Reasons to choose paperless board meetings

7 min read
Feb 4, 2022 12:00:00 AM

The importance of sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environment, social, and governance (ESG) – and simply being a good corporate citizen – has never been stronger in today’s modern world. 

Recent surveys and reports from leading business researchers and advisory firms confirm the important role that green initiatives play in attracting consumers, investors and even new employees. Today, people expect more than a simple “please do not print” message at the end of emails from organisations they work for and do business with. 

Organisations are now linking top executive pay to corporate sustainability targets. Shareholders are demanding that the companies they invest in think about more than just the bottom line. As a result, environmental sustainability has become an area where boards and executive teams are expected to provide leadership. 

Here, we explore how board management software applications, aka board portals, have eliminated the use of millions of pages of paper across organisations of all sizes worldwide. We also take a look at how extending these applications beyond the board to other meetings is a responsible and cost-effective undertaking, one that fits squarely in line with your organisation’s other sustainability programs, while positively impacting the organisation’s bottom line. 

The impact of board management software

Over the past decade, organisations have increasingly adopted board software. While 20% of BoardPro users are larger organisations, the vast majority of our users around the world are nonprofits and small enterprises.

If your organisation has not yet adopted a board software solution, board software incorporates a centralised, web-based administrator tool to quickly create meeting agendas and assemble electronic documents for board and management meetings.

  board meetings

Agendas and documents are then delivered via a secure browser session that lets meeting attendees read and annotate documents on iPads and other personal devices. Navigation tools are also available to help attendees search and find documents and annotations quickly.

The adoption of board software provides a key entry point for promoting paperless meetings throughout an organisation. Since board portals are deployed at the highest level of the organisation, they can serve as a highly visible example of the board and organisation’s commitment to sustainability.

Replacing paper has become part of our everyday lives. For many of us, even second nature.

Whether it’s opting for paperless statements from our banks and utilities or taking reusable bags when we go shopping, eliminating paper is one of the key ways that we promote sustainability in our personal lives.

Because of this, the benefits of going paperless in the boardroom are easy for people to appreciate. Any opposition to implementing paperless meetings and events is more likely to revolve around the mechanics and costs, rather than the concept itself.

When starting to move toward paperless board packs, it is important to keep in mind that small actions matter.

Although a single board member opting to receive their board packs digitally may not amount to much paper being saved, thousands of board members across thousands of organisations will have a tremendous impact. Distributing documents to iPads and other tablets can spur board members to find other productive uses for their otherwise under-utilised mobile devices, and could even lead to other mobile initiatives that can result in substantial savings and productivity gains.

How we got here 

The introduction of the iPad in 2010 changed everything related to board portals and replacing paper within an organisation. Historically, replacing paper or “going green” had not been the primary motivation for organisations choosing to invest in board software.

Instead, organisations were trying to solve a very specific set of issues related to board meetings.

Printed board packs placed a large burden on a key individual, such as the corporate secretary, or on a small, but very visible group of board staff.

Printing, shipping and transporting large binders represented a real cost to the organisation.

Putting together printed board books also often meant that the board packs were only available to board members shortly before a meeting. Incorporating late and last-minute changes to board packs was difficult and sometimes not possible. Directors often didn’t have time or the desire to navigate through cumbersome binders of documents. Offloading this burden and these costs would have a very immediate and obvious payback.

For all these issues, electronic distribution of documents emerged as the best answer. But any solution had to address two key issues – security and a user base of often older, non-technical directors. This group of people needed a solution that required limited training and be one that they wanted to use. Early providers of board software solved the security question, but it took the iPad to solve the usability problem.

Since the earliest use of computers in the workplace, business and technology experts talked about the paperless office. Instead, the use of paper only grew. As people found it easier to create more and more drafts and documents, a proliferation of office printers and colour devices across the business followed to disseminate these documents.

Aside from these issues, reading documents on a desktop PC meant being constrained to your desk. Laptops brought a level of portability but still provided a less than ideal user experience. Particularly at meetings, laptops around a conference table created a wall of screens separating people across the table, as well as adding the clicking sound of keyboards from people taking notes.

The iPad offered true portability with long battery life and a device that could be held in one hand. With its ultra-sharp display and portrait orientation, the iPad offered a markedly superior reading experience compared to other devices. The touch interface and hand gestures also supported intuitive ways to turn pages and mark up documents.

More importantly, just as people had formed a personal connection with their cell phones, they established a similar connection with their iPad.

 For the first time, there was a device that could realistically replace paper in the workplace. The use of board portals grew exponentially from this point.

However, across our global customer base at BoardPro, some users have voiced concerns that their older directors won’t give up their paper copies. While undoubtedly true in some cases, we’ve found that once these directors start using the portal, especially on a tablet, they become the biggest advocates of the technology.

Because some users are so used to paper documents, they often fail to recognise their limitations. Does anyone actually want to leaf through hundreds of pages of documents or take a binder out on a plane to read? How do you find the specific data you need or get back to a note you made? Is a dog eared page the solution? How do you secure paper documents that are easily copied or left behind?

There is no question that younger workers have little difficulty adjusting to paperless meetings. They’re already sharing photos, blogs, videos and everything else from mobile devices. In fact, the idea of printing out documents they receive is a foreign concept.

 As an ancillary benefit, BoardPro’s customers report up to 50% reductions in the time required to assemble and distribute board books. These time savings typically free up the board staff to work on more valuable tasks, rather than providing direct cost savings.

Today, organisations recognise from experience that the benefits of better-prepared board members and more effective meetings can easily outweigh the cost of the board portal.

Paperless board meeting options

Many organisations have embraced cloud-based file storage services to distribute and share documents. These services can provide a low or no-cost way to set up a common location for individuals to access materials stored on the web from both desktop and mobile devices.

In essence, cloud storage is an extension of the shared network drives that organisations have used for decades. Individuals can read and download documents without connecting to a VPN or private network.

If central control of document distribution and additional security are required, “enterprise” and “for business” versions of cloud storage solutions are available, typically for a monthly per-user fee. However, using secured versions of these applications can significantly reduce the ease of use, which is a key attraction of these services.

For meetings and events where participants are comfortable retrieving documents from the web and opening the materials in other applications to read and annotate, cloud storage provides a simple way to go paperless. Applications such as Adobe Acrobat®, GoodReader® and iAnnotate® provide tools for reading and annotating documents on tablet devices.

All materials are organised in a way that makes it easy to navigate between large numbers of meetings and documents. Documents are tied directly to agenda items, so participants can easily follow along in order and make notes. Search and bookmark tools let attendees quickly find the data they need.

But what cloud storage and enterprise document management solutions do not offer is the ease of use and seamless administrator and user experience provided by board portals. For example, while cloud storage services were initially used to share files that were larger than could be sent by email, board portals are specifically designed in a way that encourage adoption of paperless meetings.

For individuals currently using board management software or a board portal, it can be immediately apparent why they are the right solution for any meeting or event in their company. To start, materials are delivered directly to event participants’ devices. Participants simply have to log into the board portal app to read and mark up the documents for that event.

Updates to materials are available immediately, which are then merged and tracked against the original material. Any annotations made on older versions are automatically updated and applied to the new content. But don’t worry, meeting materials are securely provided to only those individuals authorised to receive them. Document distribution can be tightly managed.

Customers often use BoardPro for all types of committee meetings beyond the board room. Projects, whether IT or construction, that require regular meetings can also benefit from a board portal, as network diagrams and building plans can be easily updated and distributed. Additionally, minutes can be entered in the software and posted to meeting participants.

When you're ready here's how BoardPro can help


Start a Free Trial — run a whole board meeting cycle for free, no credit card needed. You’ll be able to create board packs in a click, and have all minutes, decisions, actions and interests in one place. Be more effective, save time, and have everyone on the same page!

Book a Demo — see BoardPro in action in this 30-minute demo, and have all your questions answered by a BoardPro specialist. You’ll get an introduction to all of BoardPro’s features — see how to set an agenda, create board packs, and take minutes. 

Attend a Free Governance Webinar — learn from our community of governance experts on subjects such as strategy, understanding board dynamics, reporting, and running effective meetings. You’ll join hundreds of others in these engaging events covering the latest governance topics.

Find a Governance Template — practical documents to make governance easy! Templates cover strategic planning, board evaluation, risk assessment, SWOT analysis, and many other essential governance and business topics to grow your organisation and adopt good governance practices. 


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