The paperless office has been a long time coming.

Ever since BusinessWeek popularized the term in 1975 with George Pake's--founder of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center--prediction that computers would cause the demise of printing. Still, U.S. workplaces have long fallen short of this eventuality. Each year, American companies produce 1.6 trillion pieces of paper, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Small-and medium-size businesses, which have been slow to digitize, are the biggest culprits. But that's soon expected to change.

New research from printer-industry tracker InfoTrends shows a decrease of about one to two percent a year in the use of paper in the workplace. Of course, at that small rate of decline, the paperless office is still a ways away.

"I think it will take 15-20 years, when the millennials who grew up with digital photos and smartphones take over senior positions in companies, to see the transition to a paperless office," Loo Wee Teck, head of consumer electronics at market research firm Euromonitor, told the Wall Street Journal.

Already employees are utilizing tablets and cellphones at work. That naturally reduces the need for printing. Plus, cloud-based services like Google Docs make it easier to collaborate, and electronic forms and signatures are replacing printed documents.

Fewer printed pages is also having an effect on companies' bottom lines.

Tara Funneman of Illinois-based Bahrns Equipment Inc., told WSJ that cutting paper forms made the company more efficient, as there is no longer a need to sort through illegible and incomplete documents. This led to eliminating an extra clerical job, noted Funneman. And just think of all the trees it'll save too.