The Green Washing of Printing


I really want to be environmentally responsible. I do my best with every purchase to consider the impact of my choices. Every decision starts with the basic ideas of “reduce, re-use, recycle”.

Reduce implies questioning a process or a need. Do I really need to do this action/behaviour/process? Do I need to use as much of this? Can I make do with less or none? Is there an alternative? In a green life-style the first choice is always to reduce consumption.

If I cannot reduce my need for something can I re-use some of what I am using in other ways? Can I use scrap paper for scribbling on? Can that container be used for another shipment, or for another purpose? Can I make something else out of these materials?

The last step is to recycle. It may be similar to the re-use step if it is a flexible building material like wood. I take apart this wooden structure to make another different one. Generally, recycling involves gathering materials and shipping those materials to to a depot where they are processed into similar items. Aluminum cans become new aluminium cans. Glass bottles and jars become new glass-bottles and cans. Plastics become different types of plastics.

I am working for a large organization that is looking at making some processes “green.” That sounds good. The one process they are looking at is printing. Remember how the world would one day go paperless? As more and more of our world is virtualized and digitized – we would simply need less paper. Yet I think I actually have more paper in my office than ever before.

The solution according to our local green evangelists is to remove all the “small” printers from offices and have central printers for groups to use. So now the project is to purchase and install high-availability, high volume printers in central locations (which also means designating space just for the printers). The argument is we will “reduce” the number of printers – and then this will in theory make people think before printing because they will have to walk to the printer. Really? My experience is that people do not print less – and often forget what they have printed. So they reprint before going to the printer – and oh I have two copies now of that 45 pages manual! Oooops.

The “reduce” portion of green living is about reducing the use of consumables. Printers are not consumables – they are equipment. Printers are a tool. If I already own a perfectly functioning printer I do not need a new printer. All I am doing is creating e-waste with a greater impact on the environment via the disposable process than by continued discrete use.

In printing, it is paper and toner/ink and electricity that are consumables. How then do I reduce my use of consumables for printing? Simple: Don’t print. Turn off the printer and only print when one absolutely must print. The IT solution to printing is to provide a virtual output format for reports (like PDF’s and webpages).

Why do people print? Ease of use, ease of access, mobility. People print because they need to fill in paper forms, or to get signatures. And what do they do with those forms and signed documents? Scan them. Copy them. Print them again to have multiple copies for each person involved in the process.

If you really want to stop people from printing take away their need to print. Provide central document management systems that can handle workflows and electronic approvals. Create portals with secure mobile access so I can access and read any document on-demand from my mobile device.

Buying new printers to make printing inconvenient does not change behaviour. It just spends a lot of money to make people miserable. Change the underlying need and the behaviour will self-correct.

2 thoughts on “The Green Washing of Printing

  1. Aw, it was an really very good post. In thought I would like to set up writing related to this furthermore – taking time and actual effort to create a quite very good article… but exactly what do I say… I procrastinate alot and also no indicates manage to go done. 873357

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