A Blizzard of Paper

A recent University of California-Berkeley study found that information stored electronically grew by a whopping 80 percent between 1999 and 2002. And even though less than one tenth of one percent of that data was printed, the amount of printed matter still grew by 36 percent during that same period. "Contrary to notions of paperless offices floated by futurists in the late 1980s and early 1990s," the report said, "the consumption of office paper has gone up substantially in recent years." Not surprisingly, the U.S. is the biggest paper muncher, accounting for 33 percent of all printed material.

When I’m not publishing and making my editorial contributions to E, I actually make my living selling printing, so I’m all-too familiar with the paper-consuming habits of businesses. My observation is that we’re not moving toward the paperless office—instead we’re simply moving the printing process from the press to the desktop computer. Computers and printers are so sophisticated now that you can create your own forms, stationery and promotional literature without calling in the print salesperson.

Jerry Russell

In my 30 years in the business, I’ve seen pre-printed forms (which used to be the bulk of my work) fade away, replaced by plain paper imaged instead by the computer. We’re using fewer sheets of paper as a percentage of total data output, but as the UC Berkeley study found, the information overload continues to mount, and we’re using more paper every year.

There’s an incredible amount of paper waste just about everywhere you look. Our subscription fulfillment company sends me a six-inch-high stack of paper each month, of which I occasionally look at a dozen pages. E contributes to the problem directly, too, considering that only 50 to 75 percent of newsstand copies sell (a fairly good achievement in this wasteful industry) and the rest get shredded and (maybe) recycled at the retail level. And, of course, even many of the copies that do sell, including subscriber copies, get tossed after they’re read.

So who better than E, "the environmental magazine," to look into a paperless version? We published a short notice about this in our last issue and some of you have gone to our website to view a demonstration and register your opinion. If you haven’t already done so, please try out our "flip book" edition at emagazine.com/paperless and let us know what you think. But don’t worry; we’re not going to abandon the paper version, at least not yet. If it’s going to be a go, we"ll be offering both.

As a step in saving trees, this issue’s package on paper and tree-free alternatives is printed on a Vision Paper blend of 10 percent tree-free kenaf and 90 percent unused food packaging paper. Many large companies are using kenaf and kenaf/wood blends for annual reports as a way of greening up operations, but it’s still a struggle to establish a market for non-wood paper. So if it’s going to be that way, we can save trees and landfill space by going "tree-free" electronically. It’s inevitable anyway, and our job is to help make it happen sooner rather than later.

Doug Moss