Friday, 13 August 2010

Printing – the Green IT Cinderella

Printing is often the Cinderella of green IT in the corporate environment. Everyone knows it’s wasteful, but short of trying to educate users to only print when they really need to, use both sides of the paper and recycle the waste, there’s not a lot of effort that goes into making printing more sustainable.

But educating people to take the right actions doesn’t always work, particularly in the business environment. Defra (the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) recently released a survey as part of a campaign to urge small businesses to cut down on waste and reduce energy and water use. It found that whilst the British follow good environmental practices at home, they don’t always take their concerns or actions to work with them. Among the findings was that 21% print out emails when they don’t need to. To be fair, 18% didn’t know what their organisation’s green policy was, so clearly the message isn’t always getting through anyway.

Often the corporate user simply needs a nudge in the right direction. Asking people to print on both sides of the paper needs them to take specific actions, whereas if duplex printing is the default then action has to be taken to stop it.

But there are other solutions that act as a reminder to individual users to reduce their printing. For example, software such as Fineprint and GreenPrint, that sit between the user and the printer. They can act as the default print option and make it easy for users to take the greener option of removing whole pages or pieces of text or images from the final print job. They can also enable multiple pages per sheet, duplex printing, etc.

The GreenPrint offering can also show the accumulated cost saved and the consequent financial and environmental impact. GreenPrint claims printing savings of 17% or more, saving the average user over $90 and 1,400 wasted pages per year. The company offers enterprise and home solutions as well as a free, advertising-supported version.

But there is more to printing than just the paper. There’s also a great deal of ink that can be saved, and not just by printing less.

For example, the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, has changed its default font for Outlook across campus to Century Gothic. It seems that Century Gothic uses 30% less ink than Arial, the most commonly used default font. Ink costs the university around $10,000 a gallon, with toner cartridges and drums not far behind, and accounts for 60% of the cost of the printed page, so it’s potentially a significant saving across a university campus.

In this case changing the default option is an effective way of nudging people towards greener behaviour. There’s no force involved - the University made it clear that users can change back to a different default font if you wish. The university is also encourage everyone to switch to Century Gothic as their default font in Entourage for Macintosh, Word, and Excel.

If you want to go even further, there are specially designed green fonts. With Ecofont, for example, users can work with their usual font but for printing use its ink-saving variant. The green font has additional holes to reduce ink use with, apparently, no impact on legibility. Ecofont claims that its font is even more economical than Century Gothic. Preton has a solution that deletes unnecessary pixels from all aspects of a print job as well as providing the capability to eliminate unneeded text or graphics from print jobs and providing analysis of print usage and savings.

So there’s a lot that can be done to reduce the environmental impact, and cost, of printing – the above are just a few examples of what’s on the market. It’s a much easier and quicker option than many other aspects of green ICT, but not one that’s talked about much.

© The Green IT Review


  1. I totally agree with your final paragraph. Reducing waste and in turn saving money is a quick win when applied to printing. You're also spot on when you say there are a range of print saving options out there but it's not a long list, if you discard the gimmicks. Also, to do the topic full justice there is a need for all who are interested in reducing the environmental impact of printing to understand the significant differences between the options you've listed.

    Ecofont is effective but very limited in what it does. For example, because it works at the font level it's necessary to obtain Ecofont versions of any font you want to use. Savings vary by font type but Ecofont claim average ink savings of 25%, but no paper savings! This makes it a less complete solution than GreenPrint and Preton.

    Fineprint has been around for a long time and is not in itself an ink saver. It will certainly help to save paper but the manner in which it works relies heavily on the end-user to make saving decisions. This is impractical in the corporate world.

    Then we come to the two solutions that do offer practical options for saving ink and paper.

    Greenprint claim average "print" savings of 17%. It achieves this by removing unwanted pages. This is a good thing because paper production consumes massive amounts of natural resources, though an increasing level of paper used is manufactured from sustainable or recycled sources. Nonetheless, reducing paper used does in turn reduce ink used, which is another major consumer of natural resources.

    I've left Preton to last because I have a close association with the product. Preton is a true ink saver product and users of the software are typically saving in excess of 30%. Preton, like Greenprint, has extensive print management functionality. This allows organisations to impose print policies. This can include enforcing duplex print, which naturally reduces paper consumption. Preton is, in my opinion, a complete ink and paper saving solution. It is the only software yet to gain an Eco-Label certification, and justifiably so.

    For all the talk of not printing unnecessarily the global level of printing has not reduced. Printing is expensive, both in cost and natural resources. Sadly printing is not an exciting topic and this makes it extremely difficult to gain the attention of decision makers and implementers. At a time when cost pressures are acute you would think a quick win would be embraced. Articles like this are key to raising awareness!

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