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Education Commons at OISE

Technology and Social Change:
The Benefits of Paper-light Working and Telecommuting 


The Paper-light Office

May 13, 2020 – For years we’ve heard of the advent of the paperless office, but it remains difficult to point to examples of workplaces where absolutely no paper is consumed. The term paper-light has been coined to acknowledge the difficulty of achieving perfect paperlessness, while reminding us that we can always be looking for ways to use less paper, even if we know that we’ll inevitably be using some.

the DocuSign logo

At Education Commons, we’ve recently been involved in contracting with DocuSign to provide digital signature capabilties at OISE. Digital signatures are a key requirement for producing end-to-end paperless workflows: without them, we have the ongoing absurdity of digital documents being printed just so that they can be signed, with the signed copy ultimately scanned back into digital form for archiving. With digital signatures as part of a paper-light approach to working, several benefits can be achieved.

Environmental Benefits of Paper-light Working

Reducing society’s use of paper will have immense environmental benefits: we will 

  • destroy fewer natural resources (that is, trees—paper production is a major contributor to deforestation globally),
  • burn less energy (to produce and transport paper),
  • generate less pollution from paper production (a very polluting process that contaminates the water and the air),
  • generate less waste for our landfills (offices produce uncounted tons of paper waste in Canada every year).

Along with reducing paper use, working paper-lightly will mean working digitally, so that all sorts of commuting and business travel will be transformed, bringing us that much closer to achieving all the environmental benefits of telecommuting.

Social Benefits of Paper-light Working

  • Paperless digital work processes tend to be faster and more efficient, benefitting employers, employees, and customers. 
  • Digital information/documentation is more searchable, for better information management.
  • Digital information/documentation is more securable, for better protection from loss and theft.

More Information

DocuSign Delivers Green by Saving Businesses 837 Tons of Paper and Millions in Greenbacks (DocuSign)

Going paper-light is good for the environment, but it’s even better for business (ITProPortal) 

picture of freeway, with little traffic, and a sign recommending essential travel only, to fight COVID-19

Telecommuting and Remote Work

Like most of the OISE community, and millions more people around the world, we at Education Commons have been working remotely for more than two months now, continuing the institute’s educational and research missions in the online realm. While we all hope for the end of our current health crisis, it is interesting to contemplate the potential effect of continued telecommuting on the current scale. 


Environmental Benefits of Telecommuting

  • Less commuting means less burning of petroleum, a major source of dangerous air pollutants and a leading driver of global heating.
  • If enough people work at home, less office space will be required, meaning less energy required to heat, light, and run offices.

Social Benefits of Telecommuting

  • Telecommuting, if it becomes the "new normal," may make work more accessible for various groups of people for whom commuting presents a barrier, such as the elderly or the disabled.
  • For employees, telecommuting offers a better quality of life, because of less time spent on the often-stressful daily commute.
  • For employers, telecommuting has been shown to result in better productivity and higher quality of work from employees. Potentially, employers might also realize lower overhead costs as office-space requirements are reduced.
  • In general, many forms of consumption could be reduced. For example, a two-car household might get by with one automobile, or even none, if all household members worked from home, resulting in great savings for these households, and for the environment. Households who could take advantage of the possibilities of telecommuting could achieve cost savings thanks to reduced requirements for the purchase of things like
    • child-care services, 
    • work-specific clothing, 
    • parking permits, 
    • public transit fares, etc.,

More Information

Is telecommuting good for the environment? (The Ecologist)

Benefits of telecommuting for the future of work (Forbes)