Paper. We write on it, we print on it, we push it. We buy it, and in some offices, we sell it. And yes, it does grow on trees. But with all this paper in the workplace, we're using up far too many trees. MNN has a few hints to help you green up your office paper trail.


Many of us click that little printer icon so many times we have a phone-book sized stack at the end of the work day (like a Los Angeles area phone book rather than one for, say, Hibberts Gore, Maine). And really, how often do you consult your phone book? With a few tricks and a lot less printing, your office could save almost 20 reams of paper a year, per employee.

• Changing your printer settings: The typical American office worker produces around 100 pounds of paper waste a year. With just a few minor tweaks, this amount can be dramatically reduced. For example, setting your printer to print double-sided cuts your number of printed pages by 50 percent (I would say "You do the math," but I've already done it. It was really easy). Adjust margin defaults to fit more text on a page. Set your fax machine to skip printing confirmation pages. And instead of having all the office computers connected to printers, leave only one connected so that, to print, employees have to transfer their documents to it. By making the process more time-consuming, you can keep your co-workers from printing e-mails and Dilbert comics willy-nilly.

• Printing less: The average cost of a wasted page is six cents, so it's good for business to be mindful of how much you're printing. Don't print unless you absolutely have to, and if you have to print, print smart. Printing two or more pages on one side of a sheet may cut paper usage in half again. Share hard copies of documents or have one master copy, instead of printing the document for each employee. Only print final drafts. Use smaller or more efficient fonts. Shrink graphics to take up less space. Get smart-printing software — it knows what needs to print and what doesn't. You may even be able to install a code system on your office printer that will keep track of how much each person prints. The quicker you bring a wastrel's wastefulness to his attention, the sooner he'll strive to correct it.

• The paperless office: The future is now-ish. It's likely that your office doesn't need paper any more than it needs papyrus or stone tablets. With the Internet and flash drives and all those fancy-schmancy word processors and computerized file folders you have access to, it's a wonder you print at all. Share documents within the office via e-mail or a network. Bookmark websites, don't print them. Use a scanner instead of a photocopier. Throw out your old fax machine and get Internet fax services. And at meetings, you can have someone take digital photos of the whiteboard and e-mail them to everybody, eliminating the need to even take notes on paper.


Paper is one of those magical materials that's easily recycled, and yet it comprises 40 percent of solid waste in the U.S. Chances are, your office uses enough paper to warrant a recycling program, or, at the very least, you can repurpose your pages as scrap paper or a fashionable hat.

By recycling your paper, your office can start saving trees, one (loose) leaf at a time.

• Reusing paper: Say you printed a spreadsheet two weeks ago, and now you don't need it anymore. Do you: a) slam-dunk it in the wastebasket, b) attempt a jump shot into the wastebasket, c) miss the wastebasket by an inch after trying a layup or d) abandon basketball analogies and use the paper again? If you answered anything but "d," I suggest you read this article twice (but, whatever you do, don't print it!). Scrap paper is always useful in the office, whether for taking notes or phone messages or simply jotting down ideas. If one side of the page is blank, you can print on it (make sure, in this case, that the two-sided setting on your printer is not on). Load your fax machine and copier with once-used paper and cut down usage of new printer paper. When it comes to paper, once is not enough. Twice is nice, and if you recycle, you can get use after use after use of your priceless pages.

• Recycling paper: Americans recover 55 percent of the paper they use, but they still consume 4 million tons of it a year — and that's just copy paper. The average U.S. resident uses about one 100-foot tree's worth of paper and wood products annually. To ease the strain this puts on our forests — the United States produces and consumes a third of the world's paper, and one ton of paper requires up to four times its weight in trees — start a recycling program in your office (or improve the program you already have). Make it simple and gratifying. There should be at least one recycling bin for every 15 or so employees. Put the bins near printers and copiers, in the kitchen, in the main conference room. Create incentive programs for workers who make good use of the bins. Recycling paper may not get you a raise, but each ton of paper that's recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill area and, again, a couple tons of trees.

What paper to buy

You know that old figure of speech: "You are what kind of paper you use"? Or something like that. If you can't go paperless — I know, it's hard to let go — there are a number of sustainable options for when your office chooses its paper supply. Whether you choose post-consumer recycled paper or another is simply a matter of style and budget; any of these papers should suit your business needs just fine, especially if you're being prudent with your pages.

• Recycled paper: Roughly 38 percent of the fiber used to make paper comes from recycled sources, and if you've established a recycling program, as I told you to do on the previous page, then this is just the kind of paper your office is helping to create. Post-consumer recycled paper comes from paper products that were used by someone like you in a home or office and then separated for recycling. Of course there is also pre-consumer, or post-mill recycled paper, which is recycled from scraps, leftovers and misprints from the printing and paper production industries. As far as recycled paper goes, pre-consumer materials are easier to collect and usually cleaner, but post-consumer helps keep consumer waste paper out of landfills and is generally more widely available for sale. Recycled papers are then classified further by their percentage of recycled content — the minimum required for recycled paper is 30 percent, and it slides all the way up to 100. Naturally, 100-percent recycled paper is ideal because it doesn't endanger any more trees than it did its first go-around. And each of these varieties has been proven suitable for use in office machines. Even more importantly, though, recycled paper production creates 74 percent less air pollution and 35 percent less water pollution than paper made from virgin fiber.

• Non-tree sources: More than 30 million acres of trees are lost annually, and 40 percent or more of logged trees go to make paper. Using a more sustainable source to fill your precious printer can help keep your office and our trees green. Hemp is a very sustainable material, commonly used to make paper and, when included, can increase paper's recyclability (the first Gutenberg Bibles and the U.S. Declaration on Independence were printed on hemp, too). Bamboo, cotton, kenaf and flax are also dedicated paper sources that are more sustainable. Agricultural residues — that is, farmed crops that would otherwise go to waste — are also getting attention in the paper industry. It's an inexpensive resource that saves waste and gives more money to our farmers. There are a great many plants that can be used to make paper and have been since 105 C.E.

• Good tree sources: If you must go with tree-based paper — it is still the cheapest and most prevalent — go for more environmental options. Unbleached and chlorine-free papers prevent organochlorines and other toxins from being released into the water supply. Paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council uses only responsible logging practices and well-maintained forests. And if you must use plain old virgin tree-fiber paper, get a lighter weight. It uses less fiber, costs significantly less and usually performs as well as thicker papers.

Photo: Corey Holms/Flickr

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How to green your paperwork
Want to cover your paper trail? MNN has tips to help you save trees and money.