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How to reduce paper in the construction industry

Tuesday , May 23, 2023
6 minutes read
How to reduce paper in the construction industry

The construction industry has long been associated with extensive paper usage, from blueprints and permits to invoices and documentation. However, as the world becomes increasingly conscious of environmental sustainability, this sector must adopt greener practices. Reducing paper consumption benefits the environment and enhances efficiency and cost-effectiveness in construction projects.

In this article, we will explore various strategies and innovative solutions to help the construction industry minimize reliance on paper and embrace a more sustainable future. By implementing these measures, we can pave the way for a construction industry that is not only more environmentally friendly but also technologically advanced and streamlined.

1. Why is the use of paper in the construction industry problematic?

1.1 Mistakes Are Inevitable

In the absence of a digital system, the potential for errors significantly increases when data is manually entered. Such human errors can have severe consequences, particularly in an industry that operates under tight deadlines. 

For example, consider your accountant entering payment information submitted by a project manager, but they need help to read the handwriting on the form. Is it a one or a seven? Now, time is wasted tracking down your PM and figuring out the correct number, all because of submission by paper.

"Paper is an inefficient medium. Handwritten documents are prone to lose and are often difficult to decipher," warns John Biggs. He further emphasizes that workers could mistakenly report visiting a site they have not been to or duplicate efforts by repeatedly documenting the same information.

According to the Construction Payment Report, late payments in commercial construction alone amount to a staggering $40 billion annually. It is crucial to keep paper-based errors from eroding your bottom line. By minimizing reliance on paper and adopting digital solutions, you can mitigate the risks associated with human error and enhance overall efficiency in the construction industry.

1.2 Paper is Unreliable 

In addition to the risk of human error, paper documents in the construction industry are highly susceptible to misplacement and damage. 

Construction Business Owner highlights a startling fact: "70 percent of businesses would fail within three weeks if they experienced a catastrophic loss of paper due to a fire or flood." While you may have insurance coverage to protect against natural disasters, no policy can recover your essential documents. Once they are lost, they are lost forever.

The implications of losing vital information go beyond the financial aspect. It can lead to project delays, increased costs, and damaged client relationships. Therefore, it is imperative to reduce reliance on paper and implement digital solutions that offer secure and accessible data storage. Doing so safeguards critical information against physical threats and ensures the longevity and continuity of your construction projects.

1.3 Paper is Inefficient & Costly

Manually transferring paper documents from the field to the office and deciphering handwritten forms is a time-consuming task that can incur hidden costs.

Consider these revealing statistics:

  • According to the Construction Business Owner, employees spend an average of 18 minutes searching for a paper document. This lost time adds up and directly impacts productivity.
  • CIO reports that companies can spend as much as $27,000 annually on document management systems and maintenance for an average of 5,000 pages per month. These expenses include storage, organization, and retrieval of paper documents.
  • The World Economic Forum emphasizes that embracing full-scale digitization in the construction industry could result in a remarkable 21 percent reduction in global design, engineering, and building costs by 2026. This highlights the potential for significant savings by transitioning from paper-based processes to digital solutions.

While using paper may initially seem like a more affordable option, the actual costs emerge when considering the value of employees' time, the expenses associated with purchasing reams of paper, and the potential risks of losing or destroying important documents. These expenses can quickly accumulate, making adopting a digital system more cost-effective and efficient for the construction industry.

1.4 Hand-to-Hand Contact 

The traditional paper-based approach in the field often requires transporting documents to the office. However, this system presents challenges, especially as many companies have office workers working remotely from home.

The transition to a paperless system offers many benefits, including reducing the need for face-to-face contact and facilitating seamless information transfer from the field to the office. In addition, by adopting digital solutions, the construction industry can effectively reduce health risks, maintain business continuity, and ensure seamless communication between on-site teams and remote workers.

2. Four ways to reduce paper in the construction industry and recover these problems

2.1 Convert paper copies into digital versions

The construction industry faces significant challenges with paper documents, primarily due to their susceptibility to loss or damage, particularly in a construction site's bustling and chaotic working environment. These issues can have far-reaching consequences, potentially leading to substantial project delays.

Fortunately, innovative solutions have emerged to address this problem by transforming paper documents into digital versions. By implementing tools like AECIS, construction professionals can access project specifications and safety guidelines directly from handheld devices, such as smartphones or tablets. This digital approach is crucial as it eliminates the risk of projects being hindered by the destruction or misplacement of paper documents. Instead, workers can swiftly retrieve the necessary information from any mobile device, avoiding the waiting time associated with printing and delivering new paper documents to the site.

Embracing digital alternatives streamlines workflows and ensures that critical project information remains accessible, regardless of potential mishaps with physical documents. By adopting such digital tools, the construction industry can improve efficiency, enhance collaboration, and prevent unnecessary delays caused by the vulnerability of paper-based processes.

2.2 Use the cloud

The adoption of cloud technology has emerged as a versatile and highly favored solution for businesses aiming to minimize paper usage.

By leveraging the cloud, businesses effectively address the challenge of workers carrying around cumbersome paper files and documents while operating in the field. The cloud eliminates the need for physical document storage, reducing the potential for loss or destruction and providing seamless access to vital information for workers on the go. Embracing cloud-based solutions empowers businesses to enhance mobility, streamline operations, and improve overall efficiency by eliminating reliance on traditional paper-based processes.

2.3 Introduce paperless working policies

Implementing paperless working policies can be an effective solution to mitigate the cost of paper. Strategies such as restricting the number of documents staff can print or encouraging the use of technology to reduce paper waste can yield considerable savings. By embracing a paperless approach, construction businesses can optimize their financial resources, contributing to a greener and more sustainable industry. The funds saved from reduced paper consumption can be channeled towards crucial investments, fostering staff development and enhancing safety measures on construction sites.

2.4 Use augmented reality (AR)

Managing paperwork while working across multiple sites is often a challenging aspect of the job, mainly when operating remotely, as there is a significant risk of documents needing to be found.

Fortunately, advancements in interactive technologies, such as Augmented Reality (AR), offer a promising solution to eliminate the need for physical paperwork on-site. With the aid of AR headsets, workers can access and display pertinent information directly in their field of view. For example, a construction worker assigned to a housing development project could utilize an AR device to review blueprints and design plans, eliminating the need to constantly refer to paper-based documents to ensure the project stays on track.

By leveraging AR technology, construction professionals can access and interact with digital information hands-free, enhancing efficiency and accuracy. The ability to visualize project details and real-time updates through AR headsets revolutionizes how workers engage with information, reducing reliance on physical paperwork and improving overall productivity on construction sites.

3. How has the construction industry changed?

The construction industry has been changing recently, increasing technology adoption to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance safety. One example of this is the implementation of project management platforms that reduce the need for paper-based documentation.

Traditionally, construction projects involve a lot of paperwork, including plans, permits, and change orders. This often led to delays, miscommunication, and increased costs. However, with project management software, such as AECIS, all stakeholders can access important documents and information in real time, reducing the need for physical copies. This has the added benefit of reducing the risk of lost or damaged records and increasing collaboration between team members who can access the same information anywhere with an internet connection.

Other technology advancements in the construction industry include building information modeling (BIM) to create 3D models of buildings, drones for site inspections and mapping, and virtual reality and augmented reality for training and project visualization. These advancements have improved efficiency and productivity, reduced waste, and increased safety while also helping to create a more sustainable industry.


In conclusion, embracing technology and reducing paper usage in the construction industry brings numerous benefits, including improved efficiency, enhanced collaboration, reduced costs, eliminated risks, and enabled real-time access to information from anywhere. In addition, by reducing reliance on paper, the construction industry can embrace a future of streamlined operations, heightened productivity, and a reduced environmental footprint.

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