We hear a great deal about a wide range of environmental issues in today’s world. In broad terms, these issues mostly consist of climate change and pollution; more specifically, they comprise issues of material waste, fuel consumption, water pollution, and any number of other problems with significant environmental risk.
But one issue that seems to get surprisingly little coverage in broad economic discussions is that of paper consumption and, through it, the process of tearing down trees. Conservatree.org estimates (while acknowledging that it’s impossible to determine an exact number) that a single ton of paper can require anywhere between 8 and 24 trees to make. Most estimate that one ton of basic office paper amounts to a few hundred thousand sheets, which goes fairly quickly.
The reason this matters, aside from the fact that trees are generally pleasant, is that trees offer virtually innumerable benefits for our environment – their roots filter water, they produce healthy gases for organisms and the environment alike, and their general life process supports entire natural ecosystems. A 2012 New York Times article on climate change elaborated in some detail “why trees matter,” to the point that their significance is not only undeniable, but crystal clear for those who want specific details.
But how can we actually cut back on paper consumption? Well, fortunately, a great deal of this process is already happening with the natural progression of technology. Specifically, the increased digitization of business and personal practices alike online has the potential to drastically cut back on (and indeed is certainly already doing so) paper consumption. Take Sharefile as an example of one service providing digital solutions. This is a file sharing platform designed to help secure and speed up digital communication within businesses – and also to provide online file storage and backup through cloud computing.
The storage of files in secure online “clouds” eliminates the need for people to print such documents to file in person, and when you consider this development stretched out across enormous industries all over the world, it’s a major step in the right direction.
The bottom line is, increased digitization means less need for paper, which means lower demand. This in turn has the potential to significantly cut back on activity in the logging industry, and thereby provide a significant – and perhaps permanent – boost to the environment. That noted, with many positives there are negatives to consider — the greatest of which would be potential jobs lost in the logging and paper-making industries as digitization becomes more common. Those positions could be offset by the need for jobs in the area of digital security as there is more of a need to protect stored information.
There’s a long way to go, and additional factors to consider in saving our world’s trees. But this is one area in which technology could truly be a lifesaver.