Remember the predictions just a few years ago that technology would turn us into a paperless society? It doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon. The American Forest and Paper Association reports that the average American uses approximately one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products per year.
In the office, the average American worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year, according to the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. That’s 4 million tons of copy paper used annually. In fact, the typical business will generate approximately two pounds of wastepaper per employee per day.
While some might argue that this is good news for a paper-making state like Wisconsin, the reality is that paper waste has a tremendous impact on office costs, productivity and our environment.
“Paper and paper usage is really a hiding place for huge amounts of time, effort, inefficiency and costs,” says Greg Lake, president and CEO of The Lake Companies, a Green Bay-based company that helps manufacturers leverage technology in innovative ways to become more efficient and effective. “The right technology can produce dramatic reductions in paper use as well as saving time and hard dollars that are hiding behind that paper.”
Of course, there are some simple, direct solutions that help cut down excess paper usage and minimize the amount of wasted paper. Set your computer to print double-sided, if possible. If a sheet is printed on one side only, use the other side for draft copies or internal documents, or as scratch paper. Promote a think-before-you-print attitude, only printing what is necessary. Eliminate unnecessary forms or at least make them electronic.
Companies can experience huge scalable gains by examining the overall systems they use for processing and storing information.
“Too often, software technology in manufacturing is cobbled together,” says Lake. “You have a system for sales, purchasing and accounting, another for CRM (customer relationship management) and still another out on the shop floor.”
When the systems are not set up to “talk” with each other, companies use paper printing out drawings, orders and job status reports, photocopying and distributing updates, and then have to find room in already overstuffed file cabinets to keep a paper trail.
The answer can be a well designed, integrated document automation system. American Excelsior Company, a producer of flexible foam, erosion control and excelsior wood fiber, uses Lake Companies’ Doc-Trak software to improve its communication and to reduce waste.
“We’ve streamlined our operations, improved work flow and increased productivity, and become a much more efficient, nearly paperless organization,” says Nick Goodman, systems administrator at American Excelsior, a company based in Arlington, Texas, with Wisconsin operations in Rice Lake and Sheboygan. “Because of the system, some of our employees have several more hours a day to do work that really counts, as opposed to manually tracking and printing reports.”
Early on, the company saw a significant reduction in printing and significantly decreased the need for file room storage.
MCL Industries, a family-owned business in Pulaski, engineers and manufactures electrical and electromechanical assemblies for heavy-duty equipment. Prior to implementing ther Doc-Trak system, “we struggled with outdated documents on our shop floor,” says Mathew Connell, MCL’s controller. “And because we had multiple file locations, maintaining our paper records was extremely time consuming.”
“The system enables us to tie current documents to each job order – saving considerable time that had previously been wasted filing and searching for paperwork,” continues Connell. “And, even more importantly, we’re now sure our employees are performing their jobs based on the latest project documentation.”
Regardless of what system is used, putting technology to work to reduce paper is a hallmark of lean efficiency.
“While all of us need to do a better job of being cost effective with the paper we use, more significant benefits can come from eliminating workplace paper altogether,” says Randy Bertram, a senior manufacturing specialist for the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Bertram is also the director of Wisconsin’s Profitable Sustainability Initiative, a 50-company effort to improve profitability and sustainability in small and mid-sized businesses across the state.
“We want people to see that reducing paper not only contributes to sustainability, it helps profitability. It helps your employees be more productive,” says Bertram.