Going paperless is not just hugely beneficial to the environment.
There are knock-on effects for a company’s bottom line, morale, and public image as well.
And emerging and new technologies make it easier than ever to move away from paper dependence.
Let's take a look at slashing your business’s paper use and saving our precious trees.
Here's what we talk about:
- Can I go 100% paperless with accounting records?
- Paper and its environmental impact
- Why go paperless?
- How to go paperless
Can I go 100% paperless with accounting records?
First of all, however, we need to answer a fundamental question: Is paperless accounting even a legal possibility? In short, what does HMRC have to say about it?
On its page entitled Keeping your pay and tax records, HMRC says the following:
There are no rules on how you must keep records. You can keep them on paper, digitally or as part of a software program (like book-keeping software).
What HMRC is most concerned about, it adds immediately after this, is that the records are “accurate, complete and readable” and that they’re kept for the correct amount of time (e.g. five years after the 31 January submission deadline in the case of Self Assessment).
HMRC’s direction of travel is very clear in that it’s fully behind Making Tax Digital, which aims to digitalise all tax record keeping.
But what about if you are given a paper receipt or invoice? Once you’ve automatically extracted the data using a tool like AutoEntry, do you have to keep the paperwork?
There’s no hard and fast rule from HMRC, but in the leaflet A general guide to keeping records for your tax return, it provides the following general advice with regard to keeping records digitally:
You may not need to keep the original paper records as long as the method you use captures all the information (front and back) on the document and allows you to present the information to us in a readable format, if requested.
Paper and its environmental impact
Put simply, manufacturing paper is one of the most environmentally disastrous things you can do. For example, the pulp and paper industry uses more water than any other industry.
Here are some figures from the environmental site The World Counts:
- The average person in the west uses between 200 and 250 kilos of paper each year.
- A single A4 sheet of paper requires between 2 and 13 litres of water to create, and each kilo of paper is manufactured from two or three times that weight in trees.
- The top three paper producing countries—China, the United States and Japan—produce 206,000,000 tons of paper each year.
- Recycling is better—each tonne of recycled paper avoids chopping down 17 trees and avoids filling 2.3 cubic metres of landfill. Yet it only accounts for 45% of the world’s paper supply.
Why go paperless?
Outside of the environmental concerns, there are many very compelling reasons why you might reduce paper usage.
It’s cost-effective. You might also be surprised at how much paper costs: Back in 2016, the NHS in the UK estimated savings of £4.4billion by going paperless. But even if you’re smaller than the entire UK’s healthcare system, there are tangible savings to be made.
As well as the cost of paper itself, there’s the energy use of printing, the storage and real estate costs of keeping the paper, the labour and time-wasting of inefficient paper filing and additional costs of recycling and waste management.
Conversely, a paperless office needs less physical space, uses less energy and filing is exponentially easier and more efficient.
It also benefits morale.
This is a favourite subject of ours: making an office paperless makes life easier, with less time spent arguing with a printer, combing through paper files and gathering information. This will free your colleagues to do more meaningful work, boosting productivity and morale.
Finally, going paperless should be a part of any Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policy you produce for your business. Outside of the very real benefits of ESG policies, it's simply excellent PR, and is sure to make clients view your practice in a better light. Remember that clients prefer to work with business partners that share their views and approach to life. Being more environmentally conscious is part of this.
How to go paperless
Like everything else in working life, the more preparation you take, the easier the process.
1. Use accounting software
Naturally we would say this, but accounting software and cloud-based documents are a huge part of the paperless puzzle. Are you sending paper invoices? Do you print every receipt? Move as much of your data entry and accounts to the cloud as possible (all, if you can). This will single-handedly transform your business’s paper use.
2. Train staff and take time to get them on board
Going paperless is a cultural challenge as well as a logistical one. Take the time to communicate what you’re doing, communicate to your colleagues the importance of the initiative, and take the time to train them if necessary.
Buy-in is an important part of this process.
3. Audit your paper use
Which departments use the most paper and why? Is a hard copy necessary every time? Are printouts handed out at meetings? Does the design department print out individual drafts during the discussion process?
If you want to formalise this audit, have your staff put their recycling in a designated container for each department over the course of a week to measure who’s using paper for what. The purpose of this is not to point fingers, but to show room for simple, practicable improvements. This could also function as a tool for getting buy-in: colleagues might not be aware of the extent of their wastage.
4. Limit access to printing
This one might not suit every workplace, but limiting access to printing can have an immediate effect on usage. If a printer is in a separate room, or even password protected, colleagues might think twice before making a hard copy of every document. We would advise having an alternative infrastructure in place beforehand - such as cloud storage - to minimize disruption.
5. Replace notepads with note taking apps and software
Taking notes in meetings is important, of course. But you don’t have to fill notepads to capture the relevant information. The likes of Microsoft OneNote, EverNote and GoodNotes are as good if not better than notebooks - and they create shareable, online documents for all meeting attendees. If nothing else, the highlights, details and dates of meetings will forever be easier to find.
AutoEntry: good for your business... and also the planet
AutoEntry helps businesses become more efficient and cost-effective and less paper-dependent. Find out how it can make your working life easier with a free trial by clicking the link at the top right of this page.
[Original content by Joe Griffin; updated January 2023 for relevance.]