What happened to the 'paperless' office?

April 14, 2008

by Mark Ollig

The term “paperless office” started being heard in the 1970’s as many businesses and government institutions were storing their records on “microfiche” instead of paper.

The information stored on this sheet of photographic film was about 25 times smaller than the original document size.

Most libraries had been “microfilming” as a space saving measure and a microfilm viewer was usually available for people to use.

With personal computers becoming popular in the early 1980’s, many stopped using microfiche and instead stored information onto hard drives, floppy and compact disks.

We were going to become a paperless society – and save all those trees.

What happened to that? I think as a society we are using more paper today than ever before.

Remember using your new computer to type those first e-mails and word documents?

How many of us thought this would drastically reduce paper usage?

I thought it would too.

So . . . what do some of us do today? Why, we print out many of those “important” e-mails and word documents and pictures to save or tape on the refrigerator.

I will raise my hand, as I am guilty of this too.

I usually print out a first draft when writing my column. I find using the paper easier to work with when correcting grammatical and sentence structure boo-boo’s.

On my Saturday drive to Winsted, I bring along the next day’s local Sunday church bulletin, (which I discovered is saved on the school’s website – usually on a Friday) and of course this column for the following Monday, which is also posted online ahead of time, for my mother to read.

Here are some interesting “paper facts” I wanted to share with you.

Did you know the average tree contains 16.7 reams (one ream equals 500 sheets) of copy paper? That’s about 8,350 sheets.

One ton (2,000 lbs.) of paper uses 400 reams, or 200,000 sheets of paper.

That’s 24 trees.

The average person working in an office prints about 10,000 pages of printed-paper each year.

According to the USDA Forest Service, a single tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of “air pollution control,” recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion, over a 50-year life span.

I found an intriguing “paper calculator” link at http://papercalculator.org.

This link calculates the environmental impact from the manufacturing of different paper grades, based upon the numbers entered into it.

What impact does manufacturing a ton of normal paper have on the environment?

In the paper calculator, if we enter a quantity of one-ton standard copier-grade paper with zero recycled content, we get some interesting results.

Those results showed it required 24 trees and 19,075 gallons of water to produce this one ton of paper. In addition, the manufacturing process created 2,278 lbs. of waste byproducts and 5,690 lbs. of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide) were produced.

By entering different amounts into the calculator, I came away with some sobering realizations of how the environment is affected.

We need to use paper, of course – however, there are things each of us can do – like recycling – to help reduce the waste.

Is there a computer program to help us out with this? Hey, this is Bits and Bytes; I had to find at least one to share with all of you.

There is an interesting program called GreenPrint, which I recently downloaded from http://www.printgreener.com.

On January 28th of this year, GreenPrint Technologies began to allow folks to download this software for free, which the company estimates with widespread use would save over 100 million trees and reduce greenhouse gasses by over 300 million tons globally.

How many times do we read an article on a web page and proceed to print out a paper copy to file way or to show to our relatives the next time we visit?

When we print from the web, many times images and lines not related to the article are also printed, which wastes pages of paper.

We can use the “printer friendly” or “text only” option some web sites have. This may eliminate some unwanted graphics and text. The trouble is not all web sites or links have this option available.

The GreenPrint program “inserts” itself between your web browser (and any other program that prints) and your printer. You print to this “virtual printer” which stores the information. The software then analyzes the document, identifies and eliminates wasted pages, and hands the document off to your actual printer, which neatly prints the text.

GreenPrint had another nice feature I liked. It can save any web page as a PDF file, which can be called up later using the free Adobe Reader program.

For more information, check out www.conservatree.com, www.printgreener.com/earthday.html and the Environmental Protection Agency web site at www.epa.gov.

I dedicate this column to my aunt, Sister Marguerite Horejsi, of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who passed on from this world into heaven last Wednesday.