Will Employees Choose the Greener Options for Office Printing?
A big topic at the recent Executive Sustainability Summit at ASU in Phoenix, hosted by Xerox and Waste Management, was the management of printing in a sustainable way. Angele Boyd, a Group VP / General Manager with research firm IDC, spoke at the event and shared her extensive knowledge on the greening of IT and printing. She presented a ton of survey results that gave a picture of how companies and employees view printing.
As is so often the case, customers express high interest in being green, but when it comes to people actually acting on their intentions, well…not so much. The two main environmental concerns employees expressed were about depletion of natural resources (trees, water, energy) and perceived harm to the environment from toxic materials in printers and in ink/toner. In IDC’s surveys, 61% of employees say that the environment is an important consideration when they decide to print or not. But – and here’s the big disconnect – only 16% of us actually act on those beliefs and avoid printing because of the environment.
To be fair to confused employees, it isn’t actually clear what “green” even means in managing all the information coming into our lives. The assumption is often that a digital document will have a smaller footprint than a physical one. But the reality is much more complicated. All digital information requires energy and has its own footprint – there’s an interesting debate, for example, about how much CO2 every Google search produces (around 0.2 grams it turns out).
As we all shift to digital readers, and information flows continue to rise exponentially, this debate is not academic. But I won’t go into the details here. For those interested, a couple of independent organizations focus on the digital vs. print question (see, for example, the Institute for Sustainable Communications, an article from its founder Don Carli, and a more academic piece comparing the energy lifecycle of different modes of communication).
So it’s not always clear that digital is better. But if someone wants a physical copy of something, we clearly should make the printing as low impact as possible. Paper and printing do have a significant environmental footprint in energy use, water, toxic chemicals, and waste. The less paper and ink used, the better for both the environment and the bottom line (which is why Xerox now helps customers do less printing – see my last post on this).
Luckily, companies are finding a number of ways to automate the process of reducing the footprint, and Boyd laid out some of these new policies. Boyd’s list of advances in paper reduction included:
* Two-sided printing (duplexing). Right now, according to Boyd, only a pathetic 20% of employees’ prints are duplexed. Duplex can be made the default setting – enough said.
* N-up printing which fits up to 8 originals on one or both sides of a page (I love this option since a presentation can fit on 1/16 the number of pages).
* Restricting/eliminating banner pages using driver/device settings.
* Hold/release print jobs using PIN codes. Basically, the user has to punch in a code to get it to print, a process that checks whether people really wanted that document. (This is my favorite one because it’s a big source of waste. I once visited Wal-Mart Brazil’s headquarters and took the picture below of the clever approach they used to demonstrate one week’s worth of unclaimed printed documents.)
* Set page limits/quotas by individual or group
* Scanning for digital document distribution
Finally, a larger play falls under the category of “Managed Print Services” (MPS), a service where a vendor takes over printing for a company and, hopefully, helps reduce the total amount of printing. This service is partly what Xerox was assembling customers to talk about at the event. It’s a growing part of Xerox’s business, and a $7.7 billion industry overall.
Boyd’s independent analysis shows that MPS saves organizations an average of 25% on printing (and up to 40%), which could mean saving $6 million for a $250 million company (which caused me to gasp at the fact that those numbers imply that a midsize company might be spending $10-20 million on printing already).
So there’s real money in managing this one part of a company’s day-to-day existence. Often sectors in “knowledge-based” industries (services, finance, insurance, etc.) struggle with what their sustainability efforts should focus on.
Around-the-office type projects – paper, water bottles, and so on – may not actually be the largest impacts though; how they impact their customers’ sustainability choices – for example, what a bank invests in – is far more important than the company’s own direct footprint. But tackling these local impacts truly engages employees, helps companies walk the talk, and apparently can save some real money.
Employees may not always opt for the best choices in printing without some nudging, so let’s put in place whatever combination of rules and outsourced management works best. It’s a win-win.
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