Only three percent of UK organisations have a fully automated procurement process even though it would save money and offer a greener alternative to paper-based procurement.

A survey by the National Computing Centre, in association with COA Software, also found that 69 percent of companies thought that moving to e-procurement would be more in line with their organisation's environmental policies, although only 25 percent had such a green procurement policy in place.

The term 'totally automated e-procurement' includes e-sourcing of goods such as using online supplier catalogues; the electronic delivery, authorisation, processing, storage and retrieval of all procurement documentation such as purchase orders, invoices and remittances and the eventual electronic payment of suppliers. It also includes the electronic management and payment of procurement cards (credit cards and loyalty cards etc).

"This research highlights that UK organisations are still not taking full advantage of automated procurement, which is surprising because during challenging economic times, cutting costs and streamlining procurement should be at the top of organisations' agendas," said Mark Thompson, MD of COA in a statement.

72 percent of respondents are apparently still relying on manually processing documents such as invoices and proof of deliveries, with 38 percent still manually approving purchase orders.

According to a COA spokeswoman, e-procurement brings about cost savings from less printing, postage and photocopying of documents; the elimination of paper storage; being able to take advantage of early payment discounts and reducing late payment penalties; being able to negotiate better rates with fewer, more reliable (and green) suppliers; reducing maverick spending etc.

"Doing things electronically means reducing paper consumption, printing, document transportation, as well as storing documents (warehouses needs power as well)," she said. The spokeswoman admitted however that there was of course CO2 emissions associated with powering servers, "but taking everything into account including vehicles on road etc, the impact is significantly less."

When asked to prove that, the spokeswoman provided the following statistics. She said a typical HP LaserJet printer, which uses 5.628 kWH (kilowatt hour) per week, emits 13.170 lbs CO2 per week, which equals 684.84 lbs of CO2 per year. Meanwhile a typical photocopier uses 400 watts per hour on standby, which equals 16kWH for a 40 hour working week, which in turn equals 37.44 lbs CO2 per week, or 1,946.88 Ibs of CO2 per year.

"Therefore, by moving to e-procurement and thereby eliminating the printing and photocopying of documents, approximately 2,631 lbs of CO2 are eliminated each year," the spokeswoman said. "As a comparison, one gallon of car petrol produces approximately 19 lbs of carbon dioxide and so in a week a typical photocopier will produce twice the emissions of a gallon of petrol."

She pointed out that emissions are also produced during the production, transport and storage of paper and toner cartridges and so taking all these emissions into account, many thousands of pounds of carbon are eliminated each year by moving to e-procurement.

"Clearly, data centres and PCs produce CO2 emissions - one PC puts approximately 1,000 Ibs of CO2 into the environment every year," she said. "However, staff use PCs as part of their working day and so no additional carbon emissions are being produced by PCs as a result of moving to e-procurement."