Three Ways to Reduce Your Paper Consumption

According to Parade magazine, paper consumption in the US peaked in 1999. But although paper use may be trending down, most companies still deal with pounds upon pounds of paper every day. Let's look at three ways to better create, send, receive and retrieve paper and the information thereon.

Reducing paper use saves money and gives you green credit that's earned, not faked. Am I the only one who finds the “We're going green!” brochures contradictory?

The first rule of using less paper (no small business can really go paperless) is to print less paper whenever possible. Now that everyone connects to everyone else inside the company and across the Internet, everyone should use e-mail, shared document workspaces or even fax rather than print and snail mail.

If something comes in an e-mail, don't print the message and hand it to your coworker, forward that e-mail. Copy and send the Web page, or better yet, send the Web address for the page, rather than print it and hand it. It's always disappointing to see a worker print a page then feed it to a fax machine to send to a coworker in another area.

If you fax, fax smart. Don't print your message and walk it over to the fax machine and feed the paper into the machine. Check out any of the e-mail-to-fax services, or just e-mail the information. Outbound e-mail-to-fax and inbound fax-to-e-mail services work great and are inexpensive.

If you haven't discovered the great values in multi-function printers, check them out. I bought an HP PhotoSmart 2610 several years ago. It prints, faxes, scans and copies pages in full color. It saves space by combining four functions in one housing. This model uses ink jet technology, but I rarely print full color today, so the cost isn't a problem. For black and white only, monochrome lasers cost a bit more to buy but cost less per page to print compared to ink jets.

Ink jet multi-function printers have come way down in price over the past few years since I bought my unit. Epson just sent me a WorkForce 600 multi-function printer that ups the ante over my old HP in two ways. First, it includes an automatic document feeder, a great improvement. Second, it supports wireless networking. Of the two, I feel the document feeder is much more valuable.

Copying or scanning pages on the HP requires me to put the paper on, hit the button, take the paper off, put the paper on, hit the button... With the Epson, I just feed pages into the top and the copies come out the bottom. Or the scans show up in my EspsonScan application on the computer. We can't blame my old HP for not doing this, but I won't ever buy another printer or scanner without an automatic document feeder. And the price of the Epson WorkForce 600 is under $200.

There are several differences between the HP and the Epson worth mentioning. Both printers are network printers, meaning they support multiple users. Placing printers a little farther away from people will cut down paper use compared to putting printers at every desk. Believe it or not, some people will give up printing if they have to get up and walk. Politely put, that's conservation minded rather than lazy, but the paper use goes down either way.

Both printers support Windows and Macintosh users, but Linux users will prefer HP. Why? HP drivers are built into many Linux operating systems, while Epson is newer and less involved with the Linux community. My Ubuntu workstations can print and scan on the HP, but not the Epson.

The Epson includes wireless networking, but I don't recommend using wireless for printing. Wireless connections are always slower and less secure than wired, and printers stay still so mobility isn't an issue. However, if you have a mobile group that travels around, building your own wireless network that includes a printer will be handy. Since the wireless support doesn't cost more, don't worry about it if you don't use it.

You will need to load a CD ROM full of software to each computer that needs access to the multi-function printer. I wish some had “print only” drivers for users who don't need the scanning, but those are rare. Are you listening, printer people?

Stepping up to the next level means a dedicated scanner. Fujitsu sent me one of its ScanSnap S1500 Color Image Scanner units, and it's way cool. I got the PC version, but the company also offers a Mac version. The unit ties directly to the computer, rather than being on a network, which makes some sense. When you get one of these units you're more serious about scanning incoming documents for paper reduction and later retrieval. Assigning one person to be the Scan Master will lower mistakes and maintain scanning consistency.

The Scan Master will have an easy job. The ScanSnap takes up to 20 pages at once, and quickly scans front and back as the pages seemingly fall through the scanner continuously. While you can define each detail of a scan operation, by default the unit will scan in color if the page has color, eliminate blank pages, and keep the images in the order you feed them. It even scans business cards, which surprised me.

Street prices are around $450 for the unit I tested, which is thousands of dollars less than such units used to cost. One person with a ScanSnap can easily convert most incoming paper into scanned images that can be stored on a disk rather than in a cabinet. Searching and retrieval using searchable PDF settings for scanned documents works fast and reliably. Small companies can use this one unit, with the included software, and do what cost $100,000 ten years ago. That's a bargain, and reduces the amount of paper you have to store as well.

Multi-function printers provide more value in a smaller space than separate units, but you probably know that already. Adding automatic document feed to your multi-function printer makes it much more useful as a scanner and copier, which is why I like the Epson WorkForce 600. People won't scan more than a couple of pages if they have to place each page on the scanner.

When you get serious about scanning as a way to reduce retained paper, the Fujutsu ScanSnap S1500 provides great performance as the first step into the world of document management. Don't think of “document management” as much more than intelligent use and storage of the paper you're trying to avoid, and the process will go much more smoothly.

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