Monday, August 25, 2008

Please consider the environment before printing this post

The other day saw a very interesting and heated debate over a hot topic on one of my green business lists - the addition of that little line at the end of e-mail signatures that asks you to "please consider the environment before printing this e-mail." Or it says to "Think Green! Don't Print This E-mail!" Or it says any other of a seemingly endless number of iterations of this single thought: don't waste so much paper.

While I understand the idea, and appreciate it, my objection to these lines is a few-fold:
  1. It assumes that I, the reader, am going to print this e-mail, even if it's just a quick confirmation on something. I'm not.
  2. What if I actually NEED to print the e-mail? The only things I print are receipts, directions, or e-mails that have significant history information related to projects I'm in the middle of at the zen kitchen. This is a total of about 10-15% of my e-mail. Everything else gets deleted or put into a folder. Should I feel like I'm somehow not "considering the environment" because I need paper records of these things? 
  3. While e-mail signatures can be a truly helpful marketing tool, we seem to have reached an age where signatures have gone completely out of hand. People are busy, and while an e-mail signature is a great way to give people the basic information they need to check out your business and contact you, adding a bunch of stuff to the end of your signature dilutes your message, clogs their e-mail and, if they DO need to print it, adds to the amount of paper they need to print. How is that "green?"
Finally, while the issue of office waste is definitely vast, it's been my experience at least that much of that waste isn't because people are printing their e-mails. In some cases yes, high-level executives will have their assistants print every e-mail - either because they don't "get" the e-mail system or because the assistants vet their e-mails and print just the important ones. But this is a systemic issue, and telling the assistants (the people actually printing the e-mails) not to print isn't helping anything - they don't have a choice. Further, if an executive truly doesn't "get" how e-mail works, how will seeing that little line at the bottom of a printed page help? Wouldn't it be better to have a conversation and show him how e-mail works? Or better yet, have the assistant vet all the e-mails according to importance and then let the executive view it? 

The point here is that, in the 10 years that I spent in various capacities at offices all over New England before starting the zen kitchen, the tremendous amount of paper waste I saw rarely came from e-mail. Rather, it came from:
  1. The endless number of forms that were often required to get anything done (the average office I worked in had at least 5-10 forms to fill out depending on what you needed done, and they were always looking to create more forms for things)
  2. In the case of design studios/ad agencies/art departments, printing a new iteration of a brochure/layout/etc. *every* time they made a change to it, no matter how minor. In some places, you even had to print multiples, which would be distributed among various people in the organization. I once had to print out a new 12*18 sheet for a layout edit that included adding a comma. Really. Nothing more - just a comma. 
  3. In the case of mortgage/banking companies (where I worked as an admin assistant before deciding to become a designer - way back in '97-'98), it was filling out a 15-page thick pile of forms just to get a loan package started, then having to make two copies of each package, copies of the related documentation, etc.
Notice, please - none of this involves printing e-mails. So who is that line really helping?

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