Providence goes Paper-Lite to reduce its appetite for printer paper

April 15, 2011

Remember the bright promise of the paperless office?

Computers were supposed to make that possible. But email and personal computer networks arrived with versatile high-speed printers. Soon everyone was awash in paper, much of it attractively highlighted in color, conveniently collated and stapled. And so much of it abandoned on chairs and coffee tables after countless meetings.

"We all talk about going green," said Debbie Burton, vice president and chief nursing officer for Providence Health & Services. "Meanwhile, everyone hits 'print' until the cows come home."

Burton was shocked by the extent of print mania when she inquired about the costs of ordinary supplies at the Providence system office in Renton, Wash., near Seattle. The biggest single item? Printer paper.

"I was stunned," she said. "Surely there was a way to fix this."

Burton gathered with several other Providence employees, including Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Jan Jones, and created the Paper-Lite Initiative. Rather than monitor each employee and dangle threats, this committee promoted ideas for conservation and asked all 250 system office workers to sign pledges to use less paper. And they made it a friendly competition among departments within the three-building complex.

The result was significant. Jones said the office bought 1.7 million fewer sheets of printer paper in 2010 than it needed in 2009, when 4 million pages were fed through 25 printers. Jones said employees also printed less often in color — a major savings in itself.

The initiative didn't calculate money saved. But with the Providence office's printing costs ranging from 1 cent per black-and-white page to 7 cents per color page, that would put it somewhere between $17,000 and $119,000.

The committee rolled out its initiative in early 2010 with information tables outside of staff meetings. They asked employees to sign small paper leaves, which were attached to a large poster of a tree. Those taking the pledge received reusable cups with the Paper-Lite logo.

The committee also offered specific ideas for change, such as printing only in black and white, printing on both sides of a page or using laptops and projectors in meetings rather than printed handouts.

The committee monitored the print counts at the 25 machines and, beginning in April 2010, began posting monthly use by department on tables and graphs. The committee provided updates in a monthly office e-newsletter.

All of that, of course, went out electronically to save paper.

"It's been a great way to create cultural change," said Jones. "And it's not really hard to get people to change, because we're talking about things that we just hadn't thought about before. Like setting printers to default so they won't print color. Or not printing out PowerPoint presentations with one or two words on each page."

For a gentle nudge, the committee would move the pledge poster to the department that had the weakest results the month before. The group makes allowances for unavoidable jumps in printing, such as periodic accounting reports.

Burton said one reason why people have honored their pledges is that the committee explained conservation as a way to further Providence's Catholic mission to preserve the earth.

"We're not just doing this to save money, but because it's mission work, it's stewardship," Burton said. "Had we just told people to cut back and try to enforce it, it wouldn't have been so successful."

Jones said the Paper-Lite committee has prepared instructional materials for other Providence locations. Those in Spokane, Wash., and Portland, Ore., already have begun their own versions.

Back at the system office, the committee encourages continued conservation by reminding employees that their efforts in 2010 saved 145 trees.

"It's compelling because it's the right thing do to," Jones said. "And we've had fun doing it."

The Paper-Lite pledge

I will only print when necessary.
I will set my printer default to black and white.
If possible, I will print in black and white rather than color.
If possible, I will print double-sided rather than single-sided.
If possible, I will print PowerPoint slides with three to six slides per page rather than one slide per page.
If possible, I will bring my laptop to meetings rather than printing off meeting material.
I will recycle all paper I am no longer using.
I will encourage others to use Paper-Lite practices.


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.