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Despite your forest of filing cabinets, are you able to find that report you need for your meeting in 5 minutes? Take steps to reduce your consumption of paper and increase efficiency at work to save time, money, and resources. And it's "3 E-asy."

Quite a stack, Jack!The 3 E’s: Economical, Environmental, Efficient

Are you a paper pusher? The typical workplace is hooked on the stuff, with some shocking statistics.

  • The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year.
  • The United States alone, which has less than 5% of the world's population, consumes 30% of the world's paper.
  • Over 40% of wood pulp goes toward the production of paper.
  • Printing and writing paper equals about one-half of U.S. paper production.
  • The costs of using paper in the office can run 13 to 31 times the cost of purchasing the paper in the first place!

Economical: Saving paper saves money

You're probably thinking, "What's the big deal? My office doesn't spend much on paper." But what most people don't realize is that the cost of buying paper is just the tip of the paper iceberg. For each sheet of paper used, a company incurs not only purchasing costs, but also storage, copying, printing, postage, disposal, and recycling—and it adds up. A recent Minnesota study estimates that associated paper costs could be as much as 31 times the purchasing costs (not including labor). So, that ream of paper that you paid $5 for really could cost up to $155!

  • Citigroup, a large financial services company, determined that if each employee used double-sided copying to conserve just one sheet of paper each week, the firm would save $700,000 each year.
  • Bank of America cut its paper consumption by 25% in two years by increasing the use of on-line forms and reports, e-mail, double-sided copying, and lighter-weight paper.

Environmental: Saving paper reduces our impact

Paper is an office necessity for some essential tasks, but it has an environmental cost. Creating paper from trees requires a lot of natural resources: trees, water, and energy.

  • It takes more than 1½ cups of water to make one sheet of paper. (Picture a typical soda can.)
  • Over 40% of wood pulp goes toward the production of paper.
  • Reducing paper use reduces greenhouse gases: 400 reams of paper is like 1.25 acres of pine forest absorbing carbon for a year.
  • Even with recycling efforts, paper makes up over 25% of Minnesota's garbage—we're throwing away a lot of resources!

Efficient: Saving paper increases efficiency

Paperwork! It brings to mind filling out unnecessarily complicated forms. Electronic forms can now make that job easier and more efficient. Businesses that have converted to electronic forms and filing systems have found that it takes less time to both find and process information. This doesn't mean that electronic forms should replace all paper. In some instances, paper will be the best tool, but most businesses find that reducing their paper use increases their efficiency. Whenever we have fewer sheets of paper in our homes and offices, we spend less time looking for those that are misplaced or lost.

  • Success story: When Wilderness Inquiry moved its registration forms online, they found boosts in productivity and customer satisfaction.

Tips for reducing office paper waste

Duplex -- Use both sidesUse both sides

Use the front and back of a piece of paper and cut your paper use and costs in half.

  • Set computer defaults to print double-sided.
  • Make double-sided copies when possible.
  • Give it a second chance: Use paper printed on only one side in your fax machine, for draft copies or internal documents, or as scratch paper.

Think before you print or copy

Sometimes it is necessary for documents to be printed. Print responsibly.

  • Preview documents before printing. Use the print preview to spot formatting errors and blank pages before you print. Proofread first, and use the spell/grammar tool to help avoid errors that can cause documents to be reprinted.
  • Duplex is not complexPrint only the pages you need. If only a few pages of the document are needed, print only those pages instead of the whole report. Most software programs provide this option under the print function.
  • Promote a "think before you copy" attitude. Consider sharing some documents with co-workers. Print only the number of copies needed for the meeting, don't make extras.

Go electronic

  • Route memos and newsletters that employees should see, but do not need to keep. That way newsletters and other documents can be shared rather than copied.
  • Use revision features in word processing software. You can edit documents on screen instead of printing out drafts and making hand-written comments.
  • Send information electronically. Use e-mails instead of fax or mailed letters when possible. It's faster.
  • Fit more words onto each page (e.g., smaller font, narrower margins). Simply changing the default margins from 1.25" to 1" can reduce the amount of paper you use by up to 8%. Use a space-efficient font like Times New Roman.
  • Create an electronic filing system for quick, easy retrieval.

Keep forms and lists up-to-date

  • Reduce unwanted mail. Much of the marketing mail that your office receives is discarded immediately, and you foot the bill for recycling or disposal, not to mention the time it takes to sort and deliver mail. Cut down on the amount of unwanted mail by keeping your employees' names off of mail lists to begin with. (Reduce the Hail of Unwanted Mail)
  • Eliminate unnecessary forms. Sometimes documents become obsolete and are no longer needed. If forms are still needed consider making them electronic.

Reduce, then recycleClose the loop on recycling

  • Recycle office paper. If your office doesn't recycle yet, start a recycling office paper program. It can save your organization money. Your county solid waste office can help.
  • Buy recycled-content paper, preferably made from paper pulp recycled without the use of chlorine.

Be nice to your copier...

and your copier will be nice to you. Keep copiers and printers in good repair and make it policy to only buy copiers and printers that make reliable double-sided copies. Let your copier maintenance person know when a copier is performing poorly (toner is low, jams frequently, etc.). Regular copier maintenance is important, especially if the toner is low. Copiers are often used until all the toner is gone and that wears down machines. A copier that works well is less likely to jam and this helps save paper!

Save postage AND paperCompound savings

Think about that 10-page, single-sided report you're dropping in the mail. You need an extra stamp, don't you? Take that same report and send it double-sided. Now you've cut your paper cost in half, and you don't need to pay the extra postage.


The Office Paper Reduction Toolkit

Paper-less Office toolkit

We've assembled a set of tools for Minnesota companies and organizations to use in creating and implementing a campaign to reduce office paper use in your organzation. You will find resources that you can adapt to target waste and educate staff members.

  • An introductory movie: The E’s of Office Paper Reduction
  • Fact sheets and fun facts
  • Posters and clip art
  • E-mail tips

The kit is available to Minnesota organizations and companies on a free CD/DVD set; order yours by calling 651-757-2276 or e-mail <>.

Movie: The E’s of Office Paper Reduction

Forget the latest blockbuster on the big screen. The talk around the copier will be all about duplexing after you show this short, light-hearted video at your next staff meeting. It gives a fun look at the easiest ways to big reductions in office paper use – and paper-related costs.

Now, who brought the popcorn?

Paperkit PosterFactsheet and posters

Fact sheet: Office Paper Reduction

Poster: Discover your paper's other side: Make use of your copier's ability to duplex

Poster: Stop the hail of junk mail: Reduce unsolicited mail to your business

Poster: Default to Duplex: Set your computer default to 2-sided printing

Tips to share through office e-mail

Animated Flash/Shockwave files to use in your office. Not too big to e-mail, or make an easy link to them on Two styles: "Green Screen" is more corporate, while the "Animation" set is a little more fun.

Get Adobe Flash PlayerRequire free Adobe Flash Player.
To play file: Click the Flash/Shockwave icon.
To save file: Right-click and choose 'Save Link/Target As' to save to your computer or network.

Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Growth in paper use
Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Cost of paper
Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Duplex printing: Set your computer default to duplex print
Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Think before you print
Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Double-sided copying
Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Test before copying big jobs
Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Don't print emails: Save electronically
Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Don't print web sites unnecessarily
Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Page formatting and font selection
Flash/Shockwave Flash/Shockwave Reduce business junk mail

Success Stories

What better way to show the potential benefits of reducing paper use than sharing stories about successful companies? Here are some examples from the MPCA's Environmental Assistance grant program.

Wilderness Inquiry

Wilderness InquiryAs a small, nonprofit organization providing wilderness trips, Wilderness Inquiry (Minneapolis) wanted to reduce its paper use, which customers perceived as environmentally unfriendly, while increasing marketing effectiveness and keeping costs down.

Before this project, their whole system was paper-based—marketing, registration, and evaluation— and included all the related paper use costs of copying and postage. For each customer inquiry, staff mailed a catalog or photo-less fact sheet. Registration using paper forms meant return postage and a wait for the customer, and Wilderness Inquiry staff had to do data entry work.

WI staff reviewed strategies to create more efficient work processes, increase customer service, reduce paper use, and ultimately reduce paper and postage costs. They concluded that technology enhancements and website development could replace its paper and mail communications.

A state grant enabled the company to upgrade software, create a new, data-driven Web site, and focus on Internet communication with clients.

  • Paper forms gave way to online versions, including registrations and forms like waivers.
  • Fact sheets with color photographs are easily viewed and downloaded—a vast improvement over the old black and white sheets.
  • A “mail to a friend” interface makes it easy for customers to send fact sheets to possible trip-mates.

Wilderness Inquiry has seen a wide range of benefits for their operations and their customers.

  • Customers now get trip information in minutes rather than days and perceive operations as environmentally friendly and consistent with the mission.
  • The new process is more efficient, with much less staff time spent copying and mailing trip information and forms. Trip leaders can now complete all the post-trip forms from any Internet-connected computer.
  • Fact sheets are higher quality and more timely.
  • Postage costs decreased significantly.
  • Over two years, the staff documented a 30% reduction in use of black-and-white copiers.
  • A reduction of 3800 sheets/month had these annual environmental benefits: 7 million BTUs of energy, 1 ton of wood, 1,062 lbs. of CO2, 3,526 gallons of water, and 420 lbs. of solid waste. (

Based on the early successes, WI continued to move documents online: job applications, a donor page, trip logs, photos, and more.

Tastefully SimpleTastefully Simple

Tastefully Simple (Alexandria) is national direct-sales company offering a wide selection of easy-to-prepare gourmet foods. Its operations include more than 22,000 consultants nationwide, and require the production many printed documents: financial statements, conference registrations, order forms, and more.

The company's Green Team made great strides in paper reduction.

  • Electronic financial statements, conference registrations, and order forms have eliminated half-million sheets of paper, plus associated envelopes and labels.
  • Duplex printing is the default on computers at its business hubs.
  • Reminders to copy on both sides were put up at all copy machines.

Signage at the copierThese steps were considered painless, and had benefits to the company.

  • Eliminating more than half-million paper documents and making duplexing the standard when paper is needed saved nearly $100,000.
  • Reducing paper use and adding recycling throughout the company led to a 33-50% reduction in waste.
  • The company realized considerable cost reduction and increased efficiency.

Tastefully Simple offers a few tips to others that want to reduce their office waste.

  • Form a Green Team. Tastefully Simple’s Green Team spearheads the company’s environmental efforts and works with outside organizations such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). They take the lead in brainstorming and implementing waste reduction ideas.
  • Start with an Environmental Assessment. Looking at the waste your organization generates helps you target areas for reduction. Assistance is available through programs like Minnesota Waste Wise, the Retired Engineers Technical Assistance Program (RETAP), MPCA, and your local county solid waste office.

Links and resources

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