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Paperless in practice, or how business can save thousands of trees

The demand for paper continues to grow worldwide. Despite recycling, millions of hectares of forests are cut down annually. There are still companies and institutions where even email messages are printed out. By 2060, global demand for paper and pulp will double compared to 2010. Anyone can make a difference by reducing the use of paper — including companies that are moving away from paper to an electronic workflow thanks to technology. Such a change is also expected by customers who increasingly want to pay invoices online or sign documents electronically. The benefits not only include an improvement of the natural environment, but also significant savings and increased competitiveness.

As you were reading this short introduction, 130 tons of paper were produced in the world. 8 hectares of forest were cut down or burned down. Now it grew to 170 tons and 10 hectares. The growth in these numbers is dramatic, particularly since replenishment of wildlife resources through new plantings does not happen. Since the beginning of this year alone, more than 8.3 million hectares of forests have already been cut or burned, while only 990 thousand hectares have been planted, which is slightly over 1% of what was cut down. Over 1.6 billion cubic meters of timber were produced, but only 200 million came from responsibly managed forests*. And that’s just one side of the coin. The other is paper production, which accounts for about 25% of all waste in landfills. This is largely due to the fact that paper is mainly used for packaging today. The increasing prevalence of online shopping means that we are producing more and more paper waste. And although they are recyclable, it is only a drop in the ocean of all the paper we consume.

Scarce commodity

Demand for paper therefore continues to grow, yet the amount of paper on the market is insufficient to meet this demand. There is a shortage of virtually every type of paper — office paper, packaging paper, and even toilet paper. This is due to still unreconstructed post-pandemic supply chains, higher paper demand in Europe (where some publishers have moved their printing from China), and of course, rising energy prices. As we read on the #PaperlessBusiness campaign website, the rising prices are also influenced by the continued cost of pulp and timber itself, a raw material that is crucial to other industries as well, such as the construction industry. The result is that paper prices in Poland today are three times higher than a year ago.

How about going… paperless?

The solution to the current situation is to reduce paper consumption in companies and institutions by moving to a digital/electronic workflow. The idea that nothing is printed, all signatures and approvals are done electronically using electronic signature or electronic seal solutions, despite appearances, is still not common. Two years of the pandemic have improved the situation a bit, but the use of paperless solutions in many Polish companies is still a futuristic concept. According to the EFL study “Digital Revolution in the Leasing Market. A closer look” (orig. Cyfrowa rewolucja na rynku leasingu. Pod lupą) 66% of companies need a maximum of 3 years to switch from paper to electronic documentation, and 64% plan to implement e-signature within a maximum of 3 years as well. 22% of respondents require a year to do this, and 44% estimate the process to take 2 to 3 years.

As EFL calculates, so far, the electronic workflow functions only in 10% of small and medium enterprises. It can be seen that in places run by the youngest entrepreneurs, this process goes the fastest — currently already every fourth business owner from the generation of people over 20 has fully switched to electronic documentation. The second factor is the size of the enterprise. The larger the enterprise, the less popular e-documents become.

Electronic equal to paper

The law stands on the side of digital solutions. As Dr. Dariusz Szostek, expert of the #PaperlessBusiness campaign, noted — “There are absolutely no legal obstacles to virtually full digital functioning in Poland as an EU country”. For many years, the so-called eIDAS Regulation has been in force, which is an EU legal act stating that qualified electronic signatures can be used wherever a handwritten signature is required. Despite the fact that these regulations have been in place for many years now, companies did not remember about them until the pandemic, and most things are still done in paper form. We are far behind Western Europe in this respect, as confirmed by the European Commission’s The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) for 2021. When it comes to digital competences, Poland is far down the list, ranking 23 out of 28 member states. “Putting the matter perversely”, writes Dariusz Szostek, “expressing the need to implement electronic signature today is not a sign of innovation, but a necessity that will make us stop being perceived as digitally incompetent and stuck in the 1990s”.

e-positive examples

Although the digital awareness is not Poland’s strongest suit, it should be noted that we have companies that have fully implemented electronic document workflow and can be an example for others. Asseco Data Systems has recently implemented mechanisms for the electronic signing of documents at Santander Leasing. It allows customers to sign leases at their convenience, at any time and place they wish, and the entire service is conducted fully online. Everything can be done remotely on the eBOK24 platform. Customers were given the opportunity to obtain a SimplySign qualified signature , which, in addition to signing agreements, can be used freely in their business operations.

Santander Leasing signs approx. 35,000 leasing agreements every year, therefore, the project carried out by Asseco Data Systems has significantly contributed to the reduction of costs resulting from reduced paper consumption. It also enabled the implementation of the paperless strategy planned by Santander Leasing. Another example of the use of digital signatures is Asseco’s cooperation with Plus, thanks to which the customers of this telecommunications operator can sign agreements at points of sale on a tablet using a handwritten digital signature. It is a quick and convenient solution, as the signed agreements are sent to customers via email.

Another project was implemented in Asseco Poland itself. The company has implemented the BackOffice Platform electronic document workflow system and Signer platforms for their acceptance with SimplySign qualified electronic signatures. As a result, Asseco’s employees can automatically exchange and accept digital documentation in 16 branches across Poland. According to information published on, the company saved 84 paper reams and about 155 working days last year in this way.

“The benefits that come from implementing paperless solutions are not just the money saved on paper and printer supplies. This is the cost of couriers or the work of people who send and receive such documents. The company also benefits from accelerated workflow. The document flow from its printing to signing by all authorized persons took a minimum of 4–5 days, and often up to 2 weeks or more. Today, the same contract is received simultaneously by everyone authorized to sign at a given stage, so approval can take just a few minutes. There is also the issue of the superiority of digital documents over paper documents in terms of maintaining the security of the signing process but also in terms of managing the entire life cycle of the document”. — says Ewelina Chudy, Head of the Product Management Team, Asseco Data Systems

No ESG without paperless

There is another significant benefit of going paperless. Large corporations are already familiar with the term ESG. It stands for sustainable management, based on factors such as environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG = Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance). These criteria should guide any organization striving for responsible growth. These are not rules imposed by states or supranational institutions, but elements that investors, banks, employees and consumers themselves are paying increasing attention to. The latter judge this with their own wallets, taking into account whether a company cares about the environment or uses fair-trade** raw materials when making purchasing decisions.  Paperless solutions are therefore key to good ESG practices, and companies that forget about it incur additional costs, such as more expensive financing.

Unstoppable digital transformation

One of the few positive effects of the pandemic has been a significant acceleration of digital transformation. Today, no one doubts that this process cannot be reversed or stopped. An important part of these changes is the increasing move away from paper documents and the use of electronic signatures. Therefore, companies can no longer hide behind customers’ ignorance and fear of “novelty”, which was a strong argument of the opponents of going paperless just a few years ago. Today, even the state has accelerated in this area, despite the limitations related to the use of the Trusted Profile, over 13 million Polish citizens have already created one.

Trust services in an international forum

Electronic signature, electronic identification and digital security are generally referred to as so-called trust services. Their purpose is to enable secure electronic transactions (including conclusion of agreements) between enterprises, individuals and public administrations. It is an industry that continues to evolve, creating new opportunities and struggling with various challenges. On 8–9 June the Trusted Economy Forum will be held, the largest conference in Europe dedicated specifically to electronic trust services. The event will bring together international experts and business practitioners to discuss key issues related to digital transformation, changing business models, cyber security, and future technologies affecting the development of electronic identification services. The Trusted Economy Forum will be held in a hybrid formula, and online participation is free. The theme of the event will be “Process, signature, identification — the basis for a unified and trusted global economy”. Discussions will take place within 4 thematic blocks: Market transformation in 2021/2022 in eID and trust services: Poland, Europe, the World; Business and partnerships: digital transformation in practice; Cyber security — geopolitics, business, trust; and Customer, technology, products, legislation.

To register head to: Trusted Economy Forum

* the term means management and use of forest resources in accordance with the highest global standards of environmental protection, respect for social values and at the same time preserving the economic account of forest management.

** Fair Trade is a trade partnership based on dialog, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions and protecting the rights of marginalized producers and workers, especially in southern countries.