Is Your Office Paper Stacked Against You?

Is Your Office Paper Stacked Against You?

Whatever happened to the paperless office? Use of copy paper is surging. According to the American Forest & Paper Association, the paper industry distributed 1.7 million tons of office paper in 1982. By 1997, that amount soared to 4.6 million tons. The state of affairs today? According to the Worldwatch Institute, the average American office worker plows through approximately 12,000 sheets of paper per year.

The cost of paper use is often overlooked. Many large organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on paper and related expenses. However, as nearly every department in an organization consumes paper, the total cost of paper to the company usually doesn’t stand out in budget reports. And the cost of paper itself, about a half-cent per sheet, is deceptively small compared to the cost of a printed page, which includes toner, the use of a copy machine or printer, and the cost of machine maintenance. Thus, the printed page typically costs five to 10 times as much as the cost of paper alone.

When you factor in related expenses, such as postage, file cabinets, forms, rental costs for the space devoted to file cabinets, off-site storage, and waste removal, it’s clear that paper costs stack up.

Another significant cost: productivity. It takes far less time to post a document or send it electronically than to load a machine with paper, fix a paper jam, address envelopes, sort and distribute envelopes, file paper, and haul away used paper. And when documents are sent electronically, they reach the readers instantaneously.

When an organization decreases paper use, it realizes many environmental benefits. The EPA estimates that paper products represent 38% of America’s municipal solid waste stream. Source reduction keeps paper from landfills and incinerators. It also reduces the use of fossil fuels and water. And source reduction saves trees, which absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Minimize Paper Use in Your Organization

Many companies have taken steps to decrease paper use. The Boston Globe recently announced plans to reduce the width of its newspaper, as many other publishers have done. Several years ago, Bell Atlantic trimmed the size of its telephone books by fitting more information and less white space on each page. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care cut the size of its physician directories by one third, saving 40 million pages and more than $200,000 per year. Bank of America slashed paper consumption by 25% in two years by carrying out a multi-faceted paper use reduction campaign.

Here are some paper-use reduction strategies you might consider for your organization:
  • Analyze your largest documents, such as publications and major mailings to customers, for opportunities to reduce paper use. Slash paper volume by using a smaller font size, a space efficient font such as Times New Roman, smaller margins, less white space, reduced image sizes, and both sides of the page. Consider lighter weight paper. Also, you can eliminate paper use altogether by posting these documents online, sending them on disk, or sending them as an e-mail attachment.

  • Pare down your distribution lists. Organizations that maintain up-to-date lists of their customers, suppliers, and staff realize great savings on paper, postage, and staff time. The U.S. Postal Service's National Change of Address program helps organizations maintain customers' current addresses.

  • Send internal reports electronically or on disk. For reports that must be on paper, use two-up (two pages printed on one side) and two-sided printing.

  • Conduct business with customers and suppliers online, using the Internet or a corporate extranet. Use Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) technology for paperless business transactions.

  • Use your corporate intranet and shared drives to the greatest extent possible. Place databases, manuals, meeting minutes, internal phone books, newsletters and other common documents there, so staff can access them electronically. Train staff to use your organization’s intranet and shared drives as the preferred means of document storage and communication, so your organization can retrieve documents more easily, save time, and reduce costs. Teach staff to use password protection for confidential documents.

  • Use data compression software for storing large quantities of data electronically, rather than on paper.

  • Reset software before distributing it to staff. Many software packages, such as Microsoft Word and Excel, are not designed to use paper efficiently. You can make them more efficient by reducing the font and margins and eliminating banner pages. Remember to reset your e-mail software, too.

  • Purchase printers and copiers capable of duplexing, or printing on both sides. Establish duplexing, or two-sided printing, as the default. To minimize paper jams, train staff to keep paper in its wrapper until ready for use and to load paper into the machines correctly (curl side up or down, depending on the machine).

  • Educate staff on the importance of paper use reduction. Encourage them to file electronically, use both sides of the page, print email messages only when necessary, and use scrap paper whenever possible. Explain the business reasons and the benefits to society of using less paper.

  • Put forms online.
One last suggestion -- calculate the benefits of your program. To determine how much money your organization saves, use a conservative estimate of three cents per page, and add in the associated costs of paper use mentioned above. Take an educated guess at the time saved by your organization as it replaces paper with electronic storage and communication. And calculate the number of trees saved by using the figure of 27,500 pages per tree.

Then communicate the achievement of your program. Your staff, your shareholders, your customers, and your children will appreciate the effort.

Dan Ruben is manager, Buy Recycled and Source Reduction Programs, WasteCap of Massachusetts.



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