Can RIM Save the World? the Role Electronic Records Management Plays in Promoting a Greener Work Environment: If You Think That Saving the World Is a Job for Superman, Think Again. Records and Information Management (RIM) Professionals Hold a Pivotal Role in Promoting Environmental Sustainability and Helping Their Organizations "Go Green."

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As people become more aware of the impact of human consumption on the environment, an increasing number of companies and government organizations are making an effort to promote environmentally friendly policies and procedures. The business benefits associated with taking a "green" approach include:

* Enhanced reputation

* More motivated employees

* Decreased costs and increased operational efficiency

As a result, records and information management (RIM) professionals must be prepared to help reduce their organization's environmental impact. Leveraging electronic records management (ERM) is one way to achieve this goal.

ERM and the Environment

ERM can support sustainability within your organization by substantially reducing the consumption of three key natural resources: trees (paper), fuel, and energy.

Paper

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) frequently asked questions on its website at www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/ materials/paper, the average American office worker uses approximately 10,000 sheets of copy paper--roughly 1.25 trees--each year.

The environmental impact of all this paper consumption is significant. The Environmental Paper Network in a 2007 report, "The State of the Paper Industry: Monitoring the Indicators of Environmental Performance." highlighted three sobering facts about paper's negative impact on the planet:

* Roughly 42% of industrial wood harvested is used to make paper, thinning out the forests that provide one of our most important safeguards against climate change.

* The paper industry is the fourth-highest producer of carbon dioxide among manufacturers, contributing approximately 9% of total manufacturing carbon dioxide emissions.

* After it has been used and thrown away, paper decomposes and produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.

According to the report, if each American office reduced its paper use by roughly 10%, the environmental impact would be equivalent to taking 280,000 cars off the road. With ERM, decreasing paper consumption by 10% is an easily attainable goal by:

1. Eliminating lost and misplaced files

In a 2008 report, 'Transition from Document to Digital: Why Document Management is a 'Must Have'," PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that 5% of all hardcopy records are lost or misfiled. By centralizing scanned paper and electronic records in a secure, digital repository with automatic classification and filing based on a formal file plan, employees have quick, easy access to the records they need (and are authorized to view). This eliminates lost and misplaced files, reducing the need to create replacement copies.

2. Enabling electronic file distribution

The average office makes 19 copies of each document. By scanning paper records and saving them in an electronic format, employees may share and distribute files electronically, cutting down on the need to make copies. (Organizational policies should be put in place to discourage printing e-mail attachments and long e-mail reply strings.)

3. Limiting duplicated efforts

ERM's audit trail functionality tracks changes and revisions to each record, including who created the record and the date the record was created. This information establishes confidence among employees that they are working with the most current, official version of the record, decreasing the need to copy and compare multiple versions of the same file.

In addition to the environmental benefits of reducing paper consumption, ERM also encourages recycling. When hardcopy records are scanned mad stored electronically, the source documents most often may be shredded and recycled.

According to the Environmental Paper Network's report, making new paper from recycled paper requires less energy and is a cleaner manufacturing process than making paper from trees. …