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Paper Trail of Destruction: The Hidden Cost of Printing O&Ms

Dec 15, 2023 | In Development, New Feature, Product

Written by Scott Pilgrim, Chief Product Officer (CPO) at Operance.

4,500. This is the number of individual pieces of paper we believe the average O&M hardcopy uses. But the average project requires two hard copies, so that’s 9,000 pieces of paper. Nine thousand. Astonishing.

For those who follow me on LinkedIn, you may be aware I caused a minor stir by stating that Operance, our Digital O&M software and services company, was close to losing a major project because of an insistence on providing 3x hard copies of the project’s as-built information. This included the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) manual, Health and Safety file (H&S) file, Building User Guide (BUG), Building Logbook (BLB), Fire Safety File (FEF) and everything within. Which, includes all the project designs, calculations, specifications, certificates, reports, warranties, technical specifications, data sheets and so on.

So all in all, this would have meant producing countless ring binders filled with around 13,500 pieces of paper, which given the research I’ve carried out over the last week, is bordering on scandalous!

I stated within the article how this antiquated practice is not only unsustainable but also against our company’s core values, we are, after all, a digital business looking to digitise building information.

So why do we do it, and what’s the big problem in doing it? Well in this article I’m going to outline the problem from an environmental and commercial perspective and why, as an industry, we need to state our case for putting a stop to this draconian practice once and for all.

1. Calculating the Data Set

In order to calculate the impact, we first need to get an idea of how many construction projects there are each year in the UK, with a focus on those valuing £1m+ for the sake of this study:

  • UK Construction Industry Market Report 2023 by Statista: This report estimates that there will be approximately 786,000 construction projects delivered in the UK in 2023.

  • Construction Market Insights by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS): This report forecasts that there will be approximately 810,000 construction projects delivered in the UK in 2024.

  • Construction Statistics by the Office for National Statistics (ONS): This report shows that there were approximately 734,000 construction projects actually delivered in the UK in 2022.

  • The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) estimate that approximately 38% of all UK construction projects are valued at over £1m, a figure which has understandably been steadily increasing in recent years.

Therefore, if we take the average number of those first three figures above as 776,667 construction projects delivered in the UK and use the same 38% spilt, that equates to 295,333 projects £1m+ in value.

Therefore, if the UK construction industry delivers an average of 295,333 projects each year valued at over £1m. This means that printing as-built building information for these projects generates a staggering amount of environmental damage.

2. The Environmental Impact of Printing O&M Manuals

Printing and delivering 2 hard copies of as-built building information for 295,333 projects in the UK requires:

  • 2,657,997,000 sheets of paper

  • 1,063,199 litres of ink

  • 295,333,000 watt-hours of energy to print them

  • 885,999 gallons of fuel to deliver them

When combined, printing the UK’s £1m+ O&M manuals generates approximately 456,176,318 kilograms of CO2e emissions, and results in the deforestation of approximately 265,800 trees, every single year.

This practice not only has a devastating impact on our environment but also represents a significant waste of resources.


To understand these figures, here are the calculations, if the average O&M manual typically uses around 4,500 pages of paper and, typically, the request is to provide 2 hard copies of this documentation, this translates to:

  • Number of Sheets of Paper per Project: 4,500 pages x 2 = approximately 9,000 sheets of paper per project.

  • Total Number of Pages Required: 9,000 sheets of paper/project x 295,333 projects = 2,657,997,000 sheets of paper, per year. To be clear, that’s two billion, six hundred fifty-seven million, nine hundred ninety-seven thousand!

  • Number of Reams of Paper: 2,657,997,000 sheets of paper ÷ 500 sheets/ream (common industry standard) = approximately 5,315,994 reams of paper.

  • Number of Trees Needed: According to a recent study, a standard pine tree measuring 45 feet long and 8-inch across produces 10,000 sheets of paper and a ream of paper equals 500 sheets of paper, basically each softwood tree contains about 20 reams of paper. To put it into a simple perspective, 500 sheets of paper (a ream of paper) use 5% of a tree. Therefore, printing 5,301,298.8 reams of A4 paper would require the deforestation of approximately 265,800 standard pine trees.

  • Paper Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions: The carbon footprint of paper production is approximately 2 metric tons of CO2e per metric ton of paper produced, according to common estimates. This equates to 2,000 kilograms of CO2e per metric ton of paper. Given that 80% of an A4 paper’s weight comes from wood pulp, and an A4 sheet typically weighs 80 grams: 1,000 kilograms of paper produces 2 metric tons of CO2e (according to the estimate). This means 1 kilogram of paper is responsible for 2 kilograms of CO2e. Therefore, for 80 grams of paper (or 0.08 kilograms), the CO2e is calculated as 0.08 x 2 = 0.16 kilograms of CO2e per sheet. So, for each sheet: 0.16 kilograms of CO2e x 2,657,997,000 sheets = approximately 425,279,520 kilograms of CO2e/year.

  • Litres of Ink: According to the National Association of Printers and Lithographers (NAPL), an average A4 page requires 0.2 millilitres of ink. Therefore, printing 9,000 sheets of paper for two copies per project would require approximately 3.6 litres of ink per project. The total ink consumption for 295,333 projects would be 3.6 litres/project x 295,333 projects = 1,063,199 litres of ink, approximately.

  • Ink Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Given that the carbon footprint for printing a single A4 page from ink is approximately 9 grams of CO2e, therefore 2,657,997,000 pages × 9 grams/page = 23,921,973,000 grams, or when converted = approximately 23,921,973 kilograms of CO2e/year.

  • Total Printer Power Consumption: The average laser printer consumes 200 watts of power, so if, at a printing speed of 30 pages per minute, it would take approximately 300 minutes or 5 hours to print 9,000 sheets of A4 paper, the total power consumption for printing the two copies per project would be 200 watts × 5 hours = approximately 1000 watt-hours of energy/project.

  • Total Project Power Consumption: There are 295,333 projects per year, so the total power consumption for all projects would be 1000 watt-hours of energy/project x 295,333 projects = approximately 295,333,000 watt-hours of energy/project/year.

  • Power Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions: On average, the carbon emissions from electricity can be estimated at around 0.5 to 1.0 pounds (lbs) of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated. So, for 1 kWh (equivalent to 1000 watt-hours) of electricity used, it could result in around 0.5 to 1.0 pounds of CO2 emissions. Therefore, 295,333,000 watt-hours of energy/project/year x say 0.75 pounds of CO2e = approximately 100,436 kilograms of CO2e/year.

  • Total Number of Deliveries (Shipments): There are 295,333 projects per year, so there will be a total of 294,527 shipments, not including any return visits with missing pieces of paper, such as last minute certificates or amendments, or even full replacements.

  • Total Distance of Shipments: Let’s say the average distance of each shipment is 60 miles (assuming contractors would just find a more local printers to the final destination beyond this, this is admittedly, a big assumption!), so the total distance of all shipments will be 60 miles/shipment * 295,333 shipments = 17,719,980 miles per year, approximately.

  • Fuel Consumption: The average fuel efficiency of a delivery truck is 20 miles/gallon, so the fuel consumption for all shipments will be 17,719,980 miles/year / 20 miles/gallon = approximately 885,999 gallons of fuel/year.

  • Shipment Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions: The average carbon dioxide emissions per gallon of fuel is 19.6 pounds, so the total carbon dioxide emissions for all shipments will be 885,999 gallons of fuel/year x 19.6 pounds of CO2/gallon = approximately 7,874,389 kilograms of CO2e/year.

Please note that these are just estimates, and the actual numbers may vary depending on the specific assumptions and calculations used.


The impact of printing two hard copies of as-built building information for 295,333 projects in the UK is significant. But how does it compare? Here are some examples:

  • The exhaust emissions from a car driving approximately 2,534,313,989 miles/year.

    A typical medium-sized car emits approximately 180 grams of CO2e per mile. Therefore, a car driving 5.6 million miles would emit approximately 10.08 million kilograms of CO2e. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2023), “Car Emissions”

  • The deforestation of approximately 9.94 soccer pitches/year.
    A typical forest absorbs approximately 2,000 tons of CO2e per square kilometre per year. Therefore, the deforestation of 9.94 football fields would release approximately 5,640 tons of CO2e/year. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2023), “Forest Deforestation”
  • The energy consumption of approximately 245,944 hair dryers running or 118,133 kettles boiling simultaneously.

    To put this into perspective, a hair dryer typically consumes around 1,200 watts of power and a kettle uses around 2,500 watts on average.

  • The ink consumption of approximately 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

    An Olympic-sized swimming pool holds approximately 2.5 million litres of water. Therefore, the ink consumption of 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools would be approximately 6.25 million liters of ink. International Olympic Committee (IOC) (2023), “Olympic Swimming Pool Dimensions”

  • The electricity consumption of approximately 74 homes/year.

    The average UK household consumes approximately 4,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year. Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2023), “Household Consumption of Energy and Water”

  • The production of approximately 1.5 million bricks.

    The average brick emits approximately 0.2 kilograms of CO2e during production. Therefore, the production of 1.5 million bricks would emit approximately 30,000 kilograms of CO2e. European Environment Agency (EEA) (2023), “Brick Production and Its Environmental Impact”

3. The Financial Impact of Printing O&M Manuals

The cost of O&M printing in the UK can vary depending on several factors, including the size and complexity of the manual, the type of paper used, and the number of copies required. However, as a general rule of thumb, you can expect to pay between £500 and £3,000 for printing a basic O&M manual, in black and white. Colour printing will typically cost more, as will the addition of A3 paper print outs and of course the cost of the ring-binders, page separators, graphic design, and delivery.

If the average printing cost is £1,750, per hard copy, that’s £3,500 for the usual two hard copies, multiply that by the 295,333 £1m+ construction projects in the UK, that’s an approximate cost of £103,366,550 for simply printing out the O&Ms every single year.

But, the cost goes far beyond the general production of the paper base information. Here are some statistics on how much time is wasted when trying to find information in paper format, rather than in a digital format:

  • A study by McKinsey & Company found that knowledge workers spend up to 20% of their time searching for information.

  • The Panopto Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report shows that 42% of valuable company knowledge is unique to the individual employee. That’s knowledge they alone possess. Letting that information essentially evaporate is a costly mistake. If an employee leaves the company, that’s 42% of their work that colleagues can’t effectively cover and 42% that a new hire will have to try to learn from scratch.

  • According to Deloitte, 72% of employees say they cannot find the information they need within their existing information systems.

  • The Value of Information Management in the Construction and Infrastructure Sector paper by KPMG the suggests that the use of IM could potentially secure between £5.10 and £6.00 of direct labour productivity gains for every £1 invested in IM, and between £6.90 and £7.40 in direct cost savings

So if the construction industry in the UK spends approximately £103 million per year on printing and distributing O&Ms, by transitioning to digital as-builts, the industry could save up to 80% of this printing cost by simply moving to digital only.

Additionally, a Forbes article explained how and IDC study found that workers spend an average of 2.5 hours per day searching for information. By switching to digital as-builts, workers could save up to an hour per day, which would free up time for them to be more productive.

Overall, the switch to digital O&Ms could save the UK construction industry billions of pounds per year.

Here are some specific examples of how construction companies are saving time and money by switching to digital as-built O&M manuals:

These examples demonstrate that the switch to digital O&Ms is a worthwhile investment for construction companies. By saving time and money, companies can also improve their bottom line and increase their profitability.

4. The Solution Digital O&M Manuals

The construction industry is undergoing a significant transformation as it embraces digital technologies to enhance efficiency, improve safety, and meet stringent compliance requirements. At the heart of this transformation lies the development of digital operational and maintenance (O&M) manuals.

Traditional paper-based O&M manuals often lack consistency, accuracy, and accessibility, leading to inefficiencies and potential safety hazards. This is where Operance’s digital O&M manuals come into play, offering a comprehensive and streamlined solution that aligns perfectly with the requirements of the Building Safety Act and the need for a digital “Golden Thread.”

Empowering Compliance with the Building Safety Act

The Building Safety Act, introduced in 2022, emphasises the creation of a digital “Golden Thread” that captures all relevant information throughout the building lifecycle. Operance’s digital O&M manuals seamlessly integrate into this “Golden Thread” by providing a centralised repository for all O&M information, including drawings, specifications, maintenance schedules, and risk assessments.

This digital consolidation eliminates the risk of discrepancies and ensures that all stakeholders have access to the most up-to-date and accurate information. This is crucial for ensuring the safe operation and maintenance of buildings, particularly in high-rise structures and complex developments.

Securing Data Integrity with Immutable Ledger Technology

Operance’s commitment to data security goes beyond compliance. We employ immutable ledger technology, a tamper-proof and time-stamped record of all changes made to the digital O&M manuals. This ensures the integrity of the information, providing a robust audit trail that can be verified at any point in time.

This unparalleled transparency safeguards against potential fraud, errors, and disputes, fostering trust and confidence among all stakeholders involved in building operation and maintenance.

Embrace the Future of O&M with Operance

Operance is committed to providing the construction industry with innovative and transformative solutions that align with the evolving needs of the sector. Our digital O&M manuals, coupled with our robust data security measures and AI-powered search capabilities, position us as a leader in this rapidly evolving landscape.

By embracing Operance’s digital O&M manuals, construction companies can:


  • Effectively comply with the Building Safety Act requirements
  • Ensure the integrity and accessibility of critical O&M information
  • Enhance operational efficiency through enhanced decision-making
  • Streamline maintenance processes and minimise potential risks
  • Reduce paper consumption and deforestation

5. Operance Harnesses AI for Enhanced Search and Query!

Yes, this article seemed like the opportune time to let you all in on a secret!

Operance is officially at the forefront of integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into digital O&M manuals. Our soon to be released AI-powered search and query capabilities will enable users to quickly locate specific information, eliminating the time-consuming and often frustrating task of manually searching through volumes of documents.

Operance AI also provides users with the ability to filter and analyse data, enabling informed decision-making and proactive maintenance strategies. This intelligent approach enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of building operation and maintenance.

Imagine clients and their building operatives and occupants been able to simply ask a question, and get an immediate response back, without needing to stop what they are doing, track down their paper O&Ms and try searching for the information they need. Imagine the time saved, imagine the environmental benefits! But don’t take my word for it, here are some videos of our new tool in use, using an existing live project within Operance, just press play:


This development is a genuine game-changer. Going back to my initial LinkedIn post highlighted several key trends and perspectives:

  1. Resistance to Change: Some individuals expressed frustration with the persistence of traditional paper-based O&M documents despite the availability of digital alternatives. They cited reasons such as ease of use, client preference, and challenges in integrating new technology into existing workflows.
  2. Acknowledgment of Challenges: Many recognised the complexity of transitioning to digital solutions, acknowledging issues related to user experience, technological adoption, and the importance of accommodating clients’ needs or preferences.
  3. Environmental Impact: Several comments reflected concerns about the environmental footprint of paper-based documentation. There were discussions on the paper’s impact on deforestation, carbon emissions from printing, and the potential benefits of going digital in reducing environmental harm.
  4. User Experience and Efficiency: Some comments highlighted practical challenges faced by end-users dealing with bulky, disorganised paper documents. There were suggestions and discussions around the need for a more efficient, user-friendly solution.
  5. Collaboration and Technology Adoption: Some comments focused on the necessity of collaborative efforts between stakeholders to address challenges and facilitate smoother technology adoption, emphasising the potential role of AI, digital platforms, or collaborations between companies.
  6. Varied Perspectives: The comments reflected a spectrum of views, from advocating for digital transformation to acknowledging the complexities and challenges involved in transitioning away from paper-based systems.


The music industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, with the rise of streaming services like Spotify playing a major role in this change. While the traditional music industry was heavily reliant on physical sales of CDs and records, streaming services have shifted the focus to digital consumption. This has had a number of environmental and societal benefits for both the music industry and its customers.

  • Environmental Benefits: The shift to streaming has significantly reduced the environmental impact of the music industry. CD production, from the sourcing of materials to the manufacturing process, is resource-intensive and generates waste. Streaming, on the other hand, eliminates the need for physical media, reducing the demand for paper, plastic, and energy. Additionally, streaming services allow users to access music without having to download it, reducing the storage space required and further minimising environmental impact.
  • Societal Benefits: The music industry has also benefited from the shift to streaming in terms of accessibility and affordability. Streaming services make it easier for users to discover new music and access a vast library of content. Additionally, streaming services have made music more affordable, especially for those who might not have the means to purchase physical albums or CDs.
  • Benefits for End Users: End users have also benefited from the rise of streaming services in a number of ways. Streaming services make it easier to access and share music, and they allow users to create personalised playlists and listen to music on-demand. Additionally, streaming services often offer features such as lyrics, live performances, and behind-the-scenes content, providing a richer and more immersive music experience.
  • The Case of Spotify: Spotify has been a driving force behind the transformation of the music industry. With over 406 million active users, Spotify is the world’s largest music streaming service. The company has made a number of commitments to sustainability, including using renewable energy sources, reducing its carbon footprint, and minimising its waste. Spotify has also partnered with organisations like the Rainforest Alliance to promote sustainable forestry practices. Overall, the rise of streaming services like Spotify has had a positive impact on the environment and society. By reducing the environmental impact of the music industry and making it more accessible and affordable, streaming has made it easier for people to enjoy music in a sustainable and convenient way.

Just as streaming services like Spotify have transformed the music industry by shifting from physical CDs to digital downloads, the construction industry can also make significant strides towards sustainability by embracing digital O&Ms instead of paper manuals.

Both the music industry and the construction industry rely on physical documentation, which can be a significant source of waste. In the music industry, physical CDs and records require a large amount of resources and generate pollution, while paper O&Ms in construction require trees to be cut down, water to be used in the manufacturing process, and energy to be consumed in printing and distribution.

All in all, I think thats a pretty comprehensive case I have built for the switch from paper to digital. What do you think? What do your clients think? Is it enough to tempt them to at least give it a go on your next project?

We, the construction industry, has the opportunity to lead the way in sustainability by embracing digital O&Ms. By doing so, the industry can make a significant contribution to reducing its environmental impact and saving money.

It’s time for a change. Let’s bid farewell to these relics of the past. Let’s usher in a new era of streamlined, efficient, and eco-friendly building information management!

We encourage all construction companies, client sand their agents to consider adopting digital as-builts and to promote the benefits of this technology to their clients and partners. Together, we can create a more sustainable and efficient construction industry for the future.

Remember, don’t miss out on the exclusive opportunity to join our AI user programme, limited spots available, act fast before they’re gone! ⏳

If you want to know more about our AI tool and secure early access to it, click here.


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