If you’re considering ways to go green, reducing the amount of office paper your small business uses is one of the easiest.

Cutting back on paper can be as low tech as setting the office copier to print on both sides of the paper, eliminating fax cover sheets, or reading e-mail online instead of printing it out. But it can get more sophisticated too, such as installing software on the company’s print servers so machines don’t spit out unnecessary pages.

Whatever course of action you take, it’ll help reduce the approximately 38.8 million tons of uncoated free-sheet paper used in the United States each year, according to a 2000 report from the American Forest and Paper Association, an industry trade group. Uncoated free-sheet is the type of paper used for things like printing, writing, office copying, and business forms.

Hot topic then and now

While going green is a hot topic, it’s not a new one. Environmental activists and energy researchers have recommended that companies reduce paper consumption for at least a decade. That’s how long ago Bruce Nordman, an energy researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories in Berkeley, Calif., created a website calledCutting Paper devoted to the subject. The information continues to be cited by environmental groups and others as a source for common-sense ways to cut back on paper. Some of those include:

  • Print on both sides -- On copy machines, set controls to “Default Duplex.”
  • Shrink image sizes -- On copy machines and printers, set controls to print out multiple pages per sheet of paper. “I print out most things two pages to a page and for things I only scan or want for reference I’ll print sometimes six, nine or 16 pages to a page,” Nordman says.
  • Eliminate pages -- Set printers so they won’t print out test pages when they’re turned on. Create company letterhead in a Word template that can be printed out as needed. Instead of fax cover sheets, use Post-Its with sender/receiver information.

A different tactic for eliminating paper: avoid it for storing or circulating information. Instead, use e-mail to send and review reports, edit materials online, ask that information be sent to you electronically, and save things on a hard drive, CD-ROM  or other electronic memory device, according to an Environmental Protection Agency office paper reduction tip sheet.

Software solutions

Recently, software tools have debuted for companies looking for large scale solutions. GreenPrint, a Portland, Ore., startup, makes software that analyzes documents sent to the printer for wasteful characteristics like a last page with just a URL or banner ad and stops them from printing out. The enterprise version also provides statistics that companies can use to monitor paper use. Xerox is distributing the software with its office copiers and GreenPrint recently closed deals to sell the software through computer retailers and big-box electronics retailers. FinePrint Software, a San Francisco company, sells a similar product called FinePrint that, among other things, puts multiple pages on a single sheet of paper, deletes unwanted pages and creates electronic letterheads.

Other paper-cutting suggestions:

  • Include tag lines on e-mail encouraging people not to print out messages unnecessarily.
  • Use alternative forms of marketing and advertising. Instead of printing PowerPoint slides to hand out after a presentation, use a website called SlideShare.com to share a PowerPoint or other slideshow. At trade shows, pass out marketing materials on CD or memory sticks instead of printed brochures.