Has the Pandemic Shown Us That We Don’t Need to Print?

I once worked with an individual that printed and filed his emails. All of them, even the SPAM. This person wore out a LaserJet printer about once per year. I asked about the endeavor while installing yet another new printer. It was a form of hoarding pure and simple, the printed copies were “in case the server crashed”. Even explaining the redundancy of the email platform, multiple distributed servers, RAID, backups, etc. wasn’t enough to deter them.

Printing has become an enormously wasteful habit propagated by people and businesses that refuse to modernize their routines. I recently stopped to get fuel at a major convenience store chain. The clerk asked if I needed a receipt, I replied that I did not. His cash register spit out two copies which he crumpled and tossed in a can under the counter.

I picked my car up from being serviced to find three full sheets of paper on the passenger seat. I asked the service manager if I needed to keep them. “Not really, all of your vehicle’s service records are in our system. You can get them anytime from the app on your mobile,” he answered. As my phone notified me of my emailed receipt, a clothing store cashier asked me to wait while she changed out the resister’s tape. One waitress explained that nearly half of their nightly trash dumps were comprised of receipts left on the tables.

They were all slaves to their software. POS (also stands for Point of Sale) applications that automatically vomit up streams of paper for each transaction. Hardly anyone wants or needs the paper trail anymore. Transactions are recorded by the vendor’s software and your bank, both of which can be accessed at any time. So what happens to all of these seemingly important pieces of paper? They fill trash cans, cabinets, and musty records rooms that nobody looks in.

Recently, I attended a business meeting where each of the twenty attendees were given a full-color copy of a thirty page report on the topic of trimming operating expenses. Not a single person used the paper version. They all read on their laptops, tablets, and phones. I brought up the irony and was rebuked; “what if someone forgot their device?”, asked the presenter standing in front of a wall-sized screen.

How many mountains worth of paper is printed each year by US companies? Twenty-six tons, not including magazines, news papers, or other printing based businesses. It’s not just the paper. Some forty percent of world-wide logging efforts are consumed by the industry. Printers are electrically and thermally inefficient. Ink and toner are made in toxic factories the world over. Telling people that their operating procedure needs to change, results in push-back and not much else. A defensive posture to protect our ego against feelings of wrong doing displaces rational thought for many of us. Soul crushing statistics seem to harden the armor rather than penetrate to the logic centers of people’s minds.

I like to find the silver linings in life. The Covid-19 pandemic is horrible beyond words. The amount of suffering and death it has caused are incomprehensible. Even still, if you look hard, there are positive outcomes to be had. I’ve been able to spend an unprecedented amount of time with my family while working from home. People and companies are learning that business is adaptable and there are alternatives to rush hour and high rises.

It is my hope that separating workers from their printers combined with the new stigma associated with handing objects to people will have an impact on printing. If you’ve been able to conduct your business without installing printers in your work force’s homes during the lock-down, you didn’t need to print that stuff in the first place.

When we return to our office buildings and places of business, take a good look at your printing practices. Does your POS software have an option to skip printing the receipt, is there an update that adds the feature? How are people using the paper trails they are generating, do they need to be printing those documents? Do your people know how to create and share a PDF of their work? It’s easy to do and has been free for a long time now.

When discussing the subject I often hear, “we have to print x”. So many times X turns out to be some antiquated process that nobody his examined in the last ten years. “We have to print checks”, have you looked in to digital banking services lately? In the rare cases where they can’t submit your payment as a digital transaction, the bank will print and send a check for you.

Did you have a printer company do the last cost analysis of printing in your company? LOL. Get an IT person that doesn’t like printers or an accountant that hates waste to tell you how much it really costs. It’s like eating out for lunch every day; we all know that it costs more than the ten dollars we budget for. I did a true analysis for an employer and showed them when including electricity, consumables, lost support time, and the lost productivity of physically dealing with paper, printing cost them almost two and a half million dollars per year. Furthermore, less than nineteen percent of that paper was still in existence at the end of each year.

Consolidate your printers, make them inconvenient to access and people will only use them when they absolutely have to. Get rid of all individual printers. Do not make exceptions. There is no such thing as a secure print, once a file exists in the physical world you have lost control of it. Investigate the situations that require printing a little more thoroughly. Times have changed and a lot of that stuff can be taken care of electronically now.

Shifting all vehicles to electric and stopping our use of plastic are noble environmental goals. Both will take years and cost vast amounts of capital to accomplish. Drastically reducing how much your organization prints is something we can do right now and it increases your profit margin. Have your people look into how much less you have used your printers during the lock down and challenge your company to make that change permanent.

About Kevin Trent

IT professional with almost 30 years of experience in Infrastructure, Architecting, Administration, Development, and Communications.

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