Dear Vanessa,

My boss prints ruthlessly at the office, even e-mails and memos he could easily read on his screen. How can I save trees and my job?

— Exasperated in Evanston, Ill.

Dear Exasperated,

Unplug his printer.

No? Hide the paper and ink cartridges.

Just how scary is your boss? If you're in danger of being fired for making an environmentally sound suggestion, get out!

OK, maybe not in these uncertain economic times. So let's look at some other options.

If saving natural resources doesn't inspire him, maybe saving money will. How much does the office spend on printing? Include paper, ink, printers, repair and electricity costs in your calculations, since printers tend to be plugged in and turned on all the time. Remember, if it isn't unplugged it's still eating power. He could not only save money by reducing purchases, but also cut his waste bills by 50 percent or more. Forward him the "Top three financial reasons (and a climate change one) why your company needs an eco-calculator" from Green Printer Blog. The ol' "save some green by being green" strategy.

Along with those measurable savings, make him aware of how much productivity is being wasted: all that time spent replenishing feed trays, replacing ink cartridges, fixing paper jams, waiting for documents to print, filing, addressing and sorting envelopes ... he'll no doubt appreciate your initiative and interest in saving the business money. (Is that a promotion I smell?)

None of these things have anything to do with him, of course. It's just that, as the person everyone looks to for leadership, he can have the greatest impact by setting a good example.

Consider, too, that maybe his resistance comes from a sort of technophobia: If it isn't printed out, it doesn't exist and can't be found when needed. Suggest backing up those e-mails and memos to an external hard drive or Web-based storage. The sense of security may be enough to change his evil ways.

Or maybe he finds reading and proofreading on screens awkward or tiring. I do. Enlarging the font size (and/or changing the font style) of a document can make proofreading much more effective, less strenuous and gives you a fresh take on what you're reading.

If you can't get him to lay off the printing, there are many ways you and other employees can compensate for his waste.

Avoid printing by storing documents digitally and make use of e-mail and computer networks to share information, work on drafts, etc.

Include "Do not print this e-mail unless absolutely necessary" or "Consider the environment before printing this e-mail" at the end of every e-mail or memo. If everyone in the office adds that as an electronic signature, it may start to sink in.

• Get rid of the fax machine — it's so 20th century. Look into software or online services that send and receive e-faxes.

• Use file transfer portals (FTPs) to up or download files online; once again saving money and resources on supplies, printing and shipping.

• If you do print, make it single-spaced, double-sided, and shrink the margins. Set all computers, printers and copy machines' default mode to double-sided printing.

• Print addresses directly onto envelopes rather than adhesive labels. It saves money and resources and allows the envelopes to be recycled. Adhesive labels can't be recycled and, as a contaminant in the recycling process, can ruin entire batches of paper.

• Stock the office with recycled paper. Look for the highest post-consumer content you can find.

• The California Waste Management site's Office Paper Reduction Quick Tips and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Reducing Office Paper Waste have good suggestions for reducing use, and include guides for setting up recycling programs at work.

Let me know how it goes, and please share any other ideas.

Stay green,


Did you know?

• A typical office generates about 1.5 pounds of waste paper per employee per day. (Add another half-pound for financial businesses.)

• Cutting office paper use in the United States by 10 percent is the equivalent of taking 280,000 cars off the road (1.6 million tons of greenhouse gases).

• Your boss is not alone. The proliferation of computers has actually increased our use of paper. Good thing they're also a great tool for radically reducing that waste.

Photo: Walter Parenteau/Flickr

How can I get my boss to waste less paper? 1/20/2009
Want to help your employer print less without pushing his buttons? Vanessa tells you how.