Will you or won't you (print that document)?

Sure, we'd all love to eliminate paper usage for the sake of the planet. But is this approach really practical? Frankly, right now, it's not.

I have been quite open in admitting one of my real environmental vices: my tendency to have to print out press releases and such that I'm working with or reading or blogging about. I don't do it ALL the time, I swear but my 40-something eyes have started resenting PDFs. That said, I have become truly, madly, deeply to my Amazon Kindle electronic reader, which has saved me many a shoulder ache on a couple of recent plane flights.

Most of you probably experience this "paper suppression" dilemma multiple times daily, as you figure out how to ratchet back printer costs and paper waste -- without sapping employee productivity or, in some cases, alienating a portion of your customer base. One of the companies with which I spoke about this issue recently, Regulus Group (a 3i Infotech Company), reports that while most large companies offer paperless statements, the adoption rate remains rather low in the 3 percent to 5 percent range. The younger the consumer, the more likely they are to choose electronic billing, especially since some companies offer some sort of incentive for opting out of paper. But, in many cases, people are requesting both, according to Josh Wendroff, director of marketing for 3i Infotech. "Companies would like to get rid of the paper, but consumers aren't necessarily moving to this," Wendroff said.

And forget charging more for a paper document. T-Mobile got dinged big time when it tried to charge $1.50 per month for paper bills, Regulus reports. This article sums up the situation.

How much could a business save by going electronic: As much as 38 percent of a mailing cost, for the postage and paper.

So, there's definitely a reason to go electronic, but make it voluntary not mandated or you could lose more than you save in customer goodwill.

That was the dilemma faced by Ali Motlagh, managing editor for Encyclopedia Iranica, which is produced by Columbia University. Like everyone else in the publishing/media business, the organization has been looking for ways to reduce costs. It considered going entirely digital, but Motlagh said it would have been cutting off a large portion of the audience that receives its newsletter. "I also still believe that certain materials communicate themselves better in print," Motlagh says. That's why he opted to work through Earthtone, a site where small companies can compare their printing options on certain projects and drive down their costs without cutting out paper entirely. It helps that Earthtone offers free carbon offsets related to ever print job.

Motlagh is definitely on to something.

Earthtone recently commissioned a study by Harris Interactive suggesting that about 64 percent of people prefer reading paper documents to a computer screen. Ironically, the percentage is higher in technology in telecommunications, where 70 percent prefer paper. More than half of the 2,265 adults surveyed on behalf of Earthtone think that the "paperless" office is unlikely to become a reality in the next five years.

That doesn't mean people aren't changing their habits, though. A hybrid approach will definitely be where it's at and as you think about managing your printer fleet in 2010 and beyond, the more print and digital flexibility you can build into your "output" options, the better.


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