How Sustainable are Your Accounting Practices?

Ever think about how accounting and sustainability go hand in hand? It may not be the first connection one makes when thinking of their accounting habits.

We would all love to be greener; And as much as it is a want, it also is a responsibility to uphold being a citizen of our planet. In the age of major technological advancements, it might be easy to assume that high-tech is the status quo.

But in the small business accounting world, this is not often the case. Small business accounts have just about one million things to keep track of day-to-day and sometimes this can lead to a halt in modernizing practices—and because yes, it can be quite daunting.

One of the fool-proof, easiest leaps toward becoming greener is by going paperless. To a small business accountant or owner, this may seem nearly impossible when thinking about all of the accounting files and documents that go into bookkeeping. But there are steps you can take to make the transition.

First of all, why do we even use paper in this day and age?

It may be surprising to hear that paper still is used in small business accounting and bookkeeping, however, there are sometimes government requirements and legal necessities that require hard copies of files. Not to mention, there are factors like permanence (some small business owners might be fearful of losing precious information on the cloud) and convenience for those who may not be tech-savvy.

Paper often is inexpensive as well, and many people have a close connection to the feeling of using paper.

Why go paperless?

There are countless benefits. For starters, removing paper from one’s accounting equation significantly reduces clutter (especially for small business accountants who might be working in tight spaces). Choosing cloud accounting software versus paper also makes it far more efficient to access information and promote collaboration in a hybrid work environment (which is here to stay).

Most importantly: It is environmentally friendly.

While transitioning to paperless might feel like a complete departure from the usual, it is important to keep in mind that the small business accounting community can play a vital role in overall small business sustainability. And the more sustainable businesses and accounting firms of all shapes and sizes become, the happier our planet will be.

So, how do I go paperless?

  • Step 1 — Get the facts: Take a current temperature check of paper usage. For example, accountants and bookkeepers can assess what is being printed in the first place so that they have an understanding of where they live on the “paper scale.”
  • Step 2 — Calculate costs: After figuring out what is being printed in the first place, it is crucial to analyze the financial costs. Better yet, try calculating the potential cost savings by transitioning to cloud-based accounting software.
  • Step 3 — Get online: Once costs are figured out, it is time to think about adopting online applications, for example, cloud accounting software to help streamline accounting processes and provide a completely holistic view of a business’s finances.
  • Step 4 — Employees come first: When making any major changes to business practices, it is important to check in with colleagues and employees to ensure they are comfortable.

From there, ensure that there is proper training on the new tools so that everyone can use them to their full capability. Incentivizing is also an aspect to keep in mind here, as there can be a reluctance to change amongst new technology. Reinforce the idea of ​​all of the benefits to fellow accounting professionals so that they understand the why behind the change.

  • Step 5: Transfer files — Once making the decision to switch to digital, it will be necessary to transfer all paper documents to that system to ensure congruence. Use a document scanner or a data capture tool to transfer any important documents or bills into the new software.
  • Step 6: Digital signatures — As most countries have made it legally valid to sign documents digitally, ensure that this is an option for all accountants and bookkeepers and customers.
  • Step 7 — Online banking: Once accounting software goes digital, it is important to also request paperless statements from banks. If it is available, arrange direct bank feeds to accounting software to streamline the process.
  • Step 8 — Office makeover: With less clutter and paper, there is an opportunity to revamp your office space. Perhaps this is also a time to phase out older technology (like fax machines, which also use paper) and implement modern technology to support one’s business.

All in all, it is time for accounting professionals and small business owners to self-reflect on their practices and how they can become more responsible and efficient. Going paperless is step one.


Latisha Carter is Head of Partner Services at Xero, where she oversees a team focused on regional and enterprise partner consulting, practice tools implementation and a voice of customer and industry evangelism. Prior to joining Xero, Latisha spent 19-plus years at Sage, where she held different positions across marketing, sales and professional services.


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