Friday, April 18, 2008

Wasteful printing starts at work

I admit it. I'm guilty of one of the most common office crimes out there -- hitting the print button more times than necessary.

And although I may be easing some of my guilt by throwing the paper in the recycle bin, I still have visions of chainsaws cutting down trees in some beautiful remote forest flashing through my head each time I toss a sheet away.

There is just something so comforting about having a document in physical paper form as opposed to just floating around in your e-mail inbox. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but it gives me a sense of organization having everything printed and placed in folders where I can see them.

And then there's that sense of control. You can't file a computerized document or flip through it or highlight and write notes on it. And what if your computer crashes and you lose everything? You always have that dependable stack of paper neatly organized in a folder waiting for you to peruse.

I have learned I am not alone in my obsession with paper. In fact, some are worse than me.

Canadians are printing out 30 pages of documents a day and then promptly discarding nearly four out of 10 of those pages, according to a survey released last week by Leger Marketing and recently covered in the National Post.

This habit of waste and needless consumption seems to only apply to the workplace with 40 per cent reporting they were more environmentally conscious of recycling at home than at work. I can understand that. I don't even remember the last time I used the printer at home.

At the very least, these printer-happy people are experiencing the same sense of guilt as I am over their behavior. The survey found that this habit induced feelings of guilt in almost a third of respondents and more than three-quarters said they're concerned about the impact their paper-printing ways are having on the environment.

So why can't we stop?

It's because right now it's still socially acceptable. We can freely print off copy after copy with only our inner guilt to absorb. There needs to be more public pressure.

I remember in elementary school we were told to turn the tap off when we weren't using it and that wasting water was wrong. Today, letting the tap run while you brush your teeth is considered a sin.

The same type of public campaign has also pegged people who leave unnecessary lights on as wasteful. You wouldn't dare leave all the lights on in your home if you weren't there. What would the neighbors think? And companies know leaving the lights on in their office buildings overnight will almost guarantee public complaints. Being careless when it comes to conserving energy is officially frowned upon.

The same type of widespread disapproval needs to be applied to unnecessary printing of paper.

It has started to happen.

Some people now attach a signature at the bottom of their e-mails that reads "please don't print this e-mail unless it is absolutely necessary" accompanied by an image of a tree. Although that does get to me, it's obviously not enough, since I sometimes just swallow the guilt and print those e-mails, too.

We need to take it a step further. Every time you make a trip to the printer to pick up a 30-page document, you should expect to possibly endure dirty looks from your co-workers. The idea of printing excess paper should become so objectionable that you feel immediate shame and embarrassment if someone were to see the piles of it sitting on your desk.

This coming Earth Day, I plan to make a resolution to fight the urge to print and only succumb when truly necessary. If you are like me, I would encourage you to do the same. If you aren't like me, then I suggest you do your part by shunning your paper-wasting co-workers.

Or if you find that to be a little harsh perhaps just kindly mention they should think twice before hitting the print button.

Deirdre Healey is a local writer and communications specialist. Her column appears every other Thursday.

Originally published at by Deirdre Healey; April 17, 2008


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