By Dave McNally, product marketing director, Dell Imaging, EMEA

Ethical management doesn’t just refer to remodelling the banking system or improving corporate social responsibility - the environment must be sustained and business needs to play its part in making that possible. Sustainability isn’t just beneficial for the environment either; businesses should remember that wastage also translates to monetary loss. Whether your priority is money, the environment, or both, there are straightforward changes that your business can make that will help minimise unnecessary usage and in turn, will give you that extra competitive advantage.

Printing is an essential business function, but if badly managed, it can undoubtedly have a negative impact both on the environment and on a business's bottom line. Ink cartridges, which take about three and a half litres of oil to make and around 1000 years to biodegrade, get thrown into landfill and incinerators at a rate of at least 350 million each year. Businesses and individuals can help to solve this problem by utilising ink cartridge recycling programmes to ensure raw materials are reused, keeping landfill waste to a minimum.

The production of paper and pulp products also used up a staggering 1.04 million tonnes of energy in 2012 so as well as limiting waste, reducing paper usage is an excellent way of conserving energy. The production of one ton of energy takes about the same as it would to power the average home for 10 months, while 380 gallons of oil can be saved for every ton of recycled paper. A move towards more streamlined business operations minimising use where possible, can help towards reducing energy costs and will ensure compliance with government regulations, all while protecting the environment.

Furthermore, with an eco-friendly reputation, a company will not only meet increasing demand for responsible products, but will also appeal to clients who want to be associated with businesses with a sustainable ethos. Whether your focus is driving profit or encouraging sustainability, it goes without saying that keeping green will benefit all.

What's the solution?

Changing day-to-day business processes is always a challenge no matter how large your organisation, but there are simple things that can be done with a potentially huge impact.

• In a digital age, with mobile phones and tablets fast becoming a fixture in the modern office, you can easily limit printing to ensure that only the most important documents are produced in hard copy. Digital signatures can authenticate letters without individuals having to print and sign them before scanning back in, therefore eliminating the need to print the document before emailing. Similarly, spread the word to your recipients by adding a line to your company email signature to encourage others not to print unless absolutely necessary.

• There are also other printing features that you can utilise to reduce printing waste; if the document isn't important, it can be printed in draft or “quick print” mode. This will reduce printing time as well as ink usage. Likewise, consider whether you need to print something in colour or whether black and white will suffice, remembering that colour is more expensive and often unnecessary for simple word documents or emails.

• Commercial printers used in offices use on average 30-50 watts on standby and 300-500 watts while in use. By purchasing an energy saving printer, businesses can benefit from low energy-usage per printed page, reducing unnecessary cost. Printing double-sided is another great way to reduce paper waste; most office PCs can be set to automatic double-sided printing, so that users have to consciously change the settings for one-sided printing. Staff should ensure that any useless pages at the end of a document are deleted before printing and any extra blank pages that do come out should be put back in the tray for reuse.

• Finally, businesses should implement a recycling programme for all waste paper and ink cartridges and you should consider thinking about only using 100% recycled paper. According to the European Recovered Paper Council, two tonnes of paper is recycled in Europe every second, with 71.1% of all paper being recycled in Europe in 2012. With this in mind, recycled paper products are no longer an expensive option, making it more accessible to all kinds of businesses.

Printing will always be an essential process for business as hard copies of important documents such as legal contracts will always be required. Although it can seem an expensive outlay, by putting the right measures in place, organisations can ensure that this necessary part of day-to-day office life isn’t expensive or wasteful. With some small changes, you will help to improve your business’s eco-credentials and that, in itself can lead to greater customer satisfaction, a reduction in waste and costs, thereby increasing profit. With so much benefit at such little effort – why wouldn’t you make your printing processes sustainable?