We can't seem to break the 2000-year-old tradition of documenting and communicating our thoughts and actions on paper. Look at all our high-speed copiers, printers and fax machines spewing out reams and reams of paper. More than 230 million trees are consumed annually just to make copier and printer paper. In most offices there is paper all over -stacked up on desks, pushed in drawers and file cabinets, tacked up on bulletin boards, and tossed in the trash.

About two years ago I began working toward a paperless office. It's not that I don't like paper; it's just that I think I can be more efficient without it. My quest is now about 60 percent complete. By the end of this year, I expect to have cut out 80 percent of the paper I use. I'll tell you how I'm doing this, but first, let me state the obvious: To go paperless, you need technological tools. It's essential to possess a computer equipped with a floppy drive, CD-ROM and modem.

Now, here are my targets for paper reduction:


References are the lifeblood of my job. It's impossible for anyone to keep all the facts needed by a health and safety professional in their head. For years my office has been full of college texts, reference books, journals and magazines. There were so many references that the office looked like a small library. Although the book shelves looked impressive, they took up a lot of space and accounted for most of the paper in my office.

In the last couple of years, I have found references stored on CD-ROM and available on the Internet to be far more impressive than any paper references. One CD-ROM disk (small enough to fit in a shirt pocket) can hold up to 20,000 pages of information. How much information is contained on the Internet? Possibly more than could fit on all the paper in the world.

About 90 percent of the references I use now are in electronic format. By the end of the year, this number should climb to more than 95 percent. I prefer looking up information simply by typing in a word or phrase and then letting the computer take me to the topic(s) in a few brief seconds. It sure beats flipping pages.


Although most people I do business with have e-mail access, I am under-utilizing the capability of this tool. I use e-mail about 15 percent of the time for written communications and could easily increase its use to 70 percent or more.

Training materials

Beginning this year, I'll develop all training materials using "PowerPoint" presentation software. Good-bye overhead transparencies and hello multimedia computer projection training. Thanks to this software, I'll hand out only enough paper to summarize a topic and for people to take notes. The bulk of the information will be on a computer disk that I'll give to each student. This information can be readily modified by each user to fit his or her own needs.

There's a drawback to dishing out disks. Some people don't have access to a computer so they can't put the training information to use. But I suspect this is a very small group. And handing out computer disks for training is a good way to force folks to get acquainted with the new technology.


My past performance in reducing paper records was poor. After all, cranking out reports was a measure of my job performance. I could reduce paper records now by 10 to 15 percent but not much more. There is a high cost to switching to electronic records storage.

So what's driving me to pursue these different paperless routes? As I mentioned, I want to be more efficient. Plus, six to ten percent of a company's overall costs may be in documentation, so there is money to be saved.

I'm also redefining the concept of my "office." While I have a typical corporate address, I now consider my work space to be anywhere my notebook computer and phone connections are. As you can imagine, this "virtual office" does not easily accommodate stacks and files of paper.

Will I ever work without a sheet of paper within my reach? Perhaps not. But my office will definitely look different. And cleaner. The tools to do this are available now. The benefits can't be ignored. So how much paper are you using these days?