Printers gets a rough ride when it comes to making business processes more environmentally friendly. It is not the most wasteful area, but it is the most conspicuous. IDC estimates that 60 trillion pages a year are printed worldwide and that the average business wastes 88 million sheets - the overflowing output trays of uncollected printouts are a graphic indication of the waste.
Tracey Rawling Church, marketing director for Kyocera Mita, says some measures taken to cut waste can actually be the cause of it. "A lot of things are done that result in paper being wasted. For example, printing off an e-mail just to read it. People think that by putting the paper in the recycling tray afterwards completely mitigates this, but it does not," she says.
Her observations are shared by Alan McLeish, senior product marketing manager for Oki Printing Solutions. He says: "If you make it a policy not to print e-mails unless there are exceptional circumstances, it will save a huge amount of paper. When it is necessary to print e-mails, we encourage people to print in mono so that they use less consumables, and to think before they print. With e-mails there is often one page of information and sometimes four or five pages of extraneous information attached. So select the pages you actually want to print by previewing and choosing exactly what you need."
Whether printing e-mails or other documents, using both sides of the page can almost halve the number of pages used. The current trend away from personal printers in favour of departmental multifunction printers (MFPs) means most employees have access to a duplex printer and this should be set as the default mode. The greater number of pages printed are often draft copies or for personal use and it is rare that duplex is unsuitable or unacceptable.
The use of MFPs may seem to be a good way to save on paper because people will think twice before printing anything that they have to leave their seat to collect. In practice, this is not always the case and documents lie uncollected in the tray.
One way to avoid this is to delay printing until the person is actually at the printer. Lexmark has a system that requires personal ID input before a print is made. The ID format can be just about anything that suits the users: a PIN number, various ID cards or even proximity badges. If a document is not collected, it is not physically printed and a time limit ensures the encrypted file is wiped from the printer's memory if it is not accessed. This not only saves paper, but also means users have a second chance to decide if the printout is necessary.
It is not effective to just ask people to save paper and resources business is foremost in their mind - not greenness. That is why Lexmark and others are trying to build green approaches into the technology. Raj Meghani, head of marketing at Lexmark, says, "Green is not necessarily on the individual user's mind. It may be from a corporate perspective where they have metrics to meet and want to understand how they can drive down cost and improve the efficiencies along the business processes in the supply chain. The individual sitting in the office is only concerned that they can print when they need to and that the print they get is of use to them. It is not a Big Brother approach that is needed, but more of an educational/influencing one - ways of helping them to raise that level of awareness."
It is also a case of making the company aware of what they are spending. Printing costs account for between 5% and 15% of a business's expenditure and a lot of this is hidden. "We look at how we can help our customers understand the cost of printing when they do not know themselves. IDC says 67% of businesses do not know how much they spend on printing," Meghani adds.
The printer manufacturers are battling to get the message through that a little education can bring big savings. VJ Joshi, executive vice-president of HP's Imaging and Printing Group, claims customers which take control of their imaging and printing environment boost productivity and can reduce costs by up to 30%.
At a time when belt-tightening is in the air, his message is beginning to attract more attention.
This was first published in February 2009