9 Sneaky Ways to Get Employees to Print Less

No matter how many steps companies take toward the paperless office, there are still some people who just don’t get with the program.

Maybe it’s out of habit. Or maybe they’re the tactile sorts who just don’t feel comfortable without something in their hands.

Nonetheless, companies still look for ways to discourage printing. There are, after all, so many costs associated with printing. Here’s just a few of them. Individually, they’re small, but they really add up:

  • Paper
  • Ink
  • Energy to run the printers and printer servers—as much as 3000 kWh per year
  • Printer wear and tear
  • Employing people to maintain printers, change paper and ink, and so on
  • Storing, scanning and tracking the paper you’re keeping
  • Disposing of the paper you’re getting rid of

There are lots of great lists out there of steps people should follow to reduce printing and move towards the ROI of a paperless office:

But, sorry to say, people are lazy, not to mention busy. You can put up all the inspirational posters and signs you want, but they aren’t necessarily going change people’s behavior, because change is hard. So you have to be sneaky and do it for them.

For those times when people feel like they just have to print something, here are 9 ways to reduce it.

Eliminate personal printers and move to shared printers. Remember, each individual printer has to be stocked with ink and paper, as well as maintained. That adds up—as much as 2 cents per page, or $1,000 for every 50,000 pages printed. And don’t tuck the shared printer in a corner. “You can place networked printers near the location of the office manager, or whoever is in charge of maintaining and restocking them,” writes Christopher Null in PC World. “People who get dirty looks because they’re printing too much are likely to self-regulate their usage over time.”

Have people print their jobs at the printer itself. How often do people forget that they’ve printed something out and print it again? From 10 to 35 percent, according to industry reports. Using a virtual print queue, which means the person is explicitly at the printer before their job is printed, makes sure they’re there to retrieve it. (And in the process, you could add a connector to your enterprise content management software to encourage users to scan the document directly into the system instead of printing it out.)

Use printer policies. Want to reduce late-night printing, giant print runs (which might be accidents), or heavy use of color? Use printer servers or other printer management controls to limit them. You can even have different policies for people at different levels of the organization.

Change the default setting on all the printers from “single-sided” to “double-sided.” As Cass Sunstein writes in his book Choosing Not to Choose, people won’t necessarily think to change the default, so set it to double-sided. When Rutgers University implemented such a system, it saved them 55 million sheets of paper—a 44 percent reduction—in the first three years, while a Swedish university reduced paper use by 15 percent, he reports.Other useful defaults are greyscale and draft mode, as well as shrink to fit, Null writes.

Track individual use of printers. Use managed print services to monitor individual and department use of printers. Now, we’re not going to cast any aspersions on people who might be helping manage outside activities, but printer use mysteriously goes down when individual use gets tracked. “Most people are shocked to find out their individual cumulative number of copies,” writes the World Wildlife Federation (WWF). “This knowledge will motivate people to reduce their personal paper footprint.” If you want to get really tough, implement print quotas.

Use chargeback systems to account for costs. Such systems also let you assign costs per printer, so you can attribute low costs to the efficient printers you’d like people to use, and higher costs to the expensive printers you don’t want them to use.

Reduce margins and typeface sizes. Remember in college when you used big margins and fonts to make those ten-page papers less arduous? This is the reverse. Just changing the margins can reduce paper use by up to 14 percent, writes the WWF.

Change fonts to use less ink. While you can’t expect to save $370 million, as some have claimed, every drop helps. “Century Gothic uses so much less ink than industry-standard Arial that a company printing 250 pages a week would save about $80 a year by doing nothing more than switching fonts,” Null writes. “The more professional-looking Times New Roman was nearly as cost-effective.”

Use thinner paper. Paper comes in different weights. Who knew? “Don’t feel you have to use specialist inkjet or laser paper for day-to-day work,” writes Simon Williams in TechRadar Pro. “Many cheaper papers work well, including multi-use types, designed to work in both types of printer.”

And please, we beg of you: Don’t print this out and hand it around. Emailing it will do the trick.