Is your office paper stacked against you?

Tuesday, November 13, 2001 By Dan Ruben, GreenBiz.com

Whatever happened to the paperless office? Use of copy paper is surging. According to the American Forest & Paper Association, the paper industry distributed 1.7 million tons of office paper in 1982. By 1997, that amount soared to 4.6 million tons. The state of affairs today? According to the Worldwatch Institute, the average American office worker plows through approximately 12,000 sheets of paper per year.

The cost of paper use is often overlooked. Many large organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on paper and related expenses. However, as nearly every department in an organization consumes paper, the total cost of paper to the company usually doesn't stand out in budget reports. And the cost of paper itself, about a half-cent per sheet, is deceptively small compared to the cost of a printed page, which includes toner, the use of a copy machine or printer, and the cost of machine maintenance. Thus, the printed page typically costs five to 10 times as much as the cost of paper alone.

When you factor in related expenses, such as postage, file cabinets, forms, rental costs for the space devoted to file cabinets, off-site storage, and waste removal, it's clear that paper costs stack up.

Another significant cost is productivity. It takes far less time to post a document or send it electronically than to load a machine with paper, fix a paper jam, address envelopes, sort and distribute envelopes, file paper, and haul away used paper. And when documents are sent electronically, they reach the readers instantaneously.

When an organization decreases paper use, it realizes many environmental benefits. The EPA estimates that paper products represent 38 percent of America's municipal solid waste stream. Source reduction keeps paper from landfills and incinerators. It also reduces the use of fossil fuels and water. And source reduction saves trees, which absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Minimize Paper Use in Your Organization

Many companies have taken steps to decrease paper use. The Boston Globe recently announced plans to reduce the width of its newspaper, as many other publishers have done. Several years ago, Bell Atlantic trimmed the size of its telephone books by fitting more information and less white space on each page. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care cut the size of its physician directories by one-third, saving 40 million pages and more than $200,000 per year. Bank of America slashed paper consumption by 25 percent in two years by carrying out a multifaceted paper-use-reduction campaign.

Here are some paper-use-reduction strategies you might consider for your organization:

One last suggestion:
Calculate the benefits of your program. To determine how much money your organization saves, use a conservative estimate of three cents per page and add in the associated costs of paper use mentioned above. Take an educated guess at the time saved by your organization as it replaces paper with electronic storage and communication. And calculate the number of trees saved by using the figure of 27,500 pages per tree.

Then communicate the achievement of your program. Your staff, your shareholders, your customers, and your children will appreciate the effort.

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