Environmental practices

Two related pieces caught my eye over the weekend. One was called Ruses to cut printing costs, in September 2, Technology Quarterly, (Economist). And the other was on the environmental costs of business travel including conferences.

The first piece notes that "In Europe, meanwhile, each worker prints an average of 31 pages a day, seven of which were not even wanted, according to recent research by Lexmark, a printer manufacturer." It goes on to describe an idea which is totally obvious when explained

'The cost of all that paper, toner and ink quickly adds up. Which is why, earlier this year, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay adopted a novel strategy to save money on print supplies: it changed its fonts. Programs like Microsoft Outlook default to Arial, but a thinner-lined typeface such as Century Gothic requires less toner or ink to form its characters. A study in 2009 showed that switching to Century Gothic could save businesses as much as $80 per printer per year. The university predicts that this year it will reduce its $100,000 print-supplies bill by around 10% by making this simple change.'

The rest of the article describes several ways of making fonts more printer economical, saving paper, and cutting the cost of printing ink/cartridges.

The second piece is about business travel, and ways to track greenhouse gas emissions and control travel in a way that reduces emissions. Last week I saw a very interesting demo of a conference module designed to reduce the environmental impact of conferences. Briefly it works to recommend a conference destination that is the most emissions friendly based, among many other factors, on the originating destination of all the people who are invited to attend. It's very clever.

Both these are clearly sensible thing to try and that's where I got interested because both pieces noted some hurdles to overcome the travel piece noting that "culture is a strong inhibitor to changes in transit behaviors and reducing business travel." And the fonts piece making the point that

Citigroup once estimated that it could save $700,000 a year and eliminate 76 tonnes of solid waste if every employee saved only one sheet of paper per week by using duplex printing or copying. Duplex printing is a common feature on modern printers and copiers. But when was the last time you used it? The real challenge, as the EU guide notes dryly, is persuading people to "actually use the duplex function".

So both pieces recongize that reaping any benefit from the good ideas and technology requires people to change attitudes and behaviors. Neither go on to explore what stops them. Motivation theorists are likely to come up with ideas on this as are the neuroeconomists but for someone charged with managing the printing or travel budget with no background in this theories – how are they going to tackle the challenge of changing behaviors. Spurred by the fact that I am working on a program that requires us to meet both the challenge of printing costs and of travel costs in relation to (yet to be determined) emissions targets I have come up with the following suggestions:

Carrot suggestions

  • Set targets and encourage competition between teams and departments to cut printing costs and reduce travel and conference emissions.
  • Communicate extensively about the 'what's in it for me' of the reduction of emissions by personal behavior. (This falls down a bit because what is in it beyond a warm glow or an adherence to values?)
  • Make it fun to save emissions. There's a lovely YouTube clip on encouraging people to take the stairs rather than the escalator by converting the stair treads into a piano style keyboard that plays as people walk up or jump on them.

Stick suggestions

  • Make the targets very clear so on business travel give each department head the instruction that travel will not be approved or budget for conferences forthcoming until there he/she shows that the emissions software has been used to determine the location.
  • Give people a personal stock of paper, for example a ream a quarter, and fix the printers and copies so people have to put in their own paper. If they exceed their paper allocation they have to get approval from some higher up.
  • Make managers and individuals accountable for saving carbon emissions and reduce any performance bonuses or pay rises if they can't show what they have done. (Agree personal emissions reduction targets with them).

I'm guessing that some of these carrot and stick things are happening already. Let me know if they are working or if you have other suggestions.