Are Digital Signatures Environmentally Friendly?

Posted 6th June 2023

While Earth has been around for over 4.5 billion years, we’ve managed to cause unprecedented levels of damage to the environment in a mere century.

As environmental issues move increasingly towards the forefront of public consciousness, thanks to the likes of David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and, for better or for worse, Extinction Rebellion, business owners are now reflecting on their own environmental impact and carbon footprint.

Many businesses are moving away from traditional paper-based processes and embracing the convenience and efficiency of electronic signatures. this blog post, we will explore the environmental benefits of digital signatures and shed light on how they contribute to a greener future.

Humans have more than 2.3 trillion tons emissions in the last 160 years. By exploiting our natural resources, generating too much waste and polluting the air and water, we’re vastly approaching the point of no return.

It’s safe to say that we all want to do our bit for the planet. Whether that’s recycling our waste or walking instead of driving, most of us have already integrated some form of sustainable alternative into our day to day lives. But have you ever considered the impact your business processes have on the environment?

 

Paper Production Is a Big Polluter

Paper production accounts for 26% of total waste at landfills. Until the dawn of the digital age, everything from contracts to communications was dependant on reams of paperwork. As technology develops, digital solutions are slowly but surely replacing these traditional, paper-based processes.

Yet despite advancements in digital and cloud-based technology, many businesses are reluctant to give up paper entirely, opting for a mixture of analogue and digital processes to form a disjointed workflow. Whilst paper is one of the most widely recycled materials on the planet, paper processing is still an incredibly harmful process that negatively impacts the environment in multiple ways.

Let’s take a closer look at the environmental effects of your humble printer paper on the planet.

Deforestation 

Deforestation is one of the biggest challenges our planet faces. 80% of the earth’s forests have already been destroyed for resources, agriculture and yes, paper production. According to the WWF, over 40% of all industrial wood goes into the paper industry and the production of materials like paper, cardboard and tissues.

Whilst deforestation is a massive issue for us humans (trees produce oxygen after all), it also destroys the habitats of our animal friends and threatens their very existence; it’s estimated that up to 28,000 species could go extinct in the next 25 years if deforestation continues.

Digital Signatures Help Stop Deforestation
If your business is still reliant on paper for day-to-day administration, your company could be inadvertently contributing to mass deforestation with its inefficient operations. Going paperless will eliminate your business’s paper usage all together, so you can do your bit to help safeguard our forests and the biodiversity within.

Pollution 

The paper industry is one of the biggest polluters out there, contributing to both air and water pollution. Indeed, the process of creating pulp and paper releases sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, both of which can contribute to acid rain; precipitation that upsets the pH balance of bodies of water and soil.

Paper processing also uses a lot of water; it’s estimated that a single sheet of A4 pulp paper can guzzle up to 10 litres of water during production. That’s a lot of water to print out an email you don’t really need. The process also generates a fair bit of wastewater which can pollute groundwater and surface water if not handled correctly. In short, the paper industry produces waste on multiple levels, whether that’s the pollutants it releases into the environment or the paper waste that ends up in landfill

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

As well as producing sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the paper industry also emits its share of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane- both of which are major contributors to global warming.  Indeed, transporting pulp and materials from A to B increases the carbon footprint of your paper, as transportation often relies heavily on the use of fossil fuels.

Overall, a single sheet of paper produces around 0.0092 lbs of CO2. While that may seem like a small amount, it’s estimated that the average office worker uses 10000 sheets of paper each year. It soon adds up, driving up the carbon footprint of your business in the process. Whilst recycling paper admittedly releases over 70 percent less carbon dioxide than new paper production, digital solutions allow you to eliminate these paper-related greenhouse gas emissions entirely.

Go Paperless, Go Green

So how much paper does your business use and what’s the impact on the environment? Why not take a look for yourself with this paper calculator. Understanding your company’s impact on the planet is the first step to making a positive change.

By embracing digital technology and electronic signatures, your business can significantly reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the use of paper in your day-to-day business operations. Whether you’re dealing with daily administration, making deals with clients or supplying collateral to customers, anything that can be done on paper can be done digitally, eliminating paper from your processes entirely.

Let’s take a closer look at how you could save both paper and time with digital solutions like electronic signatures.

 

Case in Point

E-Sign has been supplying digital document solutions and electronic signatures to businesses of all types and sizes since 2012. We’ve seen first-hand the benefits of embracing digital technology. To demonstrate the environmental benefits of digital solutions, we carried out a case study at an industry-leading law firm to see how they reduced their paper consumption with E-Sign.

The results were extremely encouraging. Over the course of 12 months:

  • The law firm saved approximately 1.4 million sheets of paper, which is roughly equivalent to 17 trees.
  • This reduction in paper saved 7,787 Kg CO2 overall, which is equivalent to around 3371 litres of petrol.

By significantly reducing the law firm’s paper usage, our document management platform and digital signature were able to minimise the company’s environmental impact, reducing both their waste and carbon footprint.

But That’s Not the Only Benefit of Digital Solutions

Whilst saving paper and reducing your company’s carbon footprint is a definite benefit of going digital, its certainly not the only one. Indeed, when your company makes the switch, it’s truly the best of both worlds; you can do your bit for the planet whilst benefiting from streamlined workflow and improved efficiency.

So how can your business benefit from electronic signatures and digital documents?

Save Money

Whilst paper may seem like a relatively small business expense, the cost of your paper supply can add up as the months and years progress. True, your business will have to pay a monthly or yearly fee for your digital signature, but overall, ditching paper-based processes and embracing modernising digital technology will save you money whilst maximising your productivity and profitability.

Increase Efficiency 

If you’re still reliant on paper-based processes, it’s doubtful your business will be operating as efficiently as it could be. As we’ve previously examined, switching between paper-based processes and digital elements is ineffective and time-consuming, adding additional steps that can be easily eliminated by keeping everything digital. Electronic signatures allow you to sign documents digitally, without the need for printing or scanning, so you can make the deals you need, without the administrative hassle.

Improve User Experience

As the world moves increasingly online, your clients and customers now expect to be able to do business digitally. Indeed, having to fill in and return paper documents actually makes life more difficult for both partnering businesses and customers; printing, scanning or faxing is no longer the most efficient way to do business. Using an electronic signature, documents can be signed and returned in a matter of clicks, resulting in convenience for your clients and quicker turnaround times for yourself.

E-Signs Carbon Counter lets you see how much you can save

The latest addition to our document management platform is the E-Sign Carbon Counter. The Counter monitors how much carbon you are saving each month by using our platform and presents the results on a visually pleasing dashboard.

With each year that passes, you build a more comprehensive picture of the extent of the savings your business is making. Savings that can be used to demonstrate your ESG credentials to customers, investors, and new recruits alike.

The features don’t stop there…

The E-Sign platform allows you to do more than digitise signatures, slash paper usage, reduce carbon emissions, and view the positive effect you’re having on the environment in real-time. It also boosts your sustainability endeavours with:

Trusted E-Seals: It is still common practice for businesses to use official, stamped seals to prove the authenticity of documents which require or contain signatures. Using next-generation cryptography, our E-Seals are a digital replication of this practice, verifying both authenticity and origin of any digitally transferred document.

Digital Payment Processing: Processing payments represents one of the most essential undertakings any business can make and often requires the sending of documents such as invoices and receipts. Through the E-Sign platform, you can e-sign, send digital payment documents, and even integrate a payment gateway that combines multiple transactions into just one for added efficiency.

Customisable Web Forms: Depending on the nature of your business, it may be that you require customers to fill out forms as part of any transaction. E-Sign’s customisable web forms allow such forms to be completed online, eliminating further paper dependency, and providing an extra layer of convenience for your customers.

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