In the past, sustainability, your company’s carbon footprint, or its environmental impact scorecard were not always issues you considered when deciding how to communicate with other organisations. However, sustainability and environmental concerns are now not only hot topics in today’s society, they are also significantly higher up the agenda for today’s businesses, too. There is, however, still great potential to improve your company’s sustainability by working towards a paperless office and digitalising various processes. Digital communication in particular can make a significant contribution to reducing your organisation’s carbon footprint. Read on for inspiration on how you can increase your company‘s sustainability management through going digital.
Using EDI to electronically send documents in the Business-to-Business- (B2B) and Business-to-Goverment- (B2G) arenas is not only cheaper and more efficient than sending paper documents, it is also significantly more environmentally friendly. Even back in 2005, the German Öko-Institut (Ecological Institute) looked at this issue for the German telecommunications company Deutscher Telekom AG T-Com and came to the conclusion that online billing had just 10% of the global warming potential (GWP) of printing 4 sheets of virgin fibre paper. Going digital therefore makes a significant contribution to improving sustainability. How the enormous consumption of paper worldwide is a major cause of large-scale deforestation is examined in more detail below.
Paper consumption and deforestation
Every fifth tree felled is used for manufacturing paper. The rate at which forested areas are being lost year by year is not slowing down. In an FAO report (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) forestry experts stated that deforestation of 10 milion hectares a year is still unacceptably high. That’s the equivalent to forest the size of 35 football pitches being felled every minute!
In 2015, there were around 3040 billion trees growing on earth. That works out at around 400 trees per head. However, this number is decreasing by about 10 billion per year. Researchers have calclulated that humankind has probably reduced the number of trees originally on earth by half. This drives climate change, with the high global paper consumption playing a major role.
According to the Verband Deutscher Papierfabriken e. V., in 2017-2018, the global leaders in consuming paper and cardboard were China, the USA, Japan and Germany (cf. figure 1). India as a whole used 20% less paper than Germany, despite having a 16 times larger population. Finland stands out with a consumption of just 5.3% of Germany’s, although its population of 5.5 million is only 6.6% of Germany’s. Consumption per capita works out as 11kg for India compared to 240kg for Germany. The 200kg per year used by the average Finn is also far too high.
|Statistical paper and cardboard consumption of by country|
|Remaining EU countries||31,572||31,508||-0.2|
|Calculation = amount produced + amount imported – amount exported|
A 2012 publication by the German Environment Agency, the Umweltbundesamt, claimed that around 40kg of paper per capita was needed every year to fulfil everyone’s basic communication, education and hygiene needs. For comparison, that is the amount which is currently the difference between a German’s and a Finn’s average annual consumption. 64 % of the global population have an average of just 20kg per year available for their needs, while 14% of the world’s population use more than 125kg (The average German citizen uses twice that). This 14% is responsible for half the global paper production. Almost half the paper produced is used for printing and office needs, while in Austria and Germany, the rise in online shopping has led to 40% of all paper manufactured going into packaging.
Improve sustainability and reduce paper consumption by going digital
Businesses are responsible for a large proportion of a country’s annual paper usage. Statistically, a company needs more than 1 metric tonne of paper per five employees. Manufacturing this amount requires just as much energy as for a metric tonne of steel. In the medium term, therefore, companies need to be aiming for a paperless office. One means of doing this is by transforming the usual paper trail in B2B and B2G communication into purely digital structured data files, which SEEBURGER has been offering through EDI and API supported communication for over three decades.
Using paper-based documents in administration and correspondence not only uses an unnecessary amount of paper. It also requires energy for transportation and processing. Studies have shown that paper-based administration is responsible for CO2 emissions of an average of 100g per minute per employee. Digital, machine-readable files consisting of structured data (EDI) are, by comparison, responsible for carbon emissions of 53g, around half the above value. If you extrapolate this to the annual volume of transactions which take place in the SEEBURGER cloud in Germany, this works out as a yearly saving of over 10,000 tonnes of CO2. Using current calculations, if you needed to compensate this level of CO2, you’d need to plant several thousand hectares of woodland every year.
Doing business must be sustainable
To ensure that businesses are not just paying lip service to sustainability and environementally-friendly behaviour, they need to be made aware of the extent to which their actions impact society and the environment. Sustainability management means significantly minimising your negative impact on society and environment, while also encouraging a positive impact. Putting measures in place to encourage ecological and social sustainability often leads automatically to (long-term) economic sustainability. Examples could include
- optimising business processes
- optimising energy consumption (e.g. LED lighting, using a cloud)
- reducing paper and packaging (e.g. digital documents instead of printouts)
- improving corporate transparency
- reducing CO2 emissions
- documenting and communicating sustainability measures
Considering what we now know about climate change, it is high time that words were followed by action. The need for sustainability is more acute than ever. And this is not just because of the threat of further destroying our environment or the increase in environmental catastrophes worldwide. Companies are also being put under pressure by
- laws and regulations, including EU directive 2014/95/EU (CSR)
- investors who are demanding concrete sustainability measures.
Companies ignore these voices at their own risk.
These days, it’s simply not enough to consider profit when doing business. You have a responsibility to also consider sustainability, conservation and your impact on the world around you.
A sustainable organisation takes responsibility for the society of today and the generations of the future. This can be witnessed by its stakeholders, whether employees, customers or the market as a whole. Switching from paper-based communication to structured data communication can be the first step towards becoming a sustainable player. Join us in a digital, sustainable world.
Follow this link for an example of exciting digital solutions to reduce your company’s paper consumption:
 Basic facts from Verband Deutscher Papierfabriken (VDP) «Papier 2012. Ein Leistungsbericht» as well as Verband der Schweizerischen Zellstoff-, Papier und Kartonindustrie (ZPK)
 Leitfaden Elektronische Rechnung in der öffentlichen Verwaltung, C. Rogall-Grothe, 2014, S. 41
 These calculations are based on internal SEEBURGER figures from 2020.
 modified from Perspektiven der Nachhaltigkeit im Cloud Computing, Torsten Bellstedt, Universität Bremen, 2014
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