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Paper, Electronics and Caring Survival

What's love got to do with landfills and e-waste and recycled paper?

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The word. Written? Printed? Electronic? Spoken? We love to twitter to one another and just like a flock of birds, the result can be a cacophony of results! Not only noisy, in our case, but also creating a residual of waste.

These two stories were promoted one after the other in a recent newsletter:

The paperless office is possible, says JP Morgan

It may have been mooted ever since the computer was invented, but according to a new report from JP Morgan the paperless office is now technically and economically feasible. Released last week, the report states that the banking giant has helped 25,000 of its clients eliminate more than 24 million paper documents from operations in just 18 months by promoting digital processes. It added that the campaign, which urges firms to replace paper documents such as payslips, invoices and bills with digital alternatives, aims to further reduce the volume of paper used by clients by 77 million ...

Urgent need to prepare developing countries for surge in e-wastes

Rocketing sales of cell phones, gadgets, appliances in China, India, elsewhere forecast. Proper e-waste collection, recycling key to recovering valuable materials, protecting health, building new green economy Sales of electronic products in countries like China and India and across continents such as Africa and Latin America are set to rise sharply in the next 10 years. And, unless action is stepped up to properly collect and recycle materials, many developing countries face the spectre of hazardous e-waste mountains with serious consequences for the environment and public health, ...

So which is worse ... which is greener? Where is the green solution?

The manufacturing of paper cuts down old-growth trees and desperately needed organic factories of oxygen and sequestration of carbon. That's a heavy load at the front end of the supply chain. On the backend there is the transport of used paper from the US to China...and back.

Electronics start with the mining of metals, the use of plastics, glass and some pretty toxic chemicals. But they use less space than comparable encyclopedias of printed words. Their problem is at the back end of the supply chain. Toxic waste that lands in underdeveloped nations.

The solution? Or maybe I should be more diplomatic and always speak in terms of "solutions".

We can use less paper. And recycled content paper. And reusable paper products.

And we can reduce electronic waste with less frequent upgrades that cause billions of cell phones and laptops and desktop computers to be trashed. Modular design might be more effective both for upgrades and for repair and dismantling.

It all comes down to systems thinking. It's not just the system you put into place in your own office -- but that IS truly important.

And it's not just the "paper" system. Or the "electronic system".

It's also the "message" system.

What messages have zero-based cultural value. If we start from the very best decisions we can make -- what messages have true value. Is the balance of entertainment to education appropriate for our cultural survival? Is technology skill building the end all -- or do we need a balance of health and emotional maturation?

How do we create and distribute essential messages for the essentials of survival? Health. Climate change. Waste management. Pollution prevention. Joy. Love. Caring.

Joy, love and caring don't rely as heavily on paper and electronics as they rely on personal time invested in relationships. Some relationships are local, some distant. Paper and electronics can certainly help foster family and friendship bonds over distances.

But times are changing and even though we have accepted changes such as megacities around the world, and cheap global travel and transport, and urbanization and computerization ... local still matters to the majority of the peoples (and other species) of the world.

The solutions that will foster survival have to do with balancing open inquiry and self discipline. Solutions have to do with limits and ethics and responsibilities. And entertainment, travel and consumption are the frosting on the cake... not the nutrition necessary for thriving.

We need "zero-based culture" as much as we need zero-based budgeting. Survival is a matter of doing the right thing even more than doing things efficiently.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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