Stuff you, paperless office!
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Stuff you, paperless office!

Martin Jud
Zurich, on 05.03.2018
Pictures: Thomas Kunz
Responsible for translation: Jessica Johnson-Ferguson
Sat in front of me is a notebook. Next to that there’s a double-sided black and white print-out of this article. Why? Because it’s easier to catch mistakes on paper than on screen. What's more, my desk is groaning under piles and piles of sticky notes and lots of paperwork. My workstation also doubles as a tea bar, is littered with cables, chocolate, coffee, tissues, chewing gum, games and an energy milk drink. I’m in the midst of utter chaos. All because my desk is in a «paperless office».

You might be thinking I could store my personal effects somewhere else. With hand on heart, I can say I’d love to do that. But when I reach for my filing cabinet drawer, I realise that I don’t actually have a filing cabinet at all.

I try and look for the positives. Surely it’s just because I’m new to the office and if I just sit tight one will appear. Maybe in-house infrastructure means I’ll need to wait a couple of months for the furniture to be ordered.

Nope. Not long after that, I discover new employees aren’t getting filing cabinets. The reason being we’re supposedly in a paperless office.

Have I ever used one of these cabinets for stationary in the past? Don’t be daft. I just miss having one because it was one of the last refuges of privacy in an office. It was home to a big box of tissues, my tea bar, emergency chocolate, a little umbrella and various other things I’d rather not put in writing.

Definition of a paperless office

The paperless office concept appeared in the 70s.
The paperless office concept appeared in the 70s.

Did you know that 24 October is World Paper Free Day? No, neither did I. I’ve only just heard about it and it’s already irking me – what’s the point of it? To be honest, most of these special days get on my nerves. Take Valentine’s Day, for example. Is it not a bit insincere to shower women with bouquets of roses on a set day of the year?

What about Christmas? Why do we give presents when the celebration is actually winter solstice and a date that’s been changed. During their missionary work in Europe, Christians altered the official day by three days.

And let’s not forget Halloween. Why are we stocking up on sweets to give out to children on 31 October when western kids as young as 12 have joint problems due to obesity?

But before I get too carried away, let me give you the definition I promised. * all documents can be saved in electronic form * documents can only be sent or transferred electronically * signing by hand is replaced with legally binding electronic signatures * old paper documents are scanned and archived electronically (no physical copies).

Dear trees, I promise to use you sparingly to wipe my behind

In Switzerland when trees are cleared, others will be planted somewhere else.
In Switzerland when trees are cleared, others will be planted somewhere else.

Around a third of Switzerland is forest area. There has been a forestry law (at that time known as the forest police law or «Forstpolizeigesetz») in place since 1876 that regulates logging and clearing. It’s this legislation that ensures any forest cleared is reforested elsewhere.

In spite of that, using paper still weighs on my mind, especially as paper that comes from wood is anything but sustainable. Hemp or linseed would grow much faster and yield more ecological products. But just because something has worked well for thousands of years doesn’t necessarily mean it will fit in a capitalist system. That’s why our economy sidesteps achievements that wouldn’t bring in a lot of money.

Not sure what I mean? Consider this example: why coat every pan with enamel when you can use Teflon that breaks three times faster, thereby bringing customers back to the shop within a few years? Why would you fit bulbs with tungsten when that makes them last more than 100 years? Similarly, what would be the point of creating a hydrogen station network in Europe when you can still make good money from petrol and diesel?

I really take the paperless office concept to heart – especially as I like to hug trees. However, I can’t and won’t forego paper entirely. Instead, I’ve decided to use it as sparingly as possible, whether I’m in the office or communing with nature.

As for the latter:
Every year in Switzerland, our toilet habits result in 700 kilogrammes of waste. Of that immense figure, 194 kilogrammes accounts for toilet paper. On average, every person in Switzerland goes through 11.7 kilogrammes of the stuff.
That kind of makes it laughable that the Swiss are the world champions of recycling. After all, we’re also pretty adept at producing massive amounts of rubbish per head. However, credit where credit is due, Switzerland does publish complete statistics where other countries don’t. If you take a walk through the forest in Italy, for instance, you’ll come across trees and wild animals along with old washing machines, the odd tyre and other piles of rubbish.

Paper makes sense – let it rain confetti

There isn’t much in favour of confetti, except for getting rid of paper at work.
There isn’t much in favour of confetti, except for getting rid of paper at work.

My dear Basel readers, what if we laid off the confetti this year? Not just for environmental reasons, but also because I’m tired of feeling itchy all over and having to extract bits of paper from my person.

We squander our raw materials as though we had more than just this one planet. That’s why I’m inclined to think it’s important to give things like a paperless office a bit more thought (or scrap neo-liberalism while we’re at it). Having said that, there are still areas where it makes sense to use paper. This is evidenced by printer sales that aren’t dwindling.

Here are seven reasons in support of using paper in the office: * When you’re proofreading, it’s easier to spot mistakes on paper. Highlighters and handwritten notes also help speed up the workflow. * More people pay attention to a printed presentation handout than an emailed version. * Having a printed copy of the flight ticket for your next business trip can be reassuring. That way you’ll still be able to get through the gate even if your smartphone runs out of battery. * There isn’t much point to digital business cards. * Personal invitations or congratulation cards in physical (rather than electronic) form get more response. * Printed photos make experiences more memorable.
* Brainstorming without a notepad hinders creative thinking.

People are still buying printers – even now in 2018. To be honest, that doesn’t surprise me as, unlike in the 90s, things aren’t designed with longevity in mind. That was something I found out for myself – at the expense of my wallet:
I don’t want to point the finger at Samsung but my LaserJet gave up the ghost the other week, shortly after the warranty was up*. It had a whiff of inbuilt obsolescence. As a result, I decided not to pick up another Samsung but to opt for a Brother multifunction printer instead. Let’s see if Brother is still making the same quality printers as in the 90s. (I’ll report back in five years so you can find out what I think).

* I’d just gone and put in a new toner, which by my standards wasn’t cheap. Less than 50 printouts later and the machine was telling me to go on without it. The page was all streaky, as the photo conductor unit had packed in.

Is my guilty conscience going to haunt me every time I go to the loo?

The more people who know how to use wood and other raw materials sensibly, the sooner people as a whole will have to rethink the status quo.
That’s why it probably won’t come as a surprise that I believe wholeheartedly in chaos theory and the idea that even as an editor I have some power and potential to change the world. A single flame can be enough to start a wildfire. The more we make our opinions on our environment known, the greater the chance our idea will catch on.

Nevertheless, I still have my reservations about a paperless office. When you use paper sustainably and correctly, it makes total sense. For instance, there is a time and a place for 5-ply paper.

I hope this article gives you some food for thought and maybe convinces the powers that be to conjure up a filing cabinet for me. Please?

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Martin Jud
Martin Jud
Editor, Zurich
I find my muse in everything. When I don’t, I draw inspiration from daydreaming. After all, if you dream, you don’t sleep through life.

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