Sustainability Report: Why Digital Business Cards are Better for the Environment

Learn the true environmental impact of using paper business cards and how digital business cards are an eco-friendly friendly solution.

Paper Business cards are an essential part of any organization’s sales, marketing, and branding plans, but they come with a negative environmental impact. To better understand the impact of using paper business cards, HiHello—the leading digital business card platform for individuals and businesses—researched the direct environmental effects of paper business cards and the benefits of using digital business cards instead. 

In this analysis, we will discuss our findings and break down the environmental impact of paper and digital business cards. We will explain how we calculated the impact, share our results, and show how digital business cards can support your company’s environmental, societal, and corporate governance (ESG) goals and cost savings initiatives in the coming year. 

the environmental impact of paper business cards

The Environmental Impact of Traditional Paper Business Cards

Summary 

We found that 100 billion paper business cards are printed each year globally. To determine the environmental impact of those paper business cards, we researched four ecological factors, including the number of trees cut down, water used, waste produced, and carbon dioxide released in the production process. 

We found that billions of gallons of water, millions of trees, and millions of pounds of waste and carbon dioxide (CO2)emissions are created each year while producing paper business cards. Find the numbers—and how we calculated them—below. 

Background and Methodology

For this report, we analyzed data from the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the University of Minnesota, Conservatree, and Clean Tech Loops. With the data, we looked at the four ways the paper-making process impacts the environment: 

1. Tree destruction

2. Water usage

3. Waste creation

4. Carbon emissions 

1. Tree Destruction

The printing process for business cards is half as efficient as paper made in a mechanical or groundwood process, leading to more trees being cut down to produce this type of paper. The production of premium-weight business cards results in even fewer business cards per tree. However, for our research, we based our numbers on the average paper business card.

Using information from Statistic Brain, we found that one tree is equivalent to 20,000 average-weight paper business cards. To find how many trees are cut down annually to create business cards, we divided the total number of business cards printed each year by the number of business cards per tree. 

Number of trees cut down annually: 5 million

2. Water Usage

Using less water helps divert less water from rivers, bays, and estuaries, which helps maintain a healthy environment. Less water consumption also helps reduce the amount of water in wastewater treatment plants. 

We found that producing one ton of paper takes 17,000 gallons of water. To find the amount of water used in the process of making traditional business cards, we also needed to know how many tons of paper are used to create business cards each year. The average business card weighs 1.35 grams, meaning that 148,812 tons of paper are used in producing paper business cards each year. To get to our final number, we multiplied the tons of paper used to produce paper business cards by the gallons of water it takes to produce one ton of paper. 

Gallons of water used annually: 2,529,821,000

the water cost of business cards

3. Waste Created

Within a week of exchanging a paper business card, 88% of cards will be thrown away. The other 12% may make their way into someone's contact list or to the bottom of a drawer or recycling bin. Assuming that 12% don’t eventually make their way to a landfill and maintaining that the weight of an average business card is 1.35 grams, we multiplied the number of business cards that are thrown away by the weight of an average business card. 

Pounds of waste created: 261,909,167

4. Carbon Emitted

The production of paper business cards has many steps that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—from cutting trees, producing the paper, cutting and printing the cards, and delivering those cards to you or your business. 

We are looking at the carbon emissions released during the paper production process to simplify this number. Unfortunately, calculating the emissions during printing and shipping can vary greatly, leading to less reliable numbers. 

To calculate our number, we assumed that to produce one ton of paper, 2,076 pounds of carbon dioxide is released into the environment. To find the amount of carbon released, we multiplied the amount of carbon released to produce one ton of paper by the number of business cards produced each year in tons. 

Pounds of CO2 released: 569,191,461

Results

There is a clear environmental impact from producing paper business cards, but what do these numbers mean for you? We broke down the numbers to help put the impact of business cards into perspective.

Over the average 50 years of employment, one person will use at least 12,500 business cards—that is equal to: 

  • 0.6 trees
  • 250 gallons of water
  • 37 pounds of waste, and 
  • 38 pounds of carbon emissions

The Environmental Impact of Going Digital

Organizations can reduce their carbon footprint by going digital. By lessening their reliance on paper, businesses can directly contribute to saving trees and water and reduce waste and carbon emissions.

Because digital cards live electronically, they can be shared an infinite number of times. Additionally, Marketing and HR departments don’t need to re-order new cards whenever a new employee joins, a typo is made, or someone gets a promotion. 

Switching to digital business cards can significantly impact your company's ESG initiatives. Each year a 100-person company that orders 250 cards per employee and switches to digital business cards can save: 

  • 1 tree
  • 500 gallons of water
  • 74 lbs of waste, and 
  • 75 pounds of carbon emissions

For a company with 10,000 employees, the environmental impact of paper business cards becomes even greater. For an enterprise company with 10,000 employees, switching to digital business cards can avoid the consumption of: 

  • 125 trees
  • 50,000 gallons of water
  • 7,425 pounds of waste, and 
  • 7,500 pounds of carbon emissions

the environmental benefit of going digital

That number only grows when you look at the impact of every digital business card user. HiHello analyzed the direct impact that its users had on the environment in 2022, and this is what we found. HiHello users helped save

  • 415 trees
  • 166,000 gallons of water
  • 25,000 pounds of waste
  • 25 pounds of carbon emissions

HiHello users have helped save

Conclusions

While your environmental impact might seem small, the cost of using paper business cards quickly weighs on the environment. This only increases when ordering higher quality cards, making typos, getting promotions, or handing out more than the average number of business cards. 

Digital business cards are the most environmentally friendly solution to the contact exchange process. Want to start reducing your personal environmental impact? Create a digital business card with HiHello today! 

Trying to make a larger impact? Learn about how our HiHello Business and HiHello Enterprise plans can help reduce the environmental footprint of your entire company. Ask our team to calculate the positive impact your team can make by going digital. 

Digital business cards aren’t only a great way to help the earth, but they’re also more cost-effective than their paper counterparts and boost your return on investment. Read our full business card cost analysis to learn how much your company could be saving by going digital. To learn how digital business cards can increase your return on investment, read our ROI deep dive.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can business cards be recycled?

If you’ve got a stack of old business cards, don’t throw them away. Use our recycling guide to find the best way to dispose of your paper cards without creating more waste. 

Are NFC business cards sustainable?

While many NFC business card companies claim that NFC cards are a sustainable alternative, the truth is that NFC business cards are harmful to the environment. 

And NFC card requires significantly more resources to produce, making them more harmful to create than traditional paper cards. NFC cards require metals and plastic to produce that cannot be recycled when the card is no longer used.

Are recycled paper business cards sustainable?

While creating business cards with recycled materials is more environmentally friendly than traditional paper business cards, they are still less environmentally friendly than their digital counterparts. 

Paper can only be recycled seven times, meaning it eventually becomes waste no matter what. Recycled business cards also still create carbon emissions and require water to produce and ship.

About HiHello

HiHello is changing how everyone—from individuals to Fortune 500 companies—manages their most important relationships. It starts with a digital business card built from the ground up to be delightful, customizable, and secure. HiHello’s digital business cards unlock new opportunities, cut the costs of traditional cards, and have a positive environmental impact. Hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide trust HiHello to amplify the power of their network, and we’re just getting started!

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