Save Trees & Money: Reduce Paper Use in the Distribution Center

Paper is not a thing of the past in distribution centers, but it probably should be. More importanlty, the reasons go well beyond simply saving trees (a laudable goal) to an even more compelling arguement: It's just better business all around.

In a 2005 Inbound Logistics article, Leslie Hansen Harps wrote that the speed through the distribution center is critical. “Effective operations use best practices within the four walls of the facility — and beyond.” One of the best-practices discussed in the article: reducing reliance on paper. Specifically, the article referenced moving to hands-free solutions. Denny McKnight of Tompkins Associates Inc. told Harps: “People writing numbers on pads of paper or keying strings of numbers into a keyboard is a bad sign.”

Almost 10 years later, paper use is still surprisingly rampant in distribution centers. A recent Intermec survey of supply chain and distribution center mangers found that 27% of companies in the US are still using paper to conduct distribution center processes. Why does this matter? Paper use is costly — very costly.

Paper use in distribution centers is inefficient and ineffective. Not only is it a drain on productivity, but it also hurts customer satisfaction and your bottom line. Here are 11 (more) benefits of reducing your reliance on paper:

  1. Increased inventory visibility
  2. Increased fulfillment accuracy
  3. Fewer lost sales
  4. Fewer out-of-stock situations
  5. Reduced search time
  6. Increased communication with customers
  7. Increased communication within/across the company
  8. Waste reduction
  9. Overhead cost cuts
  10. Document storage cost cuts
  11. A safer work environment

Has your company reduced its reliance on paper? If so, what benefits have you realized? If your company is writing things down on paper, why?

41 comments on “Save Trees & Money: Reduce Paper Use in the Distribution Center

  1. t.alex
    February 21, 2014

    To speed up the reduced  use of paper, i believe alternative tools have t be conveniently available. For example, electronic copies have to be accessible on devices like laptop and tablets. People need to have a way to mark, to take notes or to share their copies. Perhaps with apps available, these can be achieved easily. 

  2. SP
    February 21, 2014

    Yes paper must be saved whereever possible. And I think the best thing is to put this habit in young kids so that they become responsible citizens. Even its equally important to recycle the old paper. Pinting on used paper is another option and must be exercised in companies.

  3. Himanshugupta
    February 21, 2014

    Although it is easier to say that reducing paper use is easy but in practice it is actually quite expensive. I agree that we can distribute gadgets to employees to reduce paper but we forget to think about the life-time of most of these gadgets is few years and then we need to deal with the recyling problem. 

  4. Himanshugupta
    February 21, 2014

    when i have to save some papers then i use pencil instead of pen. The main reason is that i can rub the paper with rubber and use the paper again. I think that we should seriously find out some innovative ink which can clean itself from paper after certain period of time. I do not know otherwise how to save papers.

  5. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 22, 2014

    We've been talking about the “paperless office” for too many decades now. It's an idea whose time is come. Paper slows us down, is hard to share and search, and rife with mistakes. i find myself confounded at the holdup!


  6. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 22, 2014

    @Himanshugupta, I agree that the gadgets are expensive. It seems to me that focusing on the database technology, analytics and the rest is important–and then make the data searchable, viewable and usable through whatever system people use.

  7. Eldredge
    February 22, 2014

    Reducing paper is actually a secondary (though worthy) goal. Too much paper is a symptom, not the core problem.

      The problem is that excess paper often represents excess, or at least inefficient, transactions. Finsding ways to reduce paper is equivalent to finding gains in efficiency.

  8. Eldredge
    February 23, 2014

    @Hailey -It seems like previous attempts to promote a “paperless office” have generated more paper than before. I think the reason is that, at least in part, the technology of the “paperless” office has made it easier to print out multiple copies  of transactions.

  9. Nemos
    February 23, 2014

    Of course I agree with all of the above, but still we have to use paper as we haven't yet invent a substitute (PC, laptops, notebooks, ultra books, tablets can NOT be used as replacements)

  10. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 23, 2014

    @Eldredge, I think there's a psychological aspect to it too. People just feel more comfortable with having things written on paper. The next generation will likely feel differently though.

  11. jbond
    February 24, 2014

    Hailey – I agree. So many people feel more comfortable with pen and paper even when they have a phone, tablet or computer with them that they could use. Even at home we have been working on trying to go paperless and using one note to keep track of to do lists, grocery lists, etc. It is hard to adapt. Even though it is right there handy we all have a tendency to reach for pen and paper. We have finally been able to get rid of our paper calendar at home by using a tablet in the kitchen and using Google calendar and syncing it with all of our phones, including our kids to keep track of all the different schedules. It is possible to go paperless but it takes time to adjust and find the right programs for your business or home use.

  12. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 24, 2014

    In my opinion, many of the technology usage transitions take at least one generation for the transition to complete and the will power to make the change is also required.

    Just take the example of the Metric system of measurement. The whole world has embraced it , but the most advanced of the nations the US has not moved towards it – It is still stciking to those Foot-pound-miles systems.

  13. Adeniji Kayode
    February 24, 2014

    @Himanshugupta, you made a good point there. if we plan to move completely away from the use of paper, then more enectronic portable gadgets will have to fill in for papers. That also means that more data backup will have to be done often and that also means that more storage would have to be probided

  14. Houngbo_Hospice
    February 24, 2014

    @prabhakar: Why change if you can still do the same thing or better with the old technology? The reason people resist to change is when It is too disruptive or unnecessary.

  15. Adeniji Kayode
    February 24, 2014

    @Sp, you are right on that, recycling is a major way out for paper.

  16. Adeniji Kayode
    February 24, 2014

    @Hailey, you are right Hailey and as you rightly said- its kind of slow though but we are becoming paperless gradually. Tablets are doing some great work in that area. Gone are the days when you have to pile up book on your shelf and you call that a library. Now its easier to have you books on the shelf on your tablets

  17. Adeniji Kayode
    February 24, 2014

    @ Himanshugupta, The best way to save paper is still by recycling. Even if it can not be made into white leaves pages for writing, it can still be made into wipes, tissue papers, paper bags etc.

  18. Houngbo_Hospice
    February 25, 2014

    @Adeniji: Recycling is good, but we can still save more paper when we avoid unnecessary printings. For instance we can get electronic copies of our bills and only print them when necessary.

  19. t.alex
    February 25, 2014

    I know some companies still rely heavily on “paper” (literally) work for things such as HR administrations. With a simple online system, this can help reduce pretty much paper.

  20. jbond
    February 25, 2014

    Yes, many companies do rely heavily on paper but many also have the programs to preform all of their HR needs on their system. Many have applications, enrollment forms, just about everything online and it seems to work well becuase no matter what department you work in you have access to all of the information.

  21. Adeniji Kayode
    February 25, 2014

    @Hospice, well said,you made a good point on that. To developing countries, that option may not be fully applicable.

  22. Adeniji Kayode
    February 25, 2014

    @ t.alex, you are right on that, it seems the best alternative for paper is still internet compliance devices.

  23. ahdand
    February 26, 2014

    @Kayode: Why not ? Do you think they are not suitable enough or is it the resources factor ? 

  24. jbond
    February 26, 2014

    I would tend to think it is the resources and not the capabilities but they can go hand in hand. It would depend on the location.

  25. Taimoor Zubar
    February 26, 2014

    I think there's a very strong association between the use of paper in an organization and the backward culture of an organization. The more futuristic and sophisticated a company is, the less is their reliance on paper. This seems like a cultural issue to me rather than an issue about environmental awareness. If you want to get rid of paper from your company, change the company's culture.

  26. Taimoor Zubar
    February 26, 2014

    “The best way to save paper is still by recycling.”

    @Adeniji: While some companies do think that they have played their role in terms of caring for the environment by using recycled paper, I'm not sure if that's really the right approach. Even with recycled paper, the paper can only be used twice. Which means you'll still need new paper and still need to cut trees. There has to be ways where you completely avoid the use of paper rather than shift towards using recycled paper.

  27. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 26, 2014

    @Jbond, i tend to agree with you. The list above is useful because it puts in one place just how much real impact on the business (positive) reducing the use of paper can have. I

  28. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 26, 2014

    @Taimoorz, it is a cultural thing. Organizations can change the culture but it's had to do. It takes extreme effort. However, in light of hte real business savings and ehancements involved, i hope that more organizations make the effort.

  29. Anand
    February 26, 2014

    People who have desk jobs in distribution centers are probably extremely happy to hear this. Nobody likes the sight of huge paperwork. It has been studied, that 10 projects when handed out to an employee group consisting of 10 people in the form of case files and paperwork reporting, resulted in the decline of interest among employees and increased execution time. The same amount of projects was replaced with work on computers in the same group of people, and it showed a rapid increase in the execution time, by 37 percent. Moreover if there is no paper, the cost of operation reduces by a huge margin.

  30. Anand
    February 26, 2014

    @jbond: Yes, the use of paper cannot be totally discarded in distribution systems. Think about healthcare management systems. This system needs a huge circulation of paper for reports, bills, and prescriptions. If there was any way to digitize this method, the work would have been much efficient and less patience-testing for the patient as well as the health workers.

  31. Anand
    February 26, 2014

    @Hospice: Recycling Is good, only when there is enough profit circulation in the industry/workplace. Recycling can be costly, and if unchecked, hiring a recycling company would only add to the expenses of the company.

  32. Himanshugupta
    February 26, 2014

    @Adenjii, the problem is sustainability here. Papers can be recycled maybe 3-4 times but ultimately its perishable item. Today forests are fast disappearing but paper is not the only culprit here. The growing demand for food, shelter and general purpose land is one of the biggest problem. I think we should look the problem in holistic view.

  33. Himanshugupta
    February 26, 2014

    @Anandvy, i do not know of this study. Is this specific to any field or domain or in general the people are more efficient when they use computers?

  34. Adeniji Kayode
    February 26, 2014

    @nimantha.d, it suitable enough, infact they need it. The limiting factor is resources.

  35. Adeniji Kayode
    February 26, 2014

    @ t.alex, Don,t you think tablets are already solving this problems.

  36. Adeniji Kayode
    February 26, 2014

    @Taimoorz, I agree with you on that. Moreover, this sound more of preserving the trees than actually preserving papers.

  37. ahdand
    February 27, 2014

    @t.alex: Tablets are for a specific set of users. Not all use tablets.  I think that is where the difference lies. Most of them who use tablets have both. So it's a mix altogether. 

  38. t.alex
    February 27, 2014

    Adeniji, yes to some extent but we need better apps.

  39. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 28, 2014

    @Prabhakar, at least a generation and even at that it's not always a straight line forward. To your example of the metric system, I remember quite clearly when “America went metric”. Our school books changed, the road signs changes, etc. Then it just all went back to feet, miles, etc.

  40. Taimoor Zubar
    February 28, 2014

    “However, in light of hte real business savings and ehancements involved, i hope that more organizations make the effort.”

    @Hailey: I think you need creative solutions in this area. Simply telling the people not to use papers would never work. I recently read about a company that started giving out monthly awards to whoever in the organization sent the least number of printouts to the printer. While this may not always work but that's a good way to start at least.

  41. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 28, 2014

    @TaimoorZ, i've seen many examples where small incentives (and a sense of competition) can move the ball forward in a big way.

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