Comprehensive Guide for Creating a Paperless Office

Below is a comprehensive guide for planning and implementing a transition to a paperless office.

SECTIONS: planning for paper reduction, go paperless solutions

Planning for Paper Reduction

  1. Create a Paperless Team: Create a cross-department team focused specifically on reducing paper use throughout the organization. Get upper management support. Enlist volunteers in each area to help implement the new practices, encourage employee participation and report feedback.

    Comparing $0.0159 to store a paper document versus 0.000276 to store a digital one, paper storage costs 57.6 times more. And unlike physical storage space, the price of cloud-based storage is likely to continue to decline in the coming years. (mcci)

  2. Identify Benefits: Identify specific benefits (also see StopWaste and Going Paperless in the Workplace) to your company of reducing paper use (i.e., reduced paper, waste and shipping costs; reduced storage needs; greener image; increased employee and customer satisfaction; increased productivity; etc.).
  3. Gather Baseline Information: Document how much paper is used annually for all purposes (i.e., copiers and printers, kitchens, bathrooms, shipping documents and containers, publications, pre-printed forms, advertising, annual report, etc.). Document all costs associated with paper use and document the environmentally-friendly qualities of current paper purchased.
  4. Set Goals: Set clear, measurable, incremental goals over a specific timeline for each major type of paper use - include cost reduction goals. Setting a long-term visionary goal of zeroing paper use while maximizing benefits could result in some significant shifts in practices (i.e., always start with the question of your team and employees "how do we eliminate this paper use in a way that maximizes benefit (i.e., saves money, improves productivity, increases customer satisfaction, etc.)?"). The solutions now exist for a paperless office - it's just our mindsets that need to change.
  5. Promote Goals: Educate all employees about goals and display them in a high traffic location using easy-to-understand, fun charts and graphs. Design logos and develop slogans for use in the campaign. Hold a kick-off event and encourage employees to share their ideas. Ask employees to "e-sign" a paper reduction pledge and, in general, encourage a "think before you print or copy" mentality. Create competitions between departments and/or other companies (i.e., local companies, vendors, etc.) and offer rewards.
  6. Go Paperless - Paperless Office Business SolutionsAudit Paper Use: Follow and document the paper trail for each type of use (i.e., reports, invoices, etc.) to understand the flow of paper and the business need behind each type of document printed. The better each process is understood, the more likely improved, paper-free solutions can be found.
  7. Implement Solutions: Implement applicable solutions from the list below for each type of use.
  8. Education: Educate all employees about new practices. Create an easy-to-access, online paperless practices reference document explaining all practices. Educate new employees.
  9. Maintain Momentum: Schedule regular meetings and report your progress to upper management on a quarterly basis. Update the publicly displayed charts as goals are met and recognize and reward departments and individuals frequently for their accomplishments. Send out regular, entertaining announcements and reminders. Update the online paper reduction reference document as practices change. Respond to employee feedback and alter programs as needed. Tout your accomplishments to your customers.

Go Paperless Solutions

  1. Document Management Tools: Learn about how document management software can greatly increase productivity and discourage printing and filing of documents. As needed, online backup tools such as Carbonite can automatically store a backup of documents online (and provide easy, secure download access from any location).
  2. Helpful Documents: Find helpful documents for your campaign at StopWise.
  3. Adjust Software Settings: Work with IT to analyze all software systems to look for opportunities to minimize printing. Contact software vendors and ask for their suggestions. For example:
    • Automatically hold created reports online necessitating an extra step in order to print.
    • Set all employees up with the ability to create PDF's instead of printing (through a product such as PDFCreator) and encourage employees to use this approach (consider defaulting to the PDF creation option when printing a document).
    • Default printer settings for word documents and reports to minimize paper use (i.e., font sizes and style, line height, margins, characters/lines per inch, page length, etc.)
    • Default to double-sided printing and minimal ink use.
  4. Adjust Computer Settings: Adjust employees' computer settings to make on-screen reading comfortable (i.e., set default display to 125% and alter color displays to show blue text on a white background). Contact computer companies and ask for their suggestions. Learn about and address employee needs or concerns around reading documents online.
  5. Reduce Paper Flow with Vendors, Customers and Banks: Communicate your goals to your vendors, customers, and banks and enlist their support in switching to more productive and accurate electronic solutions such as:
    • Electronic order processing
    • Paperless invoices and statements for customers
    • Electronic invoicing from and payment to vendors
    • Online banking
    • Internal online routing of documents for approval
    • Sharing electronic documents and publications with vendors and/or customers through your website, email, google docs and/or a secure site such as Dropbox
    • Other Electronic Data Interchange solutions and information.
  6. Dashboards: Consider buying business intelligence software that combines system data and offers tools to more effectively analyze data, including through the creation of digital dashboards and online reports.
  7. Electronic Signatures: Consider using electronic signature software such as DocuSign or the app iPEGS to minimize the need for printing, signing, and mailing documents.
  8. Paperless Collaboration: Implement ways to minimize paper shared on projects and between departments:
    • Email documents
    • Share server folders
    • Use online collaboration tools such as Redbooth, Dropbox, and Google Docs
    • Within word documents, encourage use of "edit" and "comment" options instead of printing and marking pages.
    • Use online meeting services such as Microsoft Teams to allow for secure group discussions and document sharing.
    • Use online task management software to organize tasks centrally.
  9. Paperless Advertising and Communication: Minimize paper advertising wherever possible - store catalogs online; send electronic newsletters, brochures, annual reports, etc. through tools such as Constant Contact; communicate with customers through social media; advertise online, etc. If mail is sent:
    • Plan out printing of documents carefully - use up existing supplies first, print the minimal number of documents, reduce paper weight, write and design documents to minimize paper use, print on the most environmentally-friendly paper possible
    • Consolidate mailing lists into one computer database and delete duplicate listings
    • Send customers who receive multiple mailings a list of their recipient employees and ask them to cross off names of employees who have left or relocated
    • Label all direct mail as "Return Postage Guaranteed"
    • On every mailing you send out, print easy "opt out" instructions in a visible place
    • To delete names from your mailing list, set up and maintain a system that can handle both returned mail and phoned-in requests for removal
    • Encourage people to provide emails and switch them to electronic communications
  10. Stop Business Junkmail: Learn about ways to reduce incoming mail at How to Stop Junkmail at Work and try out the app PaperKarma.
  11. Paperless Internal Forms: Switch to paperless internal forms:
    • Create online intranet forms and/or updateable forms in tools such as Microsoft Word. Educate employees to update and email forms instead of printing.
    • Create a centralized online location for all forms.
  12. Paperless Internal Communication: Scan and email paper-based periodicals, documents and reports (or route one copy through the department). Send electronic employee newsletters or post online.
  13. Paperless Task Management and Note Taking: provide and educate employees about online task management tools and digital note taking.
  14. Discourage Printing of Emails: Add a message to the bottom of all emails asking people to only print if necessary. Educate employees on how to archive emails in folders for later retrieval and how to assign email reminders.
  15. Add Walking Distance: Move copiers/printers farther away from employees to discourage their use. Eliminate personal desktop printers wherever possible. Minimize overall number of printers/copiers over time instead of replacing.
  16. Minimize Unnecessary Printing: Use software tools such as GreenPrint to eliminate the printing of unwanted pages and to measure and manage printing.
  17. Adjust Printer/Copier Settings: Analyze all printer and copier settings to minimize paper use. For example, default to double-sided printing for all documents where available. Ask your printer/copier companies for suggestions to minimize paper and ink use. Switch to remanufactured toner cartridges.
  18. Reuse Once-Used Paper: Set up one or more printers and/or print trays with once-used paper and create a box for people to drop off safely reusable documents for printing drafts on the blank side. Label draft printers clearly offline and online, add the printer to employees computers and encourage them to use it. Configure draft printers to use minimal ink. Stock the fax machine with once-used paper. Encourage employees to use once-used paper for scratch pads and home use. Post informational signs.
  19. Minimize and green packaging: Minimize packaging material and use environmentally-friendly packaging whenever possible.
  20. Reuse boxes and large envelopes: Store empty boxes and envelopes in a central location and reuse at work (or home) whenever possible. Switch to reusable shipping containers. Collaborate with local businesses to share used packaging materials and participate in local materials exchange websites.
  21. Support minimal packaging: Buy products with minimal packaging. Communicate your goals to your vendors and ask for their support in minimizing packaging of commonly shipped items.
  22. Gather used paper supplies: Setup boxes in supply rooms and ask employees to drop off unwanted, lightly used notepads, notebooks, sticky pads, folders, and other paper products from their desk or home. Encourage employees to use these products up first. Donate unused items to a local school.
  23. Eliminate preprinted documents: Configure computer programs to print company stationary and envelopes and other pre-printed documents on demand. Send as many documents as possible electronically.
  24. Replace paper use in kitchens: Where possible replace paper towels with sponges, cloth towels and napkins (encourage employees to bring their own cloth napkins). Also replace paper plates and cups (and plastic utensils) with reusable ones.
  25. Replace paper towels in bathrooms: Replace paper towels with energy efficient hand dryers.
  26. Recycle 100% of used paper: Add clearly labeled recycling containers at all locations where paper is disposed (i.e., copiers, printers, mailroom, shipping area, kitchens, desks, etc.). Post signs above each recycling container promoting goal of recycling 100% of all waste paper. Share with employees that recycling one ton of paper saves 4,100 kWh of energy, 380 gallons of oil, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, 60 pounds of air pollutants being released, 7,000 gallons of water, and 17 trees. Monitor recycling containers for contaminants on a regular basis. Also check trash cans for items that should be recycled. Focus reminders, contests, etc. on any problem areas. Inform the cleaning crew about recycling practices and containers (don't assume they know which containers are for trash vs. recycling). 4.5 million tons of office paper is thrown away each year in the United States alone so creating an effective policy can really help.
  27. Buy environmentally-friendly paper: Buy paper (copier, toilet paper, etc.):
    • With high post-consumer recycled content (recycled white paper creates 74% less air pollution, 35% less water pollution, and 75% less processed energy than paper from virgin fibers)
    • Made without the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine or mercury
    • Certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or guaranteed to contain no fiber from endangered forests
    • Lightweight
  28. Compare Recycled Paper: Use the Paper Calculator to compare the benefits of different recycled office paper products.
  29. Additional Resources: Paper Certification and Paper Reduction Strategies


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