Information Management

Put simply, digitization combats deforestation

I think we can all agree that paper has had a pretty good run.

It’s been around for thousands of years and has changed the world on several occasions *cough* printing press *cough*. But all good things must come to an end, or at least a decline (I, admittedly, still prefer a physical book to its digital counterpart), and in the case of paper use that decline is for the good of our civilization.

Consider this: according to Forbes, “the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year.” In a department such as procurement or supply chain, that number could be significantly higher, especially if you’re still running paper-based operations.

Now consider this: according to the Sierra Club a tree yields 10,000 sheets of paper (on average because types of wood, size of the tree, and other factors affect the amount of paper per tree), so each office worker is using one tree per year on their office paper needs. Doesn’t sound that bad, right?

Well, not until you think about the number of office workers there are. Just in the US alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 63,644,000 people working in offices (defined as those in “management, professional, and related occupations”). So that equates to 63,644,000 trees per year, just from paper for office work, and I think we can safely assume that supply chain operations fall within those parameters.

If one tree absorbs 48 pounds of carbon per year (on average) then that’s 3,054,912,000 pounds (or 1,527,456 tons) of carbon that’s not being absorbed due to deforestation …

… because of stuff like faxes …

… seriously.

Immediate solution: use less paper!

A lot of the conversation around mitigating (and eventually entirely curbing) deforestation should be around the modernization and digitization of business practices across a whole host of industries, but particularly in a supply chain environment. The amount of paper being shuffled across company lines can be staggering, and in many ways it’s completely unnecessary to conduct business – in fact, it’s likely holding businesses back from scalable growth and leveraging data insights because of poor tracking and data quality concerns. In that regard, digitizing your supply chain is a win-win. It’s good for your business and it’s good for the environment (and, as a result, good for humanity). Put simply, digitization combats deforestation.

Before you get up in arms about the energy required for digital services versus paper, it’s important to note that data centers account for 0.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions where deforestation accounts for 20%. While the emissions from data centers will certainly increase as we digitize, those emissions can be offset by the carbon sinks that more trees provide. Those emissions are also likely to be offset as Moore’s Law maintains its influence and processors continue to get smaller, faster, and able to process more information with less energy intensity. Moore’s Law will taper off as quantum computing comes into commercial viability which will continue that trend of exponential reduction in energy consumption for processing power.

What’s more, by digitizing your supply chain you can do vastly more to battle climate change beyond reducing deforestation rates. Scope 3 emissions – that is, emissions related to anything beyond a company’s immediate facilities, or the power generated to conduct business – are notoriously hard to track and measure, but they account for 75% of companies’ greenhouse gas emissions on average. Supply chain visibility is paramount to combatting climate change because you can’t measure what you can’t see, and you can’t act on what you can’t measure (at least not intelligently). By bringing to bear the visibility and transparency that solutions such as a global-scale trading network, IoT, and AI and analytics provide, you can finally have unparalleled insight into your supply chain and therefore your broader carbon footprint. In fact, partnerships between OpenText and EcoVadis have allowed companies to truly understand the scope 3 emissions of their products and services across each of their suppliers, transportation lines, and more.

Consumers are demanding a level of responsibility, transparency, and climate innovation from brands across their entire supply ecosystems, and brands which are getting ahead of this and bringing transparency to their products and services will have a leg up.

You might be thinking, “this all sounds a bit abstract. How do I apply it to my own day-to-day operations? How do I give consumers what they are demanding within my own industry? How do I even know where to start?” The first step in any transformation is understanding where you are so you can plan where you need to go (remember that whole “act on what you can measure” bit?). To do that, we’ve developed a handy Sustainability Calculator to calculate your paper-based environmental footprint and the potential reductions from digitization.

Then, whether your business is small, medium, or large, we can partner with you to enhance visibility into your operations, digitize and automate processes, and create a truly sustainable supply chain.

Chris Moscardi

Chris is a Senior Content Marketing Strategist with a penchant for storytelling, technology, and futurism. You can follow him on LinkedIn at the link below.

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