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Bookmark and ShareThursday November 29, 2012

Misreading the signals: Observations of the paperless office

By Bob Johnson, NAID CEO

Recently, an article about the paperless office has been floating around Twitter and Facebook at Naturally, this type of article gets a lot of attention in our industry for obvious reasons. While as much as 35 percent of NAID members now generate revenue from electronic data destruction, paper shredding remains the primary business for more than 85 percent of all members.

The article above contains what could be a very disturbing graph to those in our industry who do not understand it. It shows a dramatic downturn in the consumption of paper in the U.S. over the last five years. The problem is not that the graph is inaccurate; it is that the graph is measuring the wrong thing or, better said, too many things.

The graph shows consumption of all paper everywhere when all our industry needs to consider is business communications paper. In fact, at its height, business communications paper only represented 9 percent of all paper consumption in the U.S. (a little over 9 million tons a year). The graph shows a decrease from approximately 100 million tons per year. That’s because the author is including cardboard, newspaper, printing paper, tissue, paper towels, and about a dozen other minor uses of pulp and paper products.

Cardboard consumption, the production of which is used as a key economic indicator, hit a wall when the global economic downturn hit. And, do I really have to explain what has happened to newspapers over the last decade? The decrease in consumption of these uses of paper has been vastly more significant to the overall consumption of paper, than any decrease in the consumption of business communications paper.

Now, there is no denying that the consumption of business communications paper – that stuff we shred – is declining somewhat. That decline is most dramatic in Fortune 1000s and a limited number of sectors. And, the decrease is likely to affect those who store paper records more than it will affect those who shred paper records. 

That being said, there is no inevitable “cliff” (fiscal or otherwise) toward which we are all marching. There are decades of opportunity left to those who prepare themselves. I’ll defend that proposition in next Tuesday’s NAIDnotes so come back here to read more. Have a great weekend.


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