Some of us remember that back when computers first became really popular, there was a lot of chatter on how we would become a “paperless society”. Wonder how that’s working out. Looking around our workplace, it seems like more paper, not less, is used on a regular basis. If the Health System had a Legislature or similar, I’d lobby to get a “Paper Use Reduction Act” enacted. When you understand how much paper we use, it’s really an eye-opener.

Stack of PaperOne of the questions new to this year’s Practice Greenhealth award application is “How many reams of paper do you use in a year?” Hmmm, I never gave that any thought, but I figured that I knew where to get the answer. I sent a note upstairs to Bill Corbett in Purchasing: how many reams of paper did the Med Center use in CY 2012? It turns out that it wasn’t a straight shot, as Bill queried someone in Material Management on campus, who, in turn asked the rep at OfficeMax. They were nice enough to send over a spreadsheet, which was important, as some data was in reams and other in cases (10 reams to a case). Once all the calcs were completed, I had the answer: 128,000 reams of paper. A ream holds 500 sheets, so, when all is said and done, that’s 64 million sheets of paper. Whew!

I was similarly surprised to see that there were over 200 line items on that spreadsheet. Granted, some were the same item, one line for case count and another for purchases by the ream. But I really have to wonder if we really need such a selection of paper. Sure, there are different sizes, and some in color, but I’d wager that 90 percent of our work comes out on 20# 8½ x 11 white copier/printer paper. And all of that should be on paper that is at least 30 percent post-consumer waste content (PCC), which means we’re giving the paper that we recycle a home. Most of our machines work just fine printing on 100 percent PCC paper, and I was heartened to see that quite a bit of the paper used was of this type. While the spreadsheet didn’t provide enough information to do a good drill-down, it looks like well over 75 percent of the paper used was at least 30 percent PCC, a good start!

One of the things that the Act would have us do is to emphasize electronic communication. A nurse recently asked me if I realized that some nurses print out every e-mail that they receive. I wonder why they’d do that. And why don’t the clinics e-mail the appointment reminder to me instead of wasting paper and postage by mailing it? At the conclusion of my appointment last week, I asked to “opt out” of the mailed reminder, and learned that opting out was not an option, as the system is set to automatically waste paper and postage. I also wonder why Training & Development, among others, sends out a ton of flyers for upcoming events instead of doing a mass e-mail. Finally, since I contribute to the Cancer Center, I get a lot of follow-on four-color glossy mailings. This would be a fine thing to receive as a PDF file via e-mail. I’ll bet that this is just the tip of the iceberg as far opportunities for saving paper via electronic communication goes.

The Act would also require all computers/printers to be set up for duplex (double sided) printing. I was complementing the guy at the clinic the other day about double-side handouts, and he said that he had to do those at the copy machine since his printer wasn’t capable of duplexing. Ack! He also noted that (what I assume to be) EMR did not have an option to print documents double-sided. Double-ACK! It’s a shame that conservation processes do not appear to be considered when setting up these complex programs. Discharge orders are similarly crazy. I was inpatient a few years ago, and was amazed to see that my discharge orders were not only printed single side, but the last several pages had only headers, with the page blank, no text (as I had no orders under those headers). Now that is ridiculous. And those are just examples that I have personally witnessed. We have to do better than that.

While I mentioned it under “electronic communication”, above, the Act would explicitly require an “opt-out” option on all processes, with you typically opting-in to receive documents electronically. This could cover appointment reminders, handouts, fundraising follow-ups and similar. It makes sense to me.

Finally, the Act would require us to “think before we print”. We often see this reminder under the signature block of e-mails from our green-thinking colleagues. Does the document need to be printed, or is it just as well saved to your thumb drive? I will admit that I’m old-school about reviewing documents: I prefer to print them out so they can be attacked with highlighter and red pen. Then, of course, I transfer my edits and thoughts to “strikeout and redline” on the electronic document. I’m hard to train, but I do think about it, and try to limit my printing for editing. If I can do it, you have no excuse.

Think about how you can streamline, minimize and otherwise make paper use more efficient in your work area. You’ll save money (paper, toner, postage) while taking some stress off of the environment. Send any good ideas that you come up with to me.

And what if you want to put the “Paper Use Reduction Act?” into play? That’s easy: Vote for me.

Do something Green today!