While both a paperless and paper-based approach negatively impact the environment in their own ways, going paperless is better for the environment because it produces less pollution and waste. Since the main negative impact of paperless is the power used to run the cloud servers, as power becomes greener by using more renewable and carbon-neutral sources, the negative impact from storing your data on the cloud will reduce significantly.
Paper is a recyclable material, which comes from a renewable resource, and is recycled more than any other commodity globally. Unfortunately, this does not mean that producing paper has no negative impact on the environment; the process of making paper contributes to air, water and land pollution.
The process of manufacturing releases toxic waste into the air and creates wastewater discharge, the packaging used for paper, which is typically plastic, also has a negative impact on the environment.
Some options such as creating paper from recycled paper waste or hemp can reduce the impact paper manufacturing has on the environment, but neither option provides full mitigation.
Paper isn’t the only material to consider when looking at the environmental impact of paper documents; ink, printer cartridges, and the printers themselves all also have a negative impact. Empty printer cartridges and printers end up in landfills, and the manufacturing process for these all contribute negatively to pollution.
Another consideration is the transport of paper documents, such as letters. The delivery drivers’ vehicles that send the paper documents between locations produce carbon emissions, further contributing to a negative impact on the environment.
With storing your data on the cloud, you avoid a lot of the negative environmental impacts associated with the printing and transport of the paper documents, but the paperless approach is not entirely without negative impact either.
The main negative impact from storing your data as digital media on the cloud is the amount of energy it takes to operate the servers your documents are stored on. Every server needs to be operating 24/7 so that your documents are readily available, this requires a constant supply of power.
The manufacturing of servers and other hardware necessary for cloud systems to operate also negatively contribute to the environment, as well as contributing to land pollution when it reaches the end of its life.
On the bright side, the cleaner and greener we make our supply of power globally, the less of a negative environmental impact our data on the cloud will have. Ultimately, storing your important documents digitally is better for the environment than printing paper.