Paper. We use it every day. And even though the reference to saving a tree by conserving paper is almost ubiquitous, there still seems to be a disconnect between the need—or desire—to save paper and the ease of hitting “print.” Make no mistake; using paper has an impact on resources. Not just trees, but also water (in manufacturing—in fact, lots of water) and fossil fuels (in manufacturing, distribution and disposal) just to name two.
Let’s face it, the paperless work place was an unattainable, if noble, pipedream. We now know that the computer has not only not created a paperless work-place, but that it has in fact allowed us to waste even more paper more quickly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. While we may not be able to become completely paperless (at least not until we can do away with that pesky fax machine), I think we have reached a point where we can begin to use less of it.
When I consider my paper waste (cause that’s what it all ends up as), I think hard about what I really need to print and what can suffice on the screen. When it comes to printing from the computer, the pages I print usually boil down to three types:
• things I want to read away from the computer,
• things I have to share with others, and
• things that need a signature.
There is one other type of document that is very often printed but I think can be done away with with some discipline. And that is: Things that need to be filed.
Ways we can conserve office paper
Let’s start with that last one. We print things that need to be filed because we want a paper record. This is good for many reasons:
• paper documents can be accessed without a computer,
• they can be copied and shared,
• we jot notes on them, and
• we have a back-up of the doc should anything happen to the digital version.
But in many cases, the digital version is just fine and can be kept safe if we back up our hard-drives. While we may not be able to keep from printing some docs, most of them these days start out as digital files and can often stay that way. Consider also the number of times you print the same doc.
Things that I want to read away from the computer are usually stories I find during my daily “media snacking” that I don’t have time to read while I’m working and want to read later. Sometimes they’re longer documents that need to be proofread and I can’t stand to do it on the screen (I find my editing is more effective if I can read it on the printed page).
Unless you have a duplex printer (one that prints on both sides) and use it religiously, chances are you have a lot of paper that is only printed on one side. Why not take all your (non-confidential) single-sided printed pages and keep them in a pile next to the printer so you can print on them again? You can either dedicate a drawer in your printer to this paper or use the manual feed. All it takes is a quick set-up in your printer settings to have an option for that recycled paper drawer or the manual feed to print non-essential documents on the second side of a discarded page.
This so-called “scrap” paper can take many forms. When I started at Circumerro the beginning of this year, the company had just completed an identity re-design and there was a lot of letterhead left over. I’ve been printing on that leftover paper since January and I’m still not through it. And it could be a few months more until I am. In the mean time, I’ve gotten several co-workers to use the same paper for non-essential printed items.
When it comes to the “things I have to share with others” category, I find that much of what I share is within the office. We’ve gotten very good at sharing documents via email, iChat and on the intra-office server. In most cases, we don’t need to print things out to share them in-house.
However, meetings tend to be a common place for wasted paper. How many times have you received a document (or worse, a stack of documents) at a meeting only to discard them once the meeting is over? As I mentioned above, you can print on the other side of that paper when you’re done with it, but why not save that paper to begin with?
Many offices now have a computer in the conference room (or anywhere you may attend a meeting) that is networked with the rest of the office. Why not make that agenda available digitally and share it on-screen instead of printing it out? Besides, most of us attend meetings with a note-pad or journal with which to keep notes.
(If you don’t have a computer in your meeting room, how many agendas do you think you need to not print before you pay for that extra computer? Keep in mind it has value beyond just saving paper—accessing the Internet during meetings and as an extra work-station.)
Things that need to be signed pretty much fall under the same category as things that need be filed. However, there are plenty of times that I print a doc from an email, sign it and fax it back to the sender. If we can begin to use a “digital signature,” we could cut down on a lot of this paper wasted. The document was printed on my end and it was printed on the other end. In this case, all this great technology utilized over distance has allowed us to double the amount of paper needed instead of cut down on it (and if you received it as a fax the first time, the amount of paper has tripled by the time it gets back to the source). If you scan your signature and save it as a jpg, you can drop it onto a word doc or a PDF (this may be a little harder), and then email it back to the sender. It doesn’t matter that your signature was a digital file because the faxed paper would have been a copy anyway.
These are pretty simple things to consider. It really just comes down to planning and establishing new habits in the workplace. Once you’ve found an efficient way to conserve paper (or any resource for that matter) you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
Of course, there are other aspects to lessening the impact of paper in the workplace, including using recycled paper and then recycling paper when you’re done with it, but that’s fodder for future posts.
If you have ways you or your company has succeeded in cutting down on paper use in the workplace, please share them here.