Many ways available to reduce paper use

For the London Free Press - December 21, 2009 Read this on Canoe

This Christmas, give a gift to the planet and use less paper.

Lawyers may be one of the worst offenders when it comes to printing things instead of reading and saving them electronically.

For the most part, we have the technology -- it's primarily a habit and mindset issue. After all, the electronic documents we create on our computers are actually the originals. Paper versions are really just copies.

Here are a few things we all can do:

- Don't print anything unless it's really necessary. I'll say more on this later.

- Ask those who send us documents to send them electronically.

- Stop using fax machines. Indeed, get rid of your fax phone line, recycle your fax machines, and disable the function on multi-purpose machines. Anything that can be faxed can be e-mailed as an attachment. If you absolutely must receive faxes, set up a computer to receive them, so they don't have to be printed.

- Stop doing paper reports. Lawyers, for example, often send clients binders full of documents after closing a deal. It's important for clients to have those, but except for signed original documents, there is no reason why most of that can't be done electronically.

Printing hard copies can be expensive, time-consuming and wasteful. So before you hit print, ask yourself why you're printing:

- If it is to read the document, read it on the screen.

- If it is to save it, save it electronically. Think of hard drives as a virtual filing cabinet. Electronic storage space, storage and search utilities, and backup solutions are all inexpensive. It takes far less space than paper, and has the added advantage of making it easier to find things later.

- If it is to share it with someone else, e-mail them the document or a link to it.

- If it is a letter to mail, print it as a pdf and e-mail it instead. That preserves the look and formality of a letter for things you don't want to just send as an e-mail.

- If it is necessary to print something for someone else to have, think about how you can summarize the important parts quickly, and provide web addresses for parts that are common or for background material.

All these things can be done without investing in new technology. Sometimes, such as when reviewing or commenting on a document, writing on it in pen is quicker and more efficient than using electronic comment tools. But even that can be reduced. Tools are available that let you write on an electronic document just as you would on a paper version.

If you use a laptop, consider a tablet version. Tablets have been around for years, but have not sold well, in part due to the premium price. Windows 7 includes good touch-screen and tablet features. And some predict that 2010 will be the year of the tablet computer.

If you use a desktop, USB-connected tablets to write on have become affordable.