One of the major causes of wasted resources on our planet is the excessive use of paper. Whole forests are destroyed to meet this constant need. Fortunately, the use of virtual documents is reducing the demand for paper consumption.
If you’re interested in recycling, you might think of it as a community contribution to lightening your footprint on the ecosystem. However, you can also contribute to the ecosystem through your business, and there are many ways to run a paperless office as well as recycling paper that has served its purpose.
This initiative to waste less paper can include limiting paper contracts.
How do you get rid of paper when it comes to something as intrinsic to your business as contracts? When two or more parties agree to something, isn’t it necessary that they sign on paper? The solution is simpler than you might think–just use an electronic signature application on PDF documents to replace signatures that would require pen and ink.
10 Interesting Facts about Paperless Contracts
If you’re wondering if an electronic signature is legally binding, here are 10 interesting facts about this new way of doing business:
1. Yes, it’s legal. In 2000, a federal act called the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) was enacted. Here is the exact wording: “a signature, contract, or other record relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form.”
2. It is extremely convenient. You already understand how useful it is to use electronic versions of dictionaries, newspapers and magazines, and phone books and directories. Now electronic versions of legally binding contracts have joined the list of things that can be done quickly and easier. Electronic contracts are yet another convenience at your fingertips.
3. The idea is catching on fast. You won’t find much resistance when you propose using a paperless contract. The word has spread far and wide across the world and most people in business have become accustomed to doing business online. Electronic signatures make it easy to do business with people you may never meet in person.
4. There is a legal definition for it. So what, exactly, is an electronic signature? According to ESIGN, it is “an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”
5. It takes seconds to sign a contract. All you have to do to create an electronic signature is to click a mouse to indicate your intention to sign by clicking the “I agree” box, type your name into an email message, or use a stylus on a mobile device.
6. It can be done anywhere. You don’t need to be sitting in front of your desktop to do it. You can just as easily use a laptop or use a tablet or smartphone.
7. You don’t have to print it out and file it. No paper is necessary at all. The documents can stay in its electronic form throughout the life of the contract.
8. It’s the fastest solution yet. In the old days, two parties had to make the time to meet in person. Sometimes, this required extensive travel. The next best alternative was to receive an email, download the attachment, print it out, sign it, and fax it back. Now it takes seconds to sign a contract on a smartphone.
9. It’s actually more legally-binding than a wet ink signature. While an ink signature can be disputed as a forgery if there are no credible witnesses, an electronic signature leaves footprints. For instance, an email leaves tracks between a sender and receiver that can be seen by the ISP. The integrity of the signature can be further ensured by using the signer’s computer address (IP) or the signer’s GPS location. Other safeguards are the use of a user name and password prior to signing the document.
10. It works mainly for business documents. Electronic signatures work well for most business documents. In limited circumstances, it can work for personal documents, too. For instance, formal letters of engagement can use electronic signatures.
Ink Signatures Still In Wide Use
Electronic signatures are widely used across the world because the validity of the signature can be proven. Ample evidence around the signature’s creation makes it legally defensible. Because of the many advantages of electronic signatures, it’s easy to conclude that most contracts now use them.
Despite the popularity of electronic signatures, this does not mean that most contracts are now digital. When heads of state sign contracts, they still do it on paper with plenty of witnesses. Similarly, large corporate contracts still use in-person meetings and pen signatures. In addition, electronic documents are still not accepted for many personal documents like divorce papers and living wills.
It’s more realistic to say that electronic documents have replaced faxed documents. They have much higher fidelity than contracts that would traditionally have been signed using fax machines.
However, in the final analysis, it’s not presumptuous to assume that as the modern world becomes increasingly digitized, the use of wet ink contracts will become antiquated.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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