Nine ways IT can help organizations 'go green' and reduce paper consumption

This holiday season, think about ways to give back to the environment, says IBM's Leslie Gordon. Re-aligning basic IT practices can help play a part in becoming more environmentally responsible.
Written by Leslie L. Gordon IBM, Contributor on
Commentary - This holiday season, think about ways to "give back" to the environment.

The liquid in printer cartridges - which carries a price tag of about $10,000 per gallon - costs far more than the most expensive bottle of champagne any of us will buy over the next few weeks. And despite the popularity of recycling, each year millions of empty toner and inkjet cartridges used in laser printers, fax machines, and copiers are thrown in the trash, destined for landfills and incinerators.

As more enterprises look for ways to 'go green,' many do not realize that re-aligning basic information technology (IT) practices can help play a part in becoming more environmentally responsible.

One way for IT teams to help reduce waste is to implement new approaches within daily processes. It's not enough to reduce the amount of paper we use, as beneficial as that is to the environmental and the cost of doing business. As business processes move toward being completely electronic, enterprises need to think about ways to reduce our “paper footprint.”

Continued use of paper to record critical business transactions can weigh down organizations because of the cost of paper and printing, compliance risks and the environmental challenges of disposing of paper. Yet, there are fairly simple steps that organizations can take to reduce paper consumption. They are:

  • Use business analytics software: Integrate software that automates manual reporting and analysis, and electronically distributes reports over the Web or on mobile devices. One mid-size company estimates that it saved enough paper to cover 5,519 football fields on a yearly basis simply by moving manual-based financial and operational reporting processes to a business intelligence system.
  • Re-align business processes: Automate and streamline business processes among people and systems, reducing paper consumption by eliminating unnecessary papers trails and content storage costs.
  • Move business tasks to an electronic format: Encourage non-technical employees to try electronic forms and survey software that does not require an IT department's resources. Traditionally, compiling forms and surveys required several technical workers weeks, not minutes, at a significant cost in an IT department's time and salaries. For example, electronic forms are currently used by more than 1.4 million Army personnel worldwide, yielding a projected $1.3 billion in cost savings to the U.S. federal government.
  • Monitor and regulate printing: Encourage employees to edit and review documents in electronic form, while promoting a paper-free environment. For example, don't ask employees to print meeting agendas. Instead, use whiteboard or laptops to take note during meetings.
  • Eliminate the unnecessary printing of documents: Prevent IT teams from writing and then printing massive documents that are quickly out-of-date as requirements change. Use software to make requirements an electronic process, providing teams with the ability to visually capture requirements for a project using sketches, storyboards, comment threads and rich-text editors. An IBM “No Paper Weight” study indicates that when companies stop printing their "born digital" documents, paper consumption can be reduced by 80 to 90 percent.
  • Review software code – online: Don't print out code for "code review" - like proof reading a paper for grammar. Worldwide, more than 80 billion lines of code are written annually, representing a "mountain" of paper. Manual inspection is time-consuming and error-prone. IDC estimates the cost of fixing software defects at $5.2 million to $22 million annually, depending on an organization's size.
  • Increase Data Center Capacity: Grow the capacity of an enterprise's data center while reducing spiraling energy costs through facilities design, power and cooling infrastructure, active energy management and efficient, scalable systems.
  • Introduce Collaboration Tools: Use team collaboration software that lets people share links instead of attachments or hard copy documents, reducing storage and paper requirements.
  • Use mobile devices. Today more than ever, as mobile software applications have grown in popularity, employees can complete most all of their business tasks by using their mobile devices. They can review, read and work on documents and other business tasks while on the go, reducing the amount of forms they might have printed in the past.
Consumption of large amounts of paper within organizations can lead to redundancy, increased costs, increased time and decreased quality. By making a New Year's resolution to make at least some of these simple strategies, organizations can take steps to improve business processes and cost savings, while embracing "green IT," making themselves a more socially responsible and attractive employer and vendor.

Leslie L. Gordon is vice president of Application and Infrastructure Service Management in the Office of the CIO of IBM.

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