiaomi Mi 9. It’s one of the highest performance smartphones you can buy. It’s a real monster, and we’ve been using it.
Cars

Tesla will release fully self-driving cars in 2019 — with a big asterisk

Tesla reaffirmed its goal of releasing a fully self-driving car by the end of 2019, but it warned the system won't work perfectly 100 percent of the time. Convincing regulators that it's safe to use will require some effort, too.
Emerging Tech

Bees can do arithmetic, setting the scientific community abuzz

A new study has found something remarkable: Bees can do basic arithmetic. Researchers showed that bees could use colors as representations for numbers and then use those colors for addition and subtraction.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.
Gaming

These are the coolest games you can play on your Google Chrome browser right now

Not only is Google Chrome a fantastic web browser, it's also a versatile gaming platform that you can access from just about anywhere. Here are a few of our favorite titles for the platform.
Computing

Amazon takes $200 off Apple’s latest 13-inch MacBook Air with retina display

Amazon is taking $200 off Apple's latest MacBook Air. This MacBook Air has 13-inch retina display, a built-in FaceTime HD camera, and that classic lightweight wedge shape the Air is loved and known for.
Product Review

Razer just made our favorite gaming laptop even more powerful than before

The Razer Blade, our favorite gaming laptop, is now more powerful than ever before. That’s thanks to the new Nvidia RTX graphics cards inside. Do they help Razer retain its edge over the competition?
Deals

Samsung drops a solid $100 discount on the Chromebook Pro

If you're in the market for a new laptop, but can't afford to drop $1,000 on one of the best models out there, Chromebooks are an excellent option. Right now, Samsung is offering $100 off the Samsung Chromebook Pro.
Computing

Lost your router? Here's how to find its IP address to help track it down

Changing the login information for your router isn't always easy, that's why so many have that little card on the back. But in order to use it, you need to know where to go. Here's how to find the IP address of your router.
Computing

Between Intel and AMD, these are the best gaming CPUs at every price

What are the best processors for gaming you can buy? You don't need to spend a fortune to get an amazing gaming CPU and now that AMD is competitive again, there are more choices than ever.
Computing

Our favorite Chrome themes add some much-needed pizzazz to your boring browser

Sometimes you just want Chrome to show a little personality and ditch the grayscale for something a little more lively. Lucky for you, we've sorted through the Chrome Web Store to find best Chrome themes available.
Computing

Here's our guide to how to charge your laptop using a USB-C cable

Charging via USB-C is a great way to power up your laptop. It only takes one cable and you can use the same one for data as well as power -- perfect for new devices with limited port options.
Computing

Get the best of both worlds by sharing your data on MacOS and Windows

Compatibility issues between Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS may have diminished sharply over the years, but that doesn't mean they've completely disappeared. Here's how to make an external drive work between both operating systems.
Computing

Is Ice Lake coming soon? Here's what we know about Intel's future chip design

Intel's Ice Lake may end up launching before the architecture it was supposed to replace. With hints of more announcements about the chip design in the very near future, here's everything you need to know about Ice Lake.