By Andrew Hall, Oki Systems UK,

Do you actually know how much paper your business currently uses? My guess is that small and medium businesses have a clearer idea than large corporates. But even so, in my experience, paper and printing costs tend to be ignored when it comes to cutting down on overheads.

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen so many emails with the request to ‘consider the environment before printing’ at the bottom recently. While nobody would question the green motives behind this call, there are just some occasions when a hard copy is needed – for legal reasons, for example. Besides, consumer-facing businesses can’t stop people sending letters or wanting hard copies – and until today’s ‘digital natives’ become pensioners, it’s likely that paper documents will live on.

But the fact remains, many employees don’t consider their own company, let alone the planet when they press ‘print’. When we asked 2000-plus office workers across all industry sectors, 92% said that they still print at least one document every day. This may be predictable; perhaps more worrying is the fact that 45% print more than ten pages a day.

Likewise, it’s perhaps not too surprising that 79% use office equipment to print personal documents – but what is concerning is that 9% claim to do this at least once a day.

While not suggesting that companies suddenly adopt draconian rules to stop workers printing what they need to, it would benefit them to take better control by first auditing exactly how much printing is being done and paper used and adopting and managing a print strategy. In the same poll, only 27% said that their company had such a policy in place that was being actively enforced.

There is one small measure that can drastically cut paper volumes – ensuring that, for everyday work, double-sided mono print is the default option. An easy and logical step and yet it’s surprising how many companies neglect to take it.

Next it’s a case of assessing current printers and investigating the ROI on new models which are more energy-efficient and run smoothly. Printers have moved on by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. On the other hand, older devices tend to waste paper when runs get jammed or there are imperfections in the end result.

It’s a case of the right printer for the right job. For example, replacing multiple desktop printers and scanners with a smaller number of multifunction printers can be hugely cost-effective. Many of these new multifunction devices come with an open platform enabling the customisation of the user interface to integrate all document-related tasks into an organisation’s document workflow. This will enable a paper-free document flow such as scan or fax to email where a scanned image is automatically converted to a PDF so it can be emailed directly to someone’s inbox without a paper copy in between.

Some printers enable users to store documents prior to printing on the printer’s hard disk drive or secure data card. This means that these are only converted to paper when needed.

Working closely with a managed document services provider will help put all these changes in place. When documents and printing are managed more carefully and expertly, paperless becomes less of an issue. Most small business will be content with cutting volumes – and costs.