With the recent passing of Earth Day on April 22nd, it got me thinking about the “Green” initiative that has been so popular for the last few years. For a while it seemed like you couldn’t buy a cleaning product or open a package that wasn’t claiming to be environmentally friendly. A common example in the business world was the increasingly frequent note at the bottom of your email that read “Think before you print”.

Has all of this focus on being Green changed the way we live or was it just a marketing trend to make us feel better about our buying decisions? And what about that decision to think before we print? Did it really impact our carbon footprint or are there other steps we should be taking to reduce the impact of printing?

The decision to print or not to print is not as simple as you may think. Despite the digital age we live in, many of us still tend to print documents on a regular basis. Old habits are hard to break and candidly, many of us find comfort in a document we can write on or place in a stack for later review. Paper after all is about as user friendly as you can get but there’s still that environmental impact to consider, right?

It might sound funny coming from a developer of document management software but I am going to tell you right now that it’s OK to print. I simply don’t view the act of printing as contrary to what we advocate or an environmental sin for that matter; what’s really more important is what you do with that printed document once you’re done with it.

You see, half the beauty of document management is that it puts incredible amounts of information at our fingertips. Anything you want can be searched for and found in a matter of seconds. Documents can be routed to you automatically for approval or review and the truth is, you just may want to print a few of them along the way. It may be that this is just the way you like to work or that you want to throw it in your bag for a later review. Whatever your reason, printing is a way of life for many people and it’s not likely their habits are going to change.

If putting information at your fingertips is half the beauty of document management, the other half is that you can eliminate the need for filing the paper you print. Once you’re done with your paper copy you can simply shred it and recycle it. The digital copy stays online where it’s been filed from the beginning. This is where the Green impact of document management can really be felt. Let’s face it; there is probably nothing less environmentally friendly than a room full of dusty filing cabinets loaded with paper that will never be recycled.

Less file cabinets means that less trees are needed and less resources are required to produce paper. Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution (

If you’ve ever looked at the file room of an average office, you can almost see a small forest in all those file cabinets. And this is just what they keep on site for their immediate needs. Many firms will utilize an offsite storage facility for the indefinite retention of their closed files, which may actually represent the majority of their records retention.

Based on the numbers it’s easy to see why the environmental issues around printing are less about the actual act itself but more about what you do with what you’ve printed afterwards. If you’re using document management for your long-term records retention you can still print your documents with a clear conscience. The paper you’re using will be re-cycled and re-used rather than sitting in a file cabinet where its environmental impact is much more profound.

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