The other day I was asked if 2010 was going to be the year of "going green"âââÂ in the document industry. I guess because I've written a lot on the subject over the last year and developed a couple of products to help document centers be more green, someone thought I might have some insight. I answered that I thought the amount of resources devoted to green projects depended a great deal upon the economy, but it doesn't take an expert to come to that conclusion.
It's not that companies intentionally want to ignore the impact they have on the environment; they just have other areas that require their attention, and they have to make priorities. I doubt that environmental efforts will be moving towards the top of the list until the economic concerns are handled.
While companies may not be taking actions in their document print and mail operations specifically for the environmental benefits, some of them are going to lower their environmental impact anyway as a byproduct of cutting costs. From an environmental perspective, I suppose whether you justify green projects in document operations with related cost savings or you get the projects approved with the cost-reduction aspects alone makes no difference, so some greening will continue, regardless of the economy. But creating the greatest environmental benefits may require more effort than taking the quick and easy approach.
According to a survey we did last year, a lot of document centers have already taken two steps towards environmental sustainability: Switching to materials with a higher percentage of recycled content and recycling their own paper waste. Unfortunately, our survey revealed that often those are the only measures that have been taken. Perhaps that is an indicator of the impact the economy has had on corporate environmental sustainability objectives. More involved efforts have yet to be tackled.
Closing the Gate after the Cows Have Left the Corral
It seems to me that by the time a piece of paper reaches the print production facility, most of the impact it is going to have upon the environment has already taken place. Isn't the consumption of fuel and energy and the emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that are connected with all the processes necessary to de-ink, manufacture, package and transport the material about the same for all paper, regardless of recycled content? Using recycled paper sounds like a good idea, but without taking other measures, how big of a difference does it really make?
I'm not suggesting that we abandon paper recycling efforts; we should be printing on recycled paper. I'd much rather see paper go to the recycling center than the landfill, and I think we should reuse those paper fibers as many times as we can. I just believe that we would enjoy greater environmental benefits by manufacturing, transporting and printing fewer pieces of paper, of all varieties, than we can ever achieve by simply switching to using material with a higher recycled content.
So that's what we teach document professionals with our training classes, and it's where we concentrate our efforts in the green assessments that we do for clients. We help them reduce the consumption of paper materials with strategies such as eliminating undeliverable addresses, reducing page counts, increasing electronic delivery or ridding print jobs of duplicates and irrelevant mailpieces. As a result, they are able to order less paper. Combined with using recycled materials for the remaining documents that are produced, and continued in-house recycling efforts, I think we help companies make a difference.
2010 may not be the remembered as the year of going green, but many companies can make a start this year by changing one or two things in document operations that will result in lower paper consumption and less wasted output. When things get better financially, then the efforts can be expanded.
Mike Porter is an expert in print and mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, a consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements and lower costs in their document operations. For more information on green training or assessments, visit www.printmailconsultants.com or email Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.