“Going green” is by no means a modern movement, but technology has certainly modernized our approach to sustainability. Solar panels, hybrid vehicles and energy-efficient appliances have become normal aspects of life in many parts of the world. And though none of it happened overnight, many would argue that similar advances are taking too long to catch on in the business world.
The topic of the “paperless office” still elicits many eye rolls and is treated as something unattainable — dismissible, even — when in fact, corporate sustainability has emerged as a fundamental part of 21st century business strategy.
There is certainly plenty of room for improvement here. According to The Paperless Project, a grassroots coalition of companies focused on transforming the way organizations use paper and electronic content, it takes 24 trees, 2.2K lbs of solid waste and 19K gallons of water to make one ton of paper. After all that, almost half — 45 percent — of the paper we print ends up in the trash every day.
From some viewpoints, a corporate sustainability program might seem like a nice-to-have, but when you consider the massive amount of waste created by businesses — even with the many technology-driven options now available — it is, irrefutably, a must-have.
We all share a collective responsibility to reduce paper waste and cultivate a more sustainable lifestyle, from our homes to our offices. Luckily, a corporate sustainability program does more than just eliminate paper. You can actually improve employee productivity and spread an altruistic sentiment while shaving costs off your bottom line. And in a competitive global marketplace, having a strong reputation for sustainability can be a key distinguishing factor — especially among millennials, a group that’s growing quickly in buying power, influence and presence in the workforce.
Here are three ways corporate sustainability can improve employee morale and save your company a boatload of cash:
1. Time is money.
Paper is wildly inefficient. Think of how much more time it would take to search for a mis-filed paper document versus a digital file that had been dropped in the wrong folder, or the time and effort required to print a document, sign it, scan it and email it. It should be a no-brainer, but employee habits and lax paperless policies have maintained paper as a fixture in many offices worldwide.
A recent survey, conducted by Nitro, revealed more than 70 percent of IT leadership identify paper as a continued organizational obstacle, and more than 50 percent see inconsistency in workflow and collaboration. More than 40 percent struggle with document version control, and more than 33 percent grapple with lack of visibility of their knowledge workers’ document activity. With paper in the picture, it’s hard to view these productivity-draining challenges as anything but insurmountable.
At Nitro*, we endeavour to practice what we preach. We’re selling digital document productivity, but we’re also practicing it on a daily basis. In fact, a recent internal survey revealed that more than 40 percent of Nitro employees say they never print anything. It helps that everyone has access to our tools, which eliminate a lot of the frustrations and productivity sinks we hear about from our customers.
In addition to equipping employees with the right digital tools to help them break their existing paper-based habits, we put an emphasis on integrating the sustainable and paperless mindset into the company culture through company-wide trainings and competitions. The result is reduced waste, increased productivity and more money in the bank — money that we’ve been able to reinvest into our people and our business.
2. It’s a feel-good approach to saving.
Going paperless doesn’t just save you cash and increase productivity. It can significantly impact your company morale. Over the past ten years, consumers (aka employees) have become more interested in sustainability, more concerned about environmental threats and are more willing to take action and/or direct their dollars in ways that benefit (or don’t harm) the environment. Rates of recycling and composting have consistently been climbing, and people, businesses and governments are working to reduce waste through measures like charging for plastic bags, redistributing food leftovers and biking to work.
At Nitro, we have a robust recycling and composting program that is peer-managed. We put the onus on our employees to maintain sustainable practices, and that genuineness goes a long way in terms of their perception of Nitro as an employer. We also encourage biking to work and have designated areas throughout our office for bike storage. We make it fun, yes, but we trust that when we give our employees the tools to be better and do better, they will. We’ve found this to be extremely successful and it certainly improves morale.
3. Attracting the next-generation of employees.
You know all those millennials and Gen Zers who will soon dominate the workforce? Sustainability means a lot to them. In her book Meet the Millennials, Leigh Buchanon writes: “One of the characteristics of millennials […] is that they are primed to do well by doing good. Almost 70 percent say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities.”
The new generation of knowledge workers seem to work for a purpose and not just a paycheck. They are not interested in working for employers who disregard the environment or cling to antiquated processes.
From the employer perspective, we look to hire people who are good people — people who care about their customers, colleagues and the world they live in. Our hiring practices relate to sustainability in a lot of ways, mainly because we’re a technology company. We want to hire people who rely on technology to be super productive. We have paperless hiring processes so it’s only natural that we want people who work the same way.
The reality is that people roll their eyes about the paperless discussion, and maybe some people will always have that attitude. But sustainability initiatives are still very relevant today from both an environmental perspective and an efficiency perspective.
We at Nitro accept that paper will be used for certain things and is required in certain instances, but where we can and should, we rely on and incorporate digital workflows. Outside of this being a more sustainable approach, we’ve absolutely seen, and continue to see, productivity benefits.
*Denotes a current or former Battery portfolio company. For a full list of all Battery investments and exits, please click here.
This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur