The Value of Collaboration #2: Reducing how much your firm prints

Could you pick a more mundane use case than reducing how much people print at your firm? Yet a collaborative effort to do this can be worth a lot of money – more than the cost of your entire social business effort. 

In the catalog of solutions we’re compiling, printing is in a class of solutions targeting personal consumption. Printing, mobile phone bills, car service usage, file storage. All of these services tend to be bloated by waste since people typically don’t know how much they cost nor how to access cheaper alternatives.

We’ll examine each of these solutions in separate posts. Just reducing printing by 20%, though, could be worth $6 million to a large firm.

The problem

Although environmental awareness has reduced printing at many firms, we still print too much. And much of what we print is unnecessarily costly.

Without including printing for external clients, a large firm still prints between 500 million and a billion pages a year. For perspective, the World Trade Center in NYC is about 5 million pages high. Now imagine 100 or even 200 World Trade Centers stacked on top of each other stretching 60 miles into the sky. Or, worse, imagine cutting down a forest of 120,000 trees every year.

And we have more control over printing costs than you might think. A complex full-color title slide, for example, can cost well over 50 cents – 50 times more than a less colorful version and 200 times more compared to a simple black and white version.

The solution

There are many ways to reduce printing. Defaulting to black & white and 2-sided printing. Using simpler templates that don’t require as much toner. Using “pull print” technology to avoid those stacks of printouts people never pick up. Accessing docs via iPads instead of printing anything at all.

The hard part is changing behavior. And that’s where the social platform comes in.

Most people don’t know – don’t even think about – how much their personal printing costs and how much it adds up across the firm. The same is true for other personal consumption at work. For all of these campaigns, we’ll use the 4 elements of the “The Dragonfly Effect” framework that I described here:

Focus: Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.

Grab attention: Make someone look. Cut through the noise…with something unexpected, visceral, and visual.

Engage: Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering an audience enough to want to do something themselves.

Take action: Enable and empower others to take action…move audience members from being customers to becoming team members.”

Applying that to printing might look like this:

Pick a clear goal: “Reduce printing by 20%.”

Make people care about it: “We can save 22,000 trees and $6 million!”

Make it easy for them to change: “Here are 3 great alternatives.”

Give them feedback and stories to keep changing: “You’ve already reduced your printing by 8%. Together we’ve saved 5,200 so far this year.”

Just as “The Dragonfly Effect” relates numerous stories of using social media to drive social change, you’ll be using your firm’s social collaboration platform to drive behavioral changes across the firm.

What’s it worth?

I used to print and file everything – handouts from every meeting I attended, every document I commented on. Now, at work, I can store all those docs on the firm’s collaboration platform and access them via an iPad. That shift has reduced my printing costs to zero.

For those who don’t have this setup, simply changing templates and getting everyone to switch can reduce toner costs by 15%. Setting defaults to double-sided printing can reduce paper consumption by half.

The key is to spread the new behaviors across the firm.

Given all the alternatives, you could realistically cut printing by half within your firm. To realize $6 million in savings, you’d only have to reduce printing by 20%.

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

The main barrier here is that no one is responsible – and everyone is responsible – for printing. You need to find and connect the few technical people who can, for example, change printer defaults globally. And you also need to inform and motivate everyone across the firm to reconsider what they print.

That used to be impossible. Now, though, social tools and practices make solutions like this something every firm can and should implement.

About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
This entry was posted in ROI, Social Business and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Value of Collaboration #2: Reducing how much your firm prints

  1. From what I’ve learned in the new Gamification course over at Coursera is that an immediate feedback loop is critical to the success of a gamified system that aims to change behaviors. So here’s an idea borrowed from the Ford Hybrid dashboard: instead of RPM, show PPM (pages per minute printed) and a green vine that grows if employees cut back on printing (and withers if the opposite happens):

    This could be published in any way on the intranet or displayed in a desktop/mobile app/widget.

  2. Mundane’s where the money is. And it’s often where meaningful changes can be made for great impact. I’m on a campaign now, working with large organizations to put The Dragonfly Effect model to work as adeptly as entrepreneurs and non-profits already have. It’s gratifying to see how you put Dragonfly to work on this one.

  3. cvharquail says:

    Hi John-
    In general I agree with your advice– reducing wasted paper should be a no-brainer, and anything we do to increase our thoughtfulness and print only what is necessary is good.

    What surprises and concerns me though is our collective naiveté around the recommendation that we keep things digital as a way to save energy.

    There is also a tremendous amount of wasted energy and additional pollution caused by careless digitizing, sharing, app running, and the like. This article in last weekend’s NYT article on data farms was an eyeopener for a lot of people. (Here’s a link to the debate page for same:

    The opportunity is, I think, to wrap a conversation around saving paper (paper that is material, visible, tangible, easy to count) around a larger conversation about being both effective and efficient in how we use our resources in an organization.

    It’s a shift from a conversation about ‘reduce reuse recycle’ to a conversation about sustainability. So how do we use collaborative work processes, and the other nudges you mention, to help us become more sustainable overall? This is something I want to learn more about, so thanks for raising the issues.

  4. Pingback: The Value of Collaboration #3: Reducing Blackberry costs & mobile phone bills | johnstepper

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