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Printer overhaul aids Columbia Sportswear sustainability agenda

Although it wasn't intended as a "green" program, the outdoor apparel company slashed its paper output and electricity use by switching to Lexmark multifunction printers.

Columbia Sportswear’s decision to consolidate its printers and imaging technology wasn’t strictly driven by environmental concerns, but it wound up contributing to its sustainability agenda.

“If you are looking for a good environmental win, this is definitely a good project to tackle,” said Michael Leeper, Columbia’s senior manager of IT engineering, who was responsible for negotiating the project.

The company’s managed print relationship with Lexmark International -- intended as a cost-saving measure -- quickly cut the outdoor apparel maker's print output by 20 percent, while dramatically reducing the number of devices eating up electricity. The multifunction Lexmark printers that Columbia now uses at its corporate headquarters location to get rid of non-networked printers and copiers also helped eliminate virtually all of Columbia’s fax machines, Leeper said.

Through the consolidation, Columbia substantially increased the number of employees using a particular printer. Now, instead of approximately 7 to 8 users per printer, there are 20 to 25 employees relying on specific multifunction devices. So far, four Columbia locations are using this new approach internationally. Oh, and incidentally, outside of the "green" benefits already mentioned, the approach has helped Columbia shave approximately 37 percent off its overall output costs.

“Because we can manage the devices holistically, we are doing things with powering them down during non-business hours. I would be willing to bet that people don’t even know we’re doing it,” said Leeper.

One of the most valuable features of the Lexmark multifunction printers, in Leeper's mind, is the Lexmark Print Release feature. The application works by allowing someone to print to any device on the network (instead of in one specific place). So, for example, you could send a printout of your presentation to the printer next to the conference room. The trick is that the job won't actually get printed until you walk up and authenticate that you're standing there, ready to pick it up. Lots of unwanted printouts have been eliminated through this feature, Leeper said.

Another result of the managed print relationship: Columbia has reduced the cost of recycling its printer supplies, which increases the volume that get handled properly and (again) saves it money because it doesn't have to keep inventory on hand. Here's a Lexmark video that outlines how the recycling program works:

Leeper is quick to recognize that IT can be a culprit when it comes to sapping electricity, which is why the ongoing printer consolidation is just one of the things that the Columbia IT team has done to help the company deliver on its overall sustainability agenda. Another project that Leeper is watching closely is Columbia's data center consolidation.

Currently, about 90 percent of its server hardware has been virtualized -- meaning that the hardware that used to run some of those applications has been been taken out of service and off the grid. Just as some companies might use a "follow the sun" mentality when it comes to customer service -- serving support desks with personnel from around the world depending on daylight hours -- Leeper's team is studying how to use the same approach with its servers. That means applications and databases might, in the future, run in certain data centers at certain times of the day and in other data centers at other times -- all in the name of helping save electricity.

As printing and imaging technology vendors go, Lexmark has a credible track record as far as its own corporate sustainability measures. In 2010, the company expanded its use of post-consumer recycled plastics in some of its new toner cartridges. As of last October, its toner line contained (on average) 10 percent post-consumer recycled plastics. Some models contain up to 28 percent.

From 2005 to 2010, Lexmark reduced its own greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com