A Cutback the Whole Office Can Get Behind

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It’s a common notion that addressing the issue of sustainability revolves around three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. Yet, in many places, recycling is treated as the end-all, be-all in consumer responsibility.

In fact, people may often forgo the challenge of reduction in favor of recycling. “Why bother using less if I can just recycle it?” is the common refrain. Yet, for all the benefits of recycling, it is not a free or perfect process. There are costs involved in collecting, shipping and processing the materials, and for many products, recycling has its limits. For example, plastic generally downcycles, as does paper (although more slowly than plastic), so even with a 100 percent recycling rate, we would still need oil to produce plastics and trees to produce paper.

Perhaps nowhere is the tendency to avoid reduction (in favor of recycling) more apparent than in the office. Workers who do not foot the bill for expensive toner or ink cartridges, or buy the reams of paper that go into printers, faxes and copiers may not recognize just how much paper is needlessly wasted. Indeed, the blue bins located throughout the office seem to encourage them to print as they see fit.

Yet, a recent survey found that nearly a trillion sheets of paper are tossed within a day of being printed. Even if all of these offices were using 30 percent post-consumer recycled paper, this amounts to nearly 90 million trees cut and processed each year for one-time uses like faxes, cover pages, emails and assignments.

Keeping this in mind, here are several easy solutions that individuals and companies can implement to save paper and ink and, in turn, bring the idea of reduction into the office.

Let Common Sense be Your Guide

Reducing the amount of printing you do each day requires only that you take a moment to consider the following:

  1. Is this print job something that you will be keeping for more than a few hours or days?
  2. Is it something that requires a paper copy, or can it stay on your hard drive?
  3. Has it already been printed by someone else?

Asking these questions will serve as a reminder that it actually does matter how much paper you use and keep you looking for ways to save. You can also encourage your company to add a footnote to emails sent from your network that asks the recipients to make the same considerations before printing. It takes very little time to setup, and it’s a great way to spread your reduction mindset.

Get the Most Out of Your Paper

When you have exhausted all of your options and the time finally comes for you to print, make sure that you are putting as much information on each page as possible. The easiest way to do this is by adjusting your margins. Simply by reducing the margins from 1.5“ to 1“ the average office worker can save about 475 pages per year – almost a full ream. Pushing out to .75“ saves even more paper, and unless documents are being turned in for something formal, there’s no reason for all that white space on the page.

According to SPRANQ, Ecofont works best for OpenOffice, AppleWorks and MS Office 2007. - Ecofont.eu

According to SPRANQ, Ecofont works best for OpenOffice, AppleWorks and MS Office 2007. – Ecofont.eu

Shrink Your Ink…

…usage, that is. Ecofont, created by the Dutch company SPRANQ, is a new font that is designed to extend the life of your ink and toner cartridges by up to 20 percent. How do they do it? It’s a lot of nothing, but apparently all that nothing adds up. By adding small holes to the letters (which are visible in large font sizes but barely noticeable in most office documents), Ecofont was able to strike the perfect balance between a font that uses less ink, and a font that is clearly legible for readers. Even better, Ecofont is free to download from their website.

Obviously, you should continue to use the blue bins in your office, and if your company isn’t recycling yet, then getting a program started should be a priority. But by making a few simple, easy-to-implement choices in the workplace, it is easy for every employee to move beyond recycling and become a reduction specialist. Who knows? All those savings might go toward that bonus you’re hoping for.

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  1. I can’t believe (or rather, I can sadly believe) that 1 trillion sheets are tossed out a day after printing! I work from home, so I have everything saved on my laptop & sure, it takes a while to find a particular file sometimes, but it’s so much better than printing out a sheet here or there to just toss later in the day. I have an efax and LOVE it! Because the “fax” is converted to a pdf file, I love that I can save it, look at it later and not risk losing it, which is a real threat in a house where my toddler loves to take anything paper off my desk and do Lord knows what with it!

  2. Thanks for the article Steve!

    For readers interested in the subject I can also recommend the green printing article series over at the TreeHugger website. Lot’s of interesting info there!

  3. A tip that has helped out our office is that we have a defalut print tray set up for draft copies. We fill this tray with paper that has already been printed on one side. Implementing this, along with many of the other tips you mentioned (although the ecoprint is a new one to me!), our department reduced its paper use from 1120 reams of paper used per year to 964 reams. The average cost of a ream of paper is $62 when you include the purchase price, printing, mailing, storage, and disposal. Using this figure we have saved $17,174 in the past 2 years! More information, including information on how we track usage, is available at our website: http://www.waukeshacounty.gov/page.aspx?SetupMetaId=19474&id=23650

  4. Good article, but in addition to recycling and reducing, there should be a mention of re-using here! You can use the back of a printout as scrap paper when you’re brainstorming, making up your to-do list, or taking notes on a call. Or if it’s non-sensitive, non-confidential information, you can donate paper printed on one side to a local daycare – they are always in need of scrap paper for coloring on.

    Also, in terms of reduction, you can set up certain types of printers to print on both sides of the page, reducing your paper consumption by half.

  5. Speaking of paper usage, I have instituted the process in our office of recycling all that “fax spam”, etc. If it’s printed on one side, and we don’t need to save it, I use it as a two-sided copy. If it’s not going out to the customer and staying in office, just use the other side! We have cut down on our paper ordering considerably.

  6. I work for a large utility company so there is a lot of printing going on. I use my ‘banner sheet’ as scrap paper at work or take it home and use the other side for my printer at home. Now what I have done is remove the banner sheet and set my properties to ‘secure print’. Now I just go to the printer and release my prints. Everything is there – with no banner sheets. I feel that I save a lot of paper that way and have tried to convince some others to do the same.

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