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BETTER WORLD: A true cost of 1 A4 print-out to sustainability


We often talk about sustainability and in most times narrowing it to financial sustainability. Thanks to Provincial Treasury (PT) which, through the bursary scheme, gave me an opportunity to be exposed to a “Sustainable Enterprise” module which was delivered by University of Stellenbosch Business School through a material by J Elkington and J Zeitz titled “The Breakthrough challenge” and is premised on a concept of triple bottom line.

According to the material, any business (government in our case) can use a business model that addresses triple bottom line to ensure sustainability and that being people, planet and profit. In demystifying the triple bottom line, it is argued that there is a need to strike a new balance where societal, ecological and economic value creation are viewed as three equal and complimentary goals for business. This means a lot for us as PT officials but I want to tackle the ecological or environmental aspect and how we can individually contribute not only to the environment but also towards reducing costs for PT.

I will take printing paper as a focus area which was disclosed as part of consumables (stationary, printing and office supplies) in the 2016/17 unaudited annual financial statements. Financially, preliminary expenditure amount of R1.5 million is immaterial for PT which is even more immaterial if I look at printing paper as a sub-item. However, it has material and adverse impact on the environment if one considers the value chain leading to the print-out that you collect from the printer as an output. For simplicity, I will focus on environmental cost and impact of 1 A4 paper.

Do you know the amount of water (H₂O) it takes to produce 1 A4 paper, carbon dioxide (CO₂) that is emitted which contributes to climate change and how it contributes to filling of landfill sites assuming it is not recycled? I also didn’t know these facts but cautious of the cost element until recently. This article aims to provide a free lesson on environmental cost of just 1 A4 paper and we’ll all be required to be decision-makers, to print or not to print.

It is estimated that it takes about 122 ml of H₂O, the very same H₂O that has caused a scare and anxiety for many of us within the region; 6.8g of CO₂ which contributes to climate change and then ultimately to drought conditions and is further estimated that 1 A4 paper contributes 0.5g to landfill sites which creates financial burden to municipalities as they struggle to finance new landfill sites. Compound this with an estimated number of papers we print in a year and our contribution is enormous to some of the issues we currently face. In essence, we directly contribute to some of the social ills that we are struggling with.

You may be asking where does sustainability come in and here is the answer pertaining to the triple bottom line. With less printing we can ensure sustainable water resources, less polluted atmosphere and lesser cost for PT. The truth is, it is not only my problem or yours or just ours within PT but a global challenge. You have a power to start today to think twice before you make that print-out, ask yourself “is it worth the compromise to the triple bottom line agenda?”.

It has to start small and if replicated, benefits can be massive. Let’s play our part and contribute to sustainability.


Author: zolaniss.zonyane

Public Finance Practitioner @ WC Provincial Treasury | Believer in Good Governance, equal rights and equal opportunities | Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management and Administration graduate @StellenboschUSB | INTJ | Liberal

3 thoughts on “BETTER WORLD: A true cost of 1 A4 print-out to sustainability

  1. very good insight Bhut Zolani, I personally 100% agree with you on this article. I think Provincial treasury as a whole don’t have willing power to go paperless and explore the capabilities of digital world, and we all have to take the blame for this problem. take a simple example of circular, why do we need to print it if senior managers who are approve circulars can have digital signage. I personally think we have to first stop using A4 scanners because if we don’t have A4 scanners people will start to find ways how to be 100% digital.

    This is just my opinion
    Xolani Galada

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t know, thank you for sharing that information. I will now think twice before making a print-out.


  3. Food for thought. Will definitely think twice before printing

    Liked by 1 person

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