Before you read on, pause and take a look at your desk. How much paper do you have piled up, around your PC and overflowing in trays at the side? How much of it have you actually read and how much of it do you really need?

The answer for many of us is that we use far too much paper unnecessarily, at work but also at home. According to sustainability charity WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), the average office worker uses up to 45 sheets of paper per day, of which more than half is considered waste. With more than 10 million office workers in the UK alone, that’s an awful lot of paper wasted.

This has obvious implications for the environment. Even if we recycle, there is a finite supply of natural resources. So we have to use less and change the way that we approach working life. That’s why each year we manage World Paper Free Day. WPFD is a global initiative (taking place on 6 November in 2015) that encourages businesses (and individuals) to go paper-free for the day and think about the volume of paper they use. In doing so, there are many benefits to business too

Why go paper-free?

In forthcoming AIIM research, ‘Paper-Free Progress: measuring outcomes’, it was revealed that 31% of business executives admit their office is ‘piled high’ with paper documents. Reducing this will not only be great for de-cluttering and freeing up space, but reducing paper can help a business ran smoother and more efficiently.

The biggest benefits reported from paper-free processes cited in the research, are faster customer response times, followed by productivity and compliance, then better monitoring of the workflow. In such a customer-focused economy as we operate in, being able to respond more quickly to your customers’ needs and questions is valuable in itself.

But when you also factor in the improved collaboration and easier access to information for employees that digitising content can bring, then it is clear to see the potential that going paper-free has to make a business run more smoothly. It doesn’t have to cost the earth either - more than one quarter of respondents have achieved ROI on their paper-free investment within six months, the highest we have ever seen in our research.

Paper-free process – getting started

One of the biggest barriers to going paper-free is that many people still feel more comfortable using paper for certain tasks, even if is not essential that they do so. But there are many ways that a small business can get started on the path to going paper-free, here are some to help kick start the process:

1) Get your boss on board with going paper-free. And your boss’s boos too. Without senior support, using less paper is going to be a major challenge – with senior support it is achievable. Our forthcoming research showed that a lack of management initiatives was a major reason as to why there is still so much paper around.

2) Highlight your paper-free successes. Demonstrating that going paper-free can work / save money / improve efficiencies is a sure-fire way of getting others in the business to do so. If you’ve done it, and it has worked, shout about it and let people know how it has been successful.

3) Get rid of the signatures. One of the most common reasons that people still want to use paper, is because they are wedded to physical signatures for documents such as contracts. Yet often these are not required and using an e-signature solution is an effective and low cost solution.

4) Go mobile. Mobile has helped bring about a major change in the way many of us do business, especially in how we access and manage information and content. Another benefit of mobile is the impact it has had on electronic form-filling, particular using tablet PCs. An excellent way of reducing paper-use is by filling in expense claims on mobile devices, along with the image capture of receipts using the built-in camera.

Going totally paper-free is unrealistic and highly unlikely, but reducing the amount of paper we use is important for many reasons, including improving the environment and making your business more efficient. To get involved in World Paper Free Day 2015, we are on Twitter - @WorldPaperFree.

By John Mancini, President, AIIM