UBC Undergraduate Research

The long-term sustainability of paper and electronic records Cakal, Sumeyye


In the interest of encouraging sustainability and cost effectiveness, there has been a shift from paper means of storage to electronic ones. The “going paperless” trend may seem like it is in line with sustainability initiatives on the surface, but in the long-run it may not live up to such a reputation. In this study, the environmental and financial sustainability of both paper and electronic records was investigated with the interest of determining the better method of storage over an extended period. This was done through a review of existing literature on the topic with an emphasis on finding information related to the positives and negatives of each type of record. A special focus was placed on material regarding the environmental and financial costs of each, as well as on solutions to problems associated with the two. Since both were found to have their benefits and limitations, the results were split into two segments: short-term and long-term. Records that need to be stored for short periods, or that need to be accessed frequently should be stored in electronic form; while records that need to be stored for long periods, and that don’t need to be accessed frequently should be stored as paper. The uncertainty with electronic records in the long-term has to do with the issue of migration: keeping old records accessible as new technologies are produced. Though there are projects underway to deal with the problem, there is currently no definitive sustainable solution. Thus in the long-run, paper records have a more certain future and should be preferred despite the ongoing shift to electronic records storage.

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