Environmentally-Friendly Printing

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What It Is

Environmentally-friendly printing combines sustainability with the printing of paper products. It involves practices that prove less harmful to the environment than customary printing practices. Some eco-friendly printing tips include:

    • Using digital formats over printing whenever possible
    • Using recycled paper
    • Using recycled printer cartridges
    • Purchasing soy-based ink
    • Printing on both sides of the paper


Why It Matters

Printing uses energy and trees. It also produces volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can harm your health.

Printing uses lots of energy.

Printers and copiers are among the most energy-intensive fixtures in the workplace.[1] Printing fewer pages means using less energy, which helps the environment, as well as a business’s bottom line.

It wastes trees.

Printing less can save thousands of trees and dollars. The average office employee uses 10,000 sheets (20 reams) of paper each year, or more than one tree.[2]

It costs money.

With the total cost of using and handling paper being anywhere from $26 to $62 per ream, businesses spend a great deal of money on printing. In short, printing less saves more.

It also produces VOCs.

Standard printer ink has petroleum in it, which produces volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids and can cause short and long-term health problems.[3] Printers and copy machines produce VOCs too, further increasing the amount of VOCs in the workplace.


Getting Started

    • Expand the margins on documents
    • Print on both sides of the paper
    • Reuse scrap paper
    • Recycle paper


Expand the margins.

Expanding the margins on documents will allow you to fit more text on each page. In turn, this will help you print fewer pages per document.

Print on both sides.

Double-sided, or “duplex,” printing also helps you print fewer sheets of paper. Duplex is a setting on your printer. However, not all printers are capable of easy duplex printing. Research your printer’s settings or consider switching to a printer that makes duplex printing simpler.

According to a study of Citigroup’s New York offices, duplex printing is “easily implementable and cost-effective.” CitiGroup saved over $100,000 in paper and handling costs over the five-week study period. The company also saved 34 tons of wood and nearly 400 billion BTUs of energy.[4]

Reuse scrap paper.

Printing produces a lot of waste paper. To help reduce waste, place a bin for scrap paper next to the printer. Employees can reuse the paper for one-off printing or note taking instead of tossing it into the trash or recycling bin.

Recycle paper.

Although American businesses use tons of paper each year, little of it ends up in the recycling bin. Paper and paperboard make up about one third (32.7%) of material solid waste in the United States.[5]

When finished with documents, make sure to recycle them instead of throwing them in the trash. If the documents do not contain sensitive information, consider recycling them in house by shredding and using them for packing material.


Going Further

    • “Green screen” your suppliers
    • Go paperless


Green screen suppliers.

Ask your vendors if they offer:

    • Soy-based inks: Soy-based inks produce far fewer VOCs while preserving print and image quality.[6]
    • Recycled printer cartridges: Up to 97 percent of the materials in a printer cartridge can be recycled or reused. You can refill most ink cartridges 5-7 times.[7]
    • Recycled paper: Check out Conservatree’s list of recycled paper vendors for help with buying recycled paper.


Go paperless.

Going paperless can also help make your business more environmentally-friendly.  It means reducing paper use as much as possible through the use of electronic file sharing and storage. In addition to saving paper, going paperless helps your organization spend less money and create more storage space. Check out Microsoft’s tips on going paperless for more information.


Resources for More Information



Environmentally-friendly printing saves energy, reduces paper use, cuts down on waste, and improves your bottom line.


[1] “Energy-Efficient Office Equipment: A Pacific Energy Center Fact Sheet,” Pacific Gas and Electric Company, 1997, http://www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/about/edusafety/training/pec/inforesource/energy-efficient_office_equipment.pdf, accessed 5 August 2013.

[2] “10 Simple Things You Can Do To ‘Green’ Your Office,” Business Ethics, 4 August 2010, http://business-ethics.com/2010/08/04/1522-10-simple-things-you-can-do-to-green-your-office/, accessed 5 August 2013; “Trees Into Paper,” Conservatree, http://www.conservatree.org/learn/EnviroIssues/TreeStats.shtml, accessed 5 August 2013.

[3] “An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality,” United States Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html, accessed 5 August 2013.

[4] “Citigroup: Improving Paper Management,” EDF + Business, http://business.edf.org/casestudies/citigroup-improving-paper-management, accessed 5 August 2013.

[5] “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2007 Facts and Figures,” United States Environmental Protection Agency, (November 2008): 5. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw07-rpt.pdf

[6] Ananda Sankar Roy, et al., “Development of Mineral Oil Free Offset Printing Ink Using Vegetable Oil Esters,” Journal of Oleo Science 56, no. 12 (November 2007): 626-627. Available in full at: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jos/56/12/56_12_623/_article

[7] “Why Recycle Printer Cartridges?” Ink Guides, http://www.inkguides.com/ink-toner-cartridge-recycling.asp#why-recycle-printer-cartridges, accessed 5 August 2013.

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