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The True Cost of Paper

By: Steve Stormoen / Tuesday, May 2, 2017


How much does using paper cost your company every year? It sounds like it should be an easy item to calculate: add up the number of reams your company bought and you’re all set. According to one source, the average office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of paper per year, and U.S. businesses collectively spend over $120 billion on paper forms per year, most of which have to be replaced every year anyway.

Look deeper, though, and the true cost of paper is even more shocking. In business, every decision has an opportunity cost. What is the cost of paper compared to the alternatives? By understanding the hidden costs of paper, we can learn what can be gained from going paperless.

Paper takes up a lot of space

If you’re in the office right now, go ahead and find the nearest file cabinet and say hello. Chances are, it’s bulky and beige and probably not very attractive. It’s also not cheap. Each four-drawer file cabinet in your office takes up about nine square feet of space in your office, which means on average it costs about $1500 each year in rent alone. If your office is in a particularly expensive area, that number can go way, way up.


If it ever feels like you spend too much of your time in the office chasing down paper, it’s probably because you do: according to a study, a typical employee spends 30-40 percent of their time looking for information. Additionally, a misfiled document costs $125, and for every twelve filing cabinets, your business will require another new employee just to maintain them.

Paper is fragile and easy to lose

The worst case scenario with paper is losing an important document entirely. Unfortunately, it’s also outrageously common: on average, large organizations lose a document every twelve seconds. Each time, you can expect your business to lose between $350 and $700.

Since paper is so costly to replace, it would sure be nice if it wasn’t susceptible to just about every natural disaster imaginable. Instead, your paper records are completely ruined in the case of a fire or flood. The Paperless Project estimates that 70 percent of today’s businesses would fail within three weeks if they experienced a catastrophic loss of their paper documents to fire or flood.

Paper is slow, and it affects too much

If you don’t remember office work before the advent of email, have a chat with someone who does. Otherwise, Bill Du Val, a lawyer from Portland, Oregon, has you covered. “The difference between the 1990s and today is that things move more quickly, the primary advantage being the ability to attach documents,” says Du Val. He added, “Fax machines suck, have always sucked, and will always suck.”

Consider how quickly your work moves today, then imagine what would happen if every single correspondence you needed for work took seven to ten days to deliver by postal mail. Now imagine that speed gain reflected in every aspect of your business that still uses paper. If you’re still mailing contract and documents to sign by hand, there’s a faster way to work.

Paper usage is a leading contributor to environmental concerns

18 million acres of forest are lost each year to our growing paper consumption, which contributes 12-17 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, discarded paper contributes about 35 percent of all solid waste in U.S. landfills. If your business feels like you’re doing your part to reduce that burden, it’s still likely not enough: the U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, yet consumes over 30 percent of the world’s paper.

Paper is the way of the past for any world citizen, and especially any savvy business. Instead, the future is in paperless solutions. Have you calculated the true cost of paper for your business? If so, let us know on Twitter and join the conversation!

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