While living in the digital age, we have gradually switch to digital forms of writing instead of relying on the old-fashioned pen and paper. This switch has gone so far that we may even be gradually risking our ability to write: more than three quarters of people (76%) from the British poll say they now type more than they write by hand. No wonder some countries have dropped handwriting lessons in favor of typing lessons. For example, Finland completely removed handwriting from its schools in 2014, and in the US, the requirement to learn cursive has been left out of core standards since 2013.
With this approach, you may think that the global demand for paper must also decline. But it hasn’t. We’re not moving completely into the digital age yet, we just give more work to printers, all while consuming more and more paper.
The global consumption of paper is steadily increasing, year after year, and that number recently exceeded 400 million tonnes in 2018 alone. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the demand for paper will increase faster than any other wood product—by 2060, paper consumption will double from where it is now, at minimum.
The reason for this is simple - we still need to print everything and exchange documents physically due to the lack of reliable digital tools to securely transfer and protect the digital copies from forgery. Let's see where paper documents are still being used, and what digital solutions can be used to substitute them.
Commercial documents and trading
This is the most fraud-sensitive area, as almost all business documents are related to money, so forging them is of great interest to fraudsters of all types. That’s why it’s a common practice to send documents via mail delivery and couriers. It’s a slow way of exchanging documents, sure, but the resulting documents will have two signatures and two stamps of both parties on them. According to a report by PwC, financial fraud contributes to an estimated $20 billion in direct losses annually - even using paper documents doesn’t prevent fraud. This figure is an understatement as many firms cannot accurately identify and measure losses due to fraud. The worst effect of financial frauds is on Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into India.
At the same time, there’s a whole class of existing solutions aimed at the electronic signing and delivery of documents, and these solutions can be divided into digital and blockchain-based ones.
The popular digital solutions are Adobe Sign , DocuSign, and Authpaper Delivery. They are developed by different companies, but they are aimed at doing the same thing: storing documents online and allowing for electronic signatures. Two parties can use it without even meeting in person. It's a good solution, but it's cloud-based and centralized. As a result, all of the involved documents are kept in the database of the platform in plaintext. After signing, the platform becomes a witness and must keep a copy. Authpaper Delivery is a blockchain-based solution that can be used in those business cases when a private exchange of documents with a digital signature is necessary.
Out of the three solutions, Authpaper Delivery is the one who has the least potential security issues as it works as a blockchain network on top of the BitTorrent protocol, so its nodes don’t rely on any centralized coordinator. Their proposed solution allows users to record the time of delivery and to put an electronic signature to documents. You don’t have to share documents with the whole network, because every file that gets transferred via Authpaper Delivery is encrypted, so the nodes that host the file can’t even read it. That's why all files in the network are secure, it incorporates all of the necessary precautions for maintaining privacy while being available to everyone and ensuring fast download times, as every download gets split into many pieces.
Even if you don’t want to drastically change the way you transfer documents yet, by trying one of these methods of transferring over even one paper document you can save a tree, as it takes one tree to produce 8.33 sheets of paper, and every tree produces enough oxygen for three people to breathe. If all commercial firms suddenly go paperless, that would save 61.5 million tons of paper each year (based on the estimate that every year 7 billion documents and 15 trillion copies are created, with each sheet of paper weighing 4.5 grams). That’s more than 16% of all paper consumption! That may really be worth it.
Certificate forgery is currently being developed at a high level. Recently, a man was sentenced to prison for using fake diplomas and working at 38 different places over the last four years. He only had an elementary education, yet he managed to forge all the documents necessary for applying for those jobs by himself. The problem is so serious that even the UK's official degree verification hub posted a warning to graduates asking them to avoid sharing their degree selfies on social media in order to leave fraudsters without material for their lucrative trade in fraudulent degrees.
Chinese fraudsters also don’t sit idle. Currently, in China, you can freely purchase a University certificate for only $20-40 on Taobao; one of the biggest online shopping websites in the Great China region. The forged certificates are so good that it’s hard to tell a fake unless you know somebody who has better knowledge on the Universitaire system to check the certificate. That, if the University exists in the first place...
As a countermeasure, some modern certificates and diplomas have security features such as:
- Registered hologram - changing optical images
- Etched eies - used with security foil to primarily prevent forgery and copying with either ‘wallpaper’ images or client-specific images
- Copyvoid - In security printing, a void pantograph refers to a method of making copy-evident and tamper-resistant patterns in the background of a document. Normally these are invisible to the eye, but become obvious when the document is photocopied
- Thermochromic ink - it disappears or changes color when heat is applied
- Numbering - a method of cross referencing issued certificates with internal databases
- UV invisible ink - it’s visible only under UV light
- Microtext - an incredibly small font size viewable only through a magnifying glass
- Watermarked thermal paper - easily identified when held up to the light, but not easily replicated
These methods help prevent certificate forgery, but don’t help to prevent wasting paper on them. The platforms for issuing digital certificates on blockchain are being developed now, but none of them has gained enough credibility to actually become something big. For example, there was a project by MIT, which allowed to create and publish a certificate on Bitcoin blockchain. The code is still on GitHub. Or we can mention Blockcerts, which also offers to create any certificate and store it forever on blockchain. But the most viable model with many users right now is presented by non-blockchain Coursera, that offers digital certificates after completing its courses. You can print a received certificate, but after reading this article it's possible that you wouldn't want it.
The last issue we’re going to review is regarding copyright data. It's understandable to stick to paper when you want to keep something in secret. For example, when you wrote the newest book from your long-awaited series of “A Song of Fire and Ice,” you might not want it to leak to the Internet. Thus, the only copy you keep and carry around is a paper copy. Again, that's not necessary at all when you have solutions such as Adobe Sign, DocuSign, or Authpaper Delivery to store and transfer your works.
In this case, Authpaper Delivery’s blockchain solution shines again because, without access to your private key, nobody would be able to access your data. Even the storage nodes don't have the encryption keys, and they store only a part of your file. The size of the file doesn't matter, because the parent network, BitTorrent, allows any size to be transferred. You can transfer whatever you want and be sure that your work is safe, and the trees that could be manufactured into paper for your work to be printed are also safe. Also, it serves as the proof-of-authorship; once you upload it, it gets recorded onto the blockchain with your credentials.
However, Authpaper Delivery’s higher security comes with its technical limits. Its network is dependent on the number of peers. If the peers can’t keep the data of a delivery job, the platform cannot handle the job. So, they need to make sure they’re already having a minimum number of active peers. At the same time, if the demand increases, the minimum number of peers increases as well. If the number of peers can’t handle the increased number of delivery jobs running at the same time, it may take a long time for the blockchain to confirm whether the delivery was successful. Anyway, in the second scenario the data is still delivered in a short time, just that the reward is sent out only when the job is confirmed on the blockchain.
Why is the digitalization of our life and going paperless so important? Because cutting trees reduces the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. Now nearly 4 billion trees, or 35% of the total trees cut from around the world, are used in paper industries on every continent. The world’s consumption of paper has grown 400% in the last 40 years. Do we really need that much paper?
The way we do business is changing all the time, so why not also change our business habits? By being paperless you don’t have to search for a document all around the office, you just open the platform where it’s stored, for example, in Authpaper Delivery. You get it when you need it. You don’t need fax machines or printers, you can access your documents from anywhere - and be certain that nobody has changed them. Think about it, in addition to wasting trees, it takes an average of five liters of water to produce one piece of A4 paper. A half of Africa doesn’t have water. Can we be more responsible and not to waste that one piece of paper next time?