Guilty pleasures: Using paper, paper and more paper

I have a confession to make. I love and abuse paper every day.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

I have a confession to make. I love and abuse paper every day. I love penning hand-written notes to thank people who have been thoughtful to me and have literally a desk drawer full of cool stationery. I devour books while lying in bed and have piles of to-be-read ones in my closet. I print out all my story notes, so I can scribble my outlines and additional observations all over them. I refuse to reveal how high my magazine stack is.

Weighing this guilty secret against my role as a green tech blogger isn’t exactly easy. But there definitely are forms of green tech that address the paper waste problem.

The folks at On24, one of the Webcasting companies, have actually calculated how much paper the company’s platform helped recover in 2007, when it held more than 12,000 different events. Based on an average of 40 slides per event and 200 attendees per event, it figures it saved 192,000 reams of paper last year (or, the equivalent of 1,016 trees). Here is some information the company uses about how to calculate the environmental impact of switching to Web casts from in-person events.

Yet another confession: I printed out the e-mail providing that information. That’s got to have some impact on the above calculation.

So why not examine the root of the problem -- printers, which represent a twofold challenge in both the energy they eat up while spending time in an idle state and the paper they eat up when printing random, useless information (like the funny cartoon someone sent you in e-mail that you want to slap up on your coworker's door or hang on your refrigerator).

I recently spoke about this problem with Joe Czyszczewski, who is the relatively new Chief Sustainability Officer for an organization called InfoPrint Solutions. The mission of InfoPrint, which is a joint venture between IBM and Ricoh, is to help companies with production printing processes. So, InfoPrint's customers are companies that handle massive marketing campaigns or that produce manuals or that send out all those bills you might receive on a monthly basis. (I am proud to say I’ve switched to electronic statements for many of my recurring charges; now I have to get away from writing checks by hand.)

For obvious reasons, the production printing industry is trying to address how much paper is wasted by its business practices. AND how much energy their printers use while producing them. Czyszczewski noted that 80 percent of his company’s customers have adopted some sort of sustainability effort or mandate in the recent past, so they are thinking differently.

So what is InfoPrint advocating? Basically, managed services for printers—one that refine printing processes, monitor the resources used along the way, and help companies decide when that older printer that keeps eating up oodles of toner just have to go. One process idea is simply on-demand printing of books, to cut down on both paper usage and warehousing concerns, which is one consulting service that the company provides. (By the way, if you want to check out a fun "on demand" book publishing site, visit Lulu.com, which was created by the founder of Red Hat, Bob Young).

Or maybe it's double-sided printing made easier. (Czyszczewski remarks that it takes 10 times more energy to create a new piece of paper to print on than it takes to simply print on both sides.) Printer consolidation, like server consolidation, also has his customers’ attention.

One specific service that InfoPrint touts is TransPromo. The idea is that by cleansing bad addresses, offering targeted printing and customization of the marketing messages themselves, a service bureau can cut back on the amount of misprinted or misdirected mailing pieces. Who knows, maybe someone will even opt for electronic like me (ignoring, for a moment, how full your spam might be).

When you think about it, InfoPrint is really addressing the workflow processes tied to the printer, the things that inspire someone to hit that print button. After all, the best-designed green tech is the kind that makes our lives easier even while being easier on the planet.

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