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Save the Trees!

People’s work habits usually change slowly. Maybe they just don’t change, and it’s only new generations which allow any change at all (because they don’t have old habits to overcome) but I think it should be possible for people to improve their routines if they just made the effort.

In this blog entry I want to discuss one of my little pet complaints: how people can’t get out of the habit of wasting paper by printing every document they want to read or store. Why can’t they use modern technology and use less paper and save a few trees?

I have worked on being paperless for a few years now myself and have succeeded almost 100%. I must admit that I do still occasionally scribble notes on small scraps of paper but most of the time I type them into my computer, iPad, or (most times) iPhone. I have got quite used to reading from the screen of my various devices so I almost never print anything. And all my document storage is in electronic form.

Mostly this works well. The notes synchronise between all of my devices through Apple’s iCloud and I use the computer (a MacBook Pro with an i7 processor, solid state drive, and 15″ screen) as the “master device” to create permanent documents which synchronise back out to the other devices.

If anyone hands me a piece of paper (such as a receipt, business card, or order of some sort) I just take a photo of it with the iPhone and give it back to them. And I might mention that using an electronic version next time would be preferred. Again, the photos synchronise to the other devices for permanent storage.

And I don’t read books or newspapers, at least not in a conventional form. Ironically, the last book I read on paper was the biography of Steve Jobs, the person who allows me to dispense entirely with conventional reading material. I read news on the iPad and computer through news web sites and I supplement this with podcasts from Radio New Zealand and other sources which I download every morning. And I read a few books on the iPad but mainly listen to audio books which means I can “read” and drive or “read” while walking from one job to the next.

So paper is basically a thing of the past for me. I didn’t even have a printer driver installed on my computer until I had to do some testing for a client. But what about the people I work with? How have they adapted to the new technology?

Generally, extremely poorly.

Almost everyone I work with refuses to read from a screen. They print things and read from the paper instead. Some people even print their email messages! And this applies even to people with high quality devices intended for reading such as iPads.

There have been some truly absurd examples of this. One person has his PA print his emails so he can read them. Then he amends them on paper or writes a new email by hand which the PA types as a new email message. So several sheets of paper are temporarily used for no good reason.

Here’s another example. When I noticed someone printing a 40 page PDF so it could be read I asked why she didn’t get an iPad. She said she had one but didn’t have it at work so couldn’t use it for reading from. When I asked why she left it at home she said it was because she didn’t use it at work so why bring it in? Clearly this was not someone with with knowledge of philosophical logic such as circular arguments!

I try not to be judgemental and I try not to tell everyone how they should work, but I don’t think there’s any harm in suggesting that going paperless is a good idea or even that it is possible. It’s not just because of the environmental advantages of reducing paper use, it’s also about working more efficiently and making the most of the technology we already have available.

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