You’ll Save More Than Trees, Part II: Everyday Practices

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Like fashion of the 1970s, there are some late 20th century trends that should be apologized for and forgotten. We are all better off moving on from them.

Or maybe we should be moving backward.  My grandmothers grew vegetables in their gardens and took cloth bags to the market.  They wrapped gifts in plain brown paper or nothing at all.  Sounds a lot like today… They didn’t recycle – let alone throw things away – they reused everything.

Not that long ago, offices (and even police stations) ran smoothly on file cabinets filled with index cards. A “bank book” was the size of a passport and covered years of transactions. Compare that to a bank statement today where 29 days worth of transactions requires 5 pages, printed front and back.  When information was stored on index cards and written out by hand, people were more selective about what information they maintained.

Be green and put money in the bank at the same time.

Paper wasn’t the only thing they saved.  They saved time by not having to search through so much stuff. And as the adage goes “time is money”.

Today, it is so easy to print, fax, copy, and save that we are buried in piles of nothingness.  Here are some ideas on how we can move forward by taking a lesson from the past.

  1. Keep your policies and procedures online. You should do this anyway, for document control purposes.  To help people follow them, create job aids – posters, quick reference guides, badges, mugs, you name it – with important reminders. At AwarenessIdeas.com you can create your own or select from their sizeable collection.  Titles might include:
    • Leaving For the Day? Turn it off.  Lock it up.
    • Protecting Company Assets
    • Protecting Intellectual Property
    • Identifying Stroke in a Co-worker
    • Before You Call IT, Did You…(a troubleshooting guide)
    • Avoiding Colds and Flu This Season
  2. Encourage employees to find information online instead of photocopying everything.  You’d be surprised how many owners’ manuals, users’ guides, and even recipes are online!
    • Work with your IT department to “allow” these websites (like epicurious.com) and tell employees to share their recipes and photos electronically.
    • Many larger companies are setting up internal “social networking” sites for employees to do just that. It is possible for a small business to as well, using Facebook, for instance.
    • Not only will you save paper, you’ll also save ink, money on parts and maintenance, time wasted while the machine is being serviced, and extend the life of your copiers/printers.
    • You will reduce landfill needs, disposal costs of hazardous materials (all electronics, including batteries, need to be disposed of carefully), and all of the costs associated with the production and shipping of a replacement machine.
  3. Encourage your employees to save, not print, emails.
  4. Store your accounting and tax documents electronically. You’ll reduce the time you and your bookkeeper spend transcribing data (it’s already online) and you’ll have a reliable “paper trail“.  The US Government began requiring electronic payments to all contractors more than a decade ago.  If they can do it, so you can you!
  5. Stop using fax machines and accept electronic signatures.
    • If you need receipts from your employees, have them scanned.  Scanned documents have a longer life than those horrible little shiny paper things.
    • Adobe offers a digital signature on PDF forms.
    • Have a lawyer draw up a paragraph that essentially says “by typing your name here you are placing your signature on this document”.
    • These documents can be stored easily and they don’t require faxing or mailing.
  6. Provide filtered water at the office. Water is healthy and it’s good to make it accessible so everyone will drink enough of it.
    • Offering bottled water for sale or for free is nice, but not enough.  Americans use more plastic and throw away more bottles than the rest of the world combined.  It’s shameful.
    • Install inline filters (under $100) and keep a supply of new filters on hand.
    • Order up some stainless or BPA-free Nalgene bottles or porcelain mugs (which work for coffee, too) with your logo or company mission on them. Give them out to employees or sell them, with proceeds going to a local charity.
  7. Use wireless components only when necessary. If a DSL cable or USB mouse is feasible, use it.  Wireless components need batteries; batteries create hazardous waste, cost money to buy, and use resources to produce.  If you must use batteries, use rechargeable ones.
  8. If your employees wear uniforms, consider switching to washable fabrics. Dry cleaning fluid is a dreadful thing and it takes time to drop off and pick up clothes.  If you must use dry cleaning, choose one such as Green Earth Cleaning.
  9. For those times you really can’t do without paper materials (such as advertising and invitations), make sure your printer uses responsible papers and inks.
    • The Greg Barber Company is an eco-friendly printer.  Check out the seed paper invitations they did for the NFL.  Very cool idea!  They also have biodegradable banners, for your next company picnic or trade show.
    • Another alternative is elephant dung paper.  A search of that phrase shows that you can buy it just about any where!
  10. Travel with the environment in mind. If your business is in the New York City metropolitan area or you travel there for any reason, check out Firefly Concierge.  This is a service dedicated to sustainable living, working, and visiting in The Big Apple. If you’re traveling to other locations, search on “green travel” for similar services.  What happens in Vegas not only stays there, it also impacts the environment there.

Additional Reading

For more ideas, more posts:

To learn more about ways to reduce paper usage and to read some of the stunning statistics on waste, check out these sites:

Sites to help in your sustainability efforts:

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