Four Ways To Start Printing Green And Saving Gr$$n

Recently, I was asked to plan an overall strategy for network printers and for long-term support for the printers. The opportunity quickly showed me how little I know about these devices in my office that staff use to print out recipes, Dilbert jokes, and, occasionally, documents for work.

A definition first: network printers are accessible for many users for their printing/scanning/photocopying needs. Most offices today employ network printers as opposed to the old-school method of everyone having their own.

When doing a benefit analysis of my office’s over-all print strategy, one of our main criteria was to reduce the use of ink and toner. It is a poor secret that printer companies sell the actual printers at low (or no) profit and then make much of their profits on selling ink and toner for their devices.

Even among your friends, I am sure you have heard of someone who bought a new printer instead of a replacement ink cartridge for the old one, since a new printer, which comes with ink, was cheaper. It is not much different in the network printer business, although those printers run in the thousands of dollars, so I urge you to consider a new focus on techniques that reduce ink and toner consumption. Doing so will provide you a double green benefit — both financial and environmental — for your bottom line.


The major manufacturers — HP, Lexmark, Canon, etc. — are very honest about the fact that they make big money from the sales of ink and toner and have recently taken on a quest to help support and educate their customers on print reduction techniques. For an analogy, this is similar to BC Hydro educating and offering financial incentives to its customers to use less power.

Why would a company help its customers to reduce use of the very product that feeds their bottom line? Unlike BC Hydro, which realizes that the longer they can keep power usage from rising, the less massive new infrastructure (think dams) they have to pay for, the computer printer industry’s reasons have more to do with competitive advantage.

Manufacturers realize that if they don’t help you bring down your costs, the competition will, and the last thing they want is another manufacturer’s printers becoming your office standard. Once they become your printer of choice, they have an easier time making sales, because you are locked into using their ink and toner cartridges.

There are four quick steps you can take that cost almost nothing to implement but, depending on the use and awareness of your office, can reduce printing costs (ink and paper) in excess of 10 per cent. That is nothing to sneeze at when you consider that an average office of 300-400 staff can easily spend in excess of $100,000 annually on ink and toner.

Before you implement anything, no matter how large or small, remember to benchmark your current costs and usage. Often, when we hear about a new tool that saves money or improves efficiency, we dive into it more revved-up than an underperforming salesperson who has just seen Tony Robbins in person. Benchmarking shows you where you are currently and whether the change actually provided the promised benefits or not. If not, you can determine where your estimates were wrong. If true, it provides you with ample savings and kudos to confidently implement your next progressive change.

The four free (and remarkably easy) steps you can make are:

  • Introduce duplex printing as the standard print default in your office. Duplex printing is printing on both sides of the paper and is very often not the default setting that most printers come with. Once set at the printer level, all print jobs default to two-sided printing, yet users retain the ability to set an individual job at single-sided. Duplexing doesn’t save ink, but it saves significantly in paper (providing both environmental and economic benefits) with shockingly little work required to change the settings.
  • Standardize your printers on as few different toner cartridges as possible. It seems like manufacturers are releasing new models faster than Mayor Stew Young approves building permits for Langford. Planning to have as few printers as possible and all with the same toner cartridge as much as possible is a big benefit for inventory control, user ease, and bulk buying.
  • Introduce Ecofont as the standard font in your office. Ecofont is a font developed to print letters made up of small circles instead of full black ink. Its website claims it can reduce ink use by “as much as 20 per cent.” Reportedly, 20 per cent is the amount of ink that can be removed and still leave type that readers find clear and legible. Ecofont works with Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Linux, and best of all, is free to download. Visit their website for further details and to download the software.
  • Educate your users about the costs (and current waste) of your printing. It is estimated by Gartner Research that approximately 10 per cent of all print jobs are forgotten and go uncollected. In my office, we actually keep a tray beside our network printers to house all these orphan print jobs. It is almost as if we are giving permission for wasteful practices. Better education and participation by users alone should make a sizeable impact on your print costs, especially on the costs of ink. In my office, printing in colour as opposed to black and white can, depending upon the printer, cost as much as 25 times more! That figure alone should make you consider black and white your default print setting and colour an extra-step option.

If too many “orphans” are still lying around your printer, consider introducing secured printing. Print jobs don’t come out of the printer until the user has either physically swiped a passcard or entered a code at the printer. This step alone helps prevent wasteful printing — if the job is not “released” within a set time period, it is set to delete, and the printout that was probably not that important to begin with never gets created. Secure printing is also an excellent tool to counteract the classic argument of “I need my own printer because I print very sensitive information.”

I have begun implementing these tools in my office and I look forward to updating you (or eating my words) on our progress in future columns.

Doug Caton is a Victoria IT manager.