Going paperless can increase productivity, save time and money, and help the environment, according to conventional wisdom.
But members of one of the North’s most environmentally and financially conscious public bodies have voted to reject a move to only publish their key documents online, despite being told moving to a more up-to-date system which could provide better information was “inevitable”.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority heard the subject of moving away from paper based systems to “a more effective and efficient use of developing technology” had been an issue at the organisation for nearly 20 years.
Members were told while there was a general acceptance the move was necessary, the time was right to embrace improved technology, and many public bodies had already made the switch.
The authority’s additional annual cost for printing and posting out committee papers is £5,500,
After Julia Hutton, member champion for corporate management, said ending paper documents was particularly important from “an environmental point of view”, members described the move as “a step too far”.
Member Judith Donovan, who runs a marketing agency, said: “The green issues have been completely overcooked. The internet has quite a high carbon footprint and paper is the second most sustainable product in the world. A lot of the paper in this country is produced from specially planted forests with three trees planted to replace every tree that is cut down for paper.”
Mrs Donovan said neuroscientific research about how people processed information when they read it on a screen or on paper had concluded people comprehend and retain more information if they look at it on paper. She said her firm had conducted a test by sending details out in the post and online.
She said: “Of the ones who got it in the post 82 per cent remembered it accurately and of the ones who got it online only 32 per cent.”
Ian McPherson, member champion for the natural environment, added as the authority had switched to using recycled paper, the “assumption that technology is more sustainable than paper” was questionable.
He said: “Just from an environmental point of view devices use electricity both in the way they are manufactured and the way in which they are used. They become obsolescent and they use plastic. The materials they use often come from areas with repressive regimes or where there is slave labour.”
Richmondshire District Council leader Yvonne Peacock said the paperless system had been a success for seven years for her authority, but Lancashire and Burnley councillor Cosima Towneley said going paperless had “always ended in disaster” on the authorities she served.
Mrs Towneley said: “The problem has been constant i-Pad and telephone problems.”