An outfit I worked for at the time of the paperless office becoming trendy decided to join the fun. It was therefore decreed that we would go paperless and everyone would work from screen copies.
What happened? Paper consumption went up.
Analyst firm IDC says the printer industry has been kicked right in the COVIDs. The firm yesterday predicted “page volume will fall 13.7percent in 2020, from 3.2 trillion pages in 2019 to 2.8 trillion pages in 2020”. Damage will be lasting: between 2015 and 2019 compound annual growth rate for pages printed was -1.2 percent. …
"you need really, really good screens to replace reading the dead trees."
We do have access to really decent screens these days for not much money.
(I have only just sent a 19" Sony LED monitor off to an unrepentant retro re-user after 15+ years of use. It was one of the early "flat" panels at about 3" thick. Cracking piece of kit and a snip at ~£1,700)
... every time someone suggests that going "paperless" is a good idea, I buy more stock in Boise Cascade, Crown Zellerbach, Georgia-Pacific, Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek Timber and Crane&Co (etc) ... I haven't lost a dime yet, quite the opposite in fact. (This is not investment advice, I am offering a testimonial, consult an expert before investing, etc.)
"And no bad thing, because fast growing conifers grown as a monoculture are really not the kind of tree we want. We need varied deciduous woodland."
Forestry as a business is coming to realise that as well. Not only does it look nicer (forests also support additional businesses such as cafes, cabins, etc for people walking, hiking, cycling or mountain biking), and support a more diverse range of wildlife, but (I understand) a mixture of tree types is also much better for soil health and stability.
Forestry for logging isn't the same as forestry for tourism. The vast majority of logging tracts aren't exactly what I would call "scenic" ... the tourists, quite literally, can't see the forest for trees. They want carefully sculpted, neat & tidy forests, not the backwoods.
And yes, the forestry industry plants more trees than it extracts. There is a lot more loggable land today than there was in 1960 ... at least in the Western States of North America (Canada included).
I dare say that things are often done differently in the USA than in the UK. The USA has a lot more surviving native forestry, to start with. I know that the (UK) Forestry Commission now aims to plant more mixed forests (not that there won't be sizable dollops of conifers within them) so as to get both economic and environmental benefit from them.
"How's that for a plot twist. Stop consuming paper means less trees!"
No, stopping logging means fewer trees, not just stopping papermaking. This is actually a fact ... without logging, there would be no incentive to plant more trees. (Brazil and etc. had best wake up to this ... they are ruining a natural resource in the name of short-term dollars. Unless they start replanting soon, they are going to lose that ability forever as their irreplaceable topsoil is lost due to erosion ... but that's a rant for another day.)
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tree harvesters re-plant their forests (unless they WANT to go broke!). In some cases I believe it's require by LAW. Canada produces a LOT of lumber (/me sings the lumberjack song), and I'm pretty sure that the leftovers from the saw mills end up in paper mills, along with a lot of recycled paper. It's an efficient business, NOT like a bunch of humanoid termites swarming a forest and turning it into mud.
Seriously, it's a true *RENEWABLE* resource. We don't lose 8 billion trees. In fact, I'm pretty sure we're GAINING trees, because of re-planting and putting out forest fires, etc..
Eucalyptus weeds have no place outside Australia. And some say they don't even belong there.
I have found one, and only one, use for eucalyptus weeds ... their dried leaves make great fuel for the smoker I use when repatriating feral European honey bees (especially with a couple dried female hops flowers thrown in).
Large chunks of trees from sawmills do end up in paper pulp, but counter intuitively, the sawdust usually does not. The fibers are too short for decent paper ... Especially with today's saw blades and their relatively fine kerf. Damn that modern metallurgy anyway!
Yes, we are gaining trees overall, and have been (at least in North America) since the '60s.
I also wonder about toner. Isn't laser printer toner just plastic dust melted on to the paper? How much of the environmental microplastics that are currently causing all the news headlines come from recycling those 3.2 trillion sheets of paper, and flushing away poorly-filtered used water?
"Isn't laser printer toner just plastic dust melted on to the paper?"
I don't know now but 28 years ago I was made to investigate the content of black laser printer toner cartridges and it was all carbon and iron. An office worker had complained it burned her skin, and there was no 'rational' reason but the burns were undeniable.
Back then though most of us didn't know about nut allergies and would have mocked the idea.
The solution was to let her avoid the printer.
"Doctor, it hurts when I do this"
"Don't do that"
"I don't know now but 28 years ago I was made to investigate the content of black laser printer toner cartridges and it was all carbon and iron. An office worker had complained it burned her skin, and there was no 'rational' reason but the burns were undeniable."
The office worker was one of the Fae, that's the only explaination for iron burning one's skin...
As another reply said, if there wasn't a demand for the wood something else would probably be grown there instead so it's not an even choice. Where commercial tree planting is concerned in respect of the carbon cycle the tree has to be considered as storage in its own right and as a mechanism for sequestering carbon for transfer to other storage.
While the trees/farming might help, the sheer amount of electricity used to actually produce the paper is staggering.
I interviewed with a Duluth, Minnesota, utility (MinnPower Co. aka MPC) and IIRC their big-system-map-on-the-wall had the local paper plant as their #1 consumer, so much so that they had to coordinate generation with the plant's operations to avoid system issues.
Better to grow the trees as "organically" as possible (natural fertilizers and no pesticides/herbicides) and let them sequester the carbon. Doing something with the wood -- paper, lumber, etc. -- always takes more energy than it's worth.
(Mind you, I'll be wastefully burning sawdust in the form of charcoal briquettes this weekend since it's my 10th Father's Day. The kids know Daddy likes grilled bratwurst and other sausages. So yeah, go ahead and blame me for being part of the problem, then kindly shut up by having a brat instead. And have a swim, too, blissfully heated with an older inefficient furnace-like unit using natural gas plus the ~1 kW (1.5 HP) of electricity to run the water pump. We Americans love our excesses.)
And in areas where the primary industry is [industry_type], the biggest consumer of [consumable_type] will be [industry_type].
Curiously, suppliers used to set up operations near their consumers, and industries used to set up near raw materials. Not as easy with a global economy when much of the world now seems to produce nothing except hot air and landfill, but the principle still applies even if the big corporations ignore it. Maybe building factories where the only real incentive is a tax dodge is not actually a good thing?
"always takes more energy than it's worth"
Incorrect. It is obviously profitable.
This Yank has a pool heated with a GSHP, and the water is mostly circulated by convection, so presumably I can continue with my selective logging operations? (Even if you say no, I'll continue killing the useless eucalyptus weeds until there are no more left to kill on my side of the Rockies ... )
Brats are in the smoker. Beers are on tap, self serve.
 I also have a 1.5HP pump, but mine's just there for bringing the system up from a cold start.
I have a bunch of things on my property that captured carbon out of the air. Darn things grew so big. I was forced to cut them down and burn them in my wood stove for heat. Zero-sum environmental impact - carbon came out of the air, became a tree, and I returned the carbon to the air.
It's over 40 years ago that we were shown an ICL PERQ with the, for the time, very high res portrait monitor and told this heralded the *paperless office*, I'm still waiting!
We've reduced paper usage in-house by stopping printing most customer documents, instead they're emailed and filed electronically, but I suspect in many cases they're then printed and filed at the other end.
Back in the 90's, our company was hired to go out to a clients many sites to install anything from one to five high grade scanners depending on office size. All incoming documents were to be scanned and emailed to the addressee by the postroom or receptionist. They were going "paperless" and setting up a no-paper border around the company offices. Around 5 years later, we won a contract to install a large number of managed MFPs across their estate. It turned out to be quite lucrative due to overprint penalties, ie they went for the lowest cost option based on pages per month per MFP and always went well over that.
Printing is down by over 75% where I work (~6500 users), seems to suggest it was non-essential printing if we can still function without it. It can't all have been passive-aggressive notes in the kitchens, bake sale adverts, and "humorous" retirement snapshots ... or could it?
> Printing is down by over 75% where I work (~6500 users), seems to suggest it was non-essential printing
Maybe. I haven't printed anything in ages but it takes me a lot longer to review documents on screen than when printed. I assume my time's worth more than 5p / page, or whatever b&w costs these days?
Many years ago I was working in a multi-company set-up where most of the UK's bigger names were 'collaborating' * on a big government project.
At one meeting, the customer was being asked about some requirements, how firm were they? when would they be solidified? who would be accountable if they changed and a big cost was incurred?... usual stuff.
"Well _we_ have a blame-free culture" was the response.
Completely off the cuff, I blurted out "A blame free culture is about as believable as a paperless office" which caused some merriment.
Fast forward 6 months and at a completely separate public event being put on by the government department, there was a session on 'pragmatism in workplace cultures' (or something like that, I forget the title but it was the sort of wishy washy hand waving that public money subsidised then) and, lo-and-behold one of the first slides had my very words in big, bold letters. The consultant, rather smugly presented this as a great insight.
Shame I couldn't copyright meeting notes.
* for a very interesting/loose definition of collaboration.
Interesting stats for a 100 acre well managed paper pulp plantation in North America:
It takes between 0.3 and 1.9 seconds to grow the fiber needed to make one #10 envelope.
It takes 0.3 and 2.2 hours to grow the fiber needed for a ream of copier paper.
So roughly speaking, in a year your 100 acres could potentially yield over 2 million envelopes, 2 million letterhead and 2 million second sheets. That's quite a mailing.
(Note the shape of an envelope when unglued and unfolded ... if you make 'em with the paper grain in the correct orientation, there is a lot of
wasterecycling in the die-cutting process.)
While I have been there, done that, with paperless office predictions, this time it might really be different. Not sure anyone in the teams I work with has printed anything for work since we started WFH - and we really aren't missing it. I think the failures were partially because we never actually followed through by taking away people's printers or the piles of paper they cluttered their desk's with. We had all the tech needed to go paperless, we were just a bit lazy.
Not only have we been forced away from the company printers, we have bigger & better tech now to help transition.
In my former job, when I needed quick references to anything fairly fixed (not likely to be changed/edited), I made a(nother) "reference binder", some of which I came to refer to as "bibles". I did make my own edits when I found incorrect content that the suppliers fouled up, or sometimes added supplementary material.
(In regards to Stryker specifically, I had the engine bible, the transmission bible, the ABS bible...)
In my new job, there was/is less reference material to go on -- much of it only coming to me during the pandemic -- and while I'd love to print it out, there are issues: much of it is ANSI D size, and while 11x17 (ANSI B) might work, my home printer is letter-size (ANSI A) only plus company IT has made it clear no hooking up personal printers.
But that's okay because I've got my 32" personal monitor and HDMI connections aren't restricted. If it weren't for the sheer size of this thing, I wouldn't be able to handle navigating virtual stacks of drawings.
(For many jobs -- I'm thinking medical -- it's tablets that have helped make the transition. Portable and about the same size as the paper you're replacing.)
In my last two experiences, the best way to reduce printing was to impose secure printing on each printer of the company. Now the user has to come to the printer and type a code to get his/her file printed. After 24h non-printed files are flushed from printer's memory.
Secure printing has decreased printed papers by 25% to 40% from one printer to another.
We have people who work at home some days and come to work on others.
A few years ago, we set up network printing only and removed all the
status symbols little printers from "important" peoples desks. You send your print job, walk up to any printer and swipe your ID card over it and it prints your item. It holds it for 24 hours and if you don't print it, it deletes it from the queue.
People do all the printing they want on the last day working from home and print it 1st thing on their day here. I hope some of them just look at the volume of stuff they print and reconsider.
"I hope some of them just look at the volume of stuff they print and reconsider."
At times our mainframe support team's office was piled almost floor to ceiling with printer listings of assembler compilations or mainframe dumps. In those days 1MB of mainframe memory could produce quite a thick post mortem diagnostic printout - 160 columns wide.
There were times when we would find several dumps waiting for us in the morning. Our first question was - "who has just taken on an new graduate programmer". They were guaranteed to make errors and call parameter assumptions that the system couldn't currently handle.
Paperless offices, teleworking.
All it took was a global pandemic and the 3rd highest number of deaths on the planet to make it so.
Why do I hear the voice of Dominic Cummins in my head saying "Trust me, when this is over we will be a smaller, better Britain."
How much printing is being done in the home offices?
In our home printing has dropped sharply. SWMBO runs a pachhwork course. I used to print out all her handouts to take to class. Now the handouts are prepared as PDFs and emailed out so now the attendees are printing them out at home. They have to print them as they include the templates.
My employer has saved £6,000 in printing and £20,000 in postage in 3 months.
I guess as a school we do more printing than a lot of businesses, but now the senior management team has seen we can deliver lessons entirely electronically and not print anything, I can see them removing most printers from site
"I can see them removing most printers from site"
But are the pupils actually being educated?
A neighbour has a kid who is often in trouble at school for his "attitude". Basically he is intelligent, articulate, and reads two years ahead of his class. With lock-down home schooling he finishes the day's official school assignment in half-an-hour - and then turns to enjoying an educational online coding "game" for most of the day.
My wife and all her colleagues are working from home on company PCs. They are forbidden to copy or mail work to their home PCs for security reasons. Fair enough. However the industry requires hard copies of briefing sheets and the like which have to be signed on site. Pretty much the only way to get the prints is to use their own home printers. Cute wholesale violations of security rules. While it could be argued that the site procedures should be changed and dragged into the 21st century, there are legal implications, and short term the only way to get around this will be to issue all employees with a printer and a few reams of paper.
It's no great surprise, we've had loads of requests for home printing and pretty much all have been vetoed on security grounds.
From my own point of view, I bought a printer/scanner a while back as being a contractor I often have to print out contracts, sign in various places and then scan back in and return. Even this over the last couple of years has stopped being a thing, with services like DocuSign negating the requirement to print things out just to sign them.
...then I realised I could just scan my signature (or a few slightly different versions thereof, just for authenticity across several documents with the same client) and stamp it onto the PDF. When you think about it, it's not really any less secure (anyone could scan your signature from somewhere and do the same), and the result is of much higher quality. I guess if you wanted people to think you'd physically signed it, you could find some way of reducing the resolution and adding speckles, making it slightly skewiff, etc. I expect there will be people out there that insist that it just has to be signed physically because them's the rules or something. But they're just silly.
Oh yes, I remember it well....
It was 1985, I was recently employed by ICL having graduated with a PhD in mathematics, and was told that with new 'office automation' software, such as word processors and spreadsheets, we would never need to print anything out 'in the near future'. Of course we still needed the manuals on paper, because there was nothing like the on screen 'help' feature, and Management still wanted hard copies, as did customers, and of course we still had to check that the documents would print out ok...
Still, the paperless office is nearly here, again.
How much one needs to actually print documents varies from basically none to bring a pallet of paper daily. As one person often says: "Context matters". Most were probably more than they needed to because of convenience so wringing that unnecessary printing will drop the number pages printed. Others, for numerous reasons, need to print documents. Some of the reasons for printing today will become unnecessary as legal requirements and work flow requirements are updated. But some documents will still be printed (shipping labels for one). So there will never be a truly paperless office or home, just that most will not find a need to print as much as they did in the past.
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