Panning the paper piles - Metro US

Panning the paper piles

With predictions of the paperless office well into their fourth decade, it may seem a mirage of eco-friendliness that will forever stay on the horizon. But a Canadian university department that went paper-free last year is saving money, time and space, not to mention the environment.

Cyprien Lomas of the University of British Columbia’s faculty of land and food systems says the small department in a big university is blazing a trail others should follow.

The IT expert says it worked because the ecologically aware faculty was “driven by values. Plus, it seemed like a good idea.”

“Every time paper was used, they asked the tough question: Do we really need to use this piece of paper?” he says. The ethos of the office changed to the point where using paper was almost embarrassing.

Staff used to work on a computer screen and then print off a version of the record for students to see. Now, they have two screens — one facing the student — and work together in real time.

Note-taking went paper-free, too. “Instead of writing on a piece of paper, (staff) use a screen technique and writing on a piece of transparency, which she can then wash afterwards and reuse,” Lomas says.

The venture made the expected savings in paper, cutting the expense of running a printer and fax machine, but also had unexpected benefits.

“One (staff member) spent a lot of time filing paperwork. By getting away from that system, she was able to phase that out, free up a bunch of her time and work on higher-value things,” he says.

It’s created work, too: other parts of the university and wider community now regularly call up the faculty to see how they, too, can go paper-free.

Sarene Gilbertson at Organize-Life-Inside-Out.com says if paper-less seems impossible, try less paper.

The keys to paper-free life are technology. She uses a scanner to import paper documents sent to her and then shreds the originals. Most of her billing is done electronically.

She also ditched her printer, using a print shop on the rare occasions she needs a hard copy, and tossed the fax machine. She uses digital faxing via MyFax.com, which allows her to send and receive faxes through her e-mail.

“I can function almost anywhere in the world with an ‘almost’ paperless office because I’ve simplified my files and how I use the internet,” Gilbertson says.

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