4 Ways to Use Less Paper at Your Business

If you look in the trash can or – let’s hope — recycling bins at many businesses, you’ll probably find a ton of paper. Paper is one of the most common waste products at most businesses, and thus one of the biggest sustainability opportunities many small businesses have.

Cutting down on paper waste isn’t as easy as you’d think. For one thing, paper itself is relatively cheap, so business owners might feel like there’s little economic incentive to reduce it. Moreover, it’s hard to change perception that paper use has little environmental impact. But that’s not true: Recycling 1 ton of paper can save 7,000 gallons of water and enough energy to power the average U.S. home for six months, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Reducing paper use in the first place, then, can save a lot more.

Cutting down on paper waste should be viewed as high priority on your sustainability checklist, just like saving energy or reducing water use.  Here are four ways small businesses can cut down on their paper use.

recycle paper

1. Use printers that allow for double-sided printing. You can halve the amount of paper used by printing documents on both sides of paper. Some laser printers offer double-sided or “duplex” printing as a standard feature so you can easily set it up through your computer’s printer option features as the default mode. Others make it more tedious or impossible. Check into this capability before purchasing a new printer.

2. Repurpose used paper into notepads. Despite your best efforts, odds are you still have plenty of paper printed on one side that goes to waste. Collect this paper over time and turn it into small notepads for scratch paper. Many copy shops and office supply stores offer this service for less than a dollar per notepad, or you can bind them yourself by purchasing padding compound.

3. Cut down on junk mail. Junk mail to businesses accounts for a huge amount of needless paper waste. There are several strategies for stopping junk mail from being delivered to a business, which we’ve outlined before.

4. Go “paperless.” More businesses that traditionally rely on lots of paper for transactional purposes are finding ways to greatly reduce it. Some mortgage lenders, for instance, now put loan documents on jump drives and allow for electronic signatures to avoid printing out dozens of pages. Other businesses make PDFs of documents they want to save electronically rather than printing them out.

Of course, you still need paper for various things. So when you do buy paper products for your business, look for paper with a high post-consumer recycled content, such as 60 percent or even 100 percent.  This greatly reduces the number of trees cut down, gallons of water used and amount of carbon dioxide emitted to make that paper.


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

12 Reactions
  1. Martin Lindeskog

    I will print out this post! 😉 If you want to use less paper, how about stop reading the daily newspaper?

  2. Great tips! I run a paperless company. Beside a notebook to scribble notes while I’m on the phone, I don’t use any paper. My printer has been collecting dust for probably 4 years. My paper is strictly incoming utilities bills, over abundance of paperwork sent home from the kids school is a huge annoyance, but none of it comes from me!

  3. #1 – Stop printing things you just throw away later. Simple.

  4. Thanks, Kelly,

    I agree that,”cutting down on paper waste should be viewed as high priority on your sustainability checklist, just like saving energy or reducing water use.”

    In my industry, the 200-page FDD, (Franchise Disclosure Document) used to be printed out by the franchisors, and sent v1a US Mail..Fedex, to the prospective franchise buyer’s homes. Lots of paper waste there:

    Now, lots of franchisors give access to the document online, giving the franchise buyer the option of printing it out.

    However, it is a lot easier to go through the document when it’s printed, so maybe someone could come up with a better way to present it…not sure.

    It’s a good start towards sustainability, though.

    The Franchise King®

  5. Kelly,

    First, I would like to commend you on a well written article. You have listed good bullet points, all of which can greatly help in reducing the cost and environmental impact revolving around the use of paper. I especially like number 4, where you mention the use of electronic signatures.

    In many cases, business have started using electronic systems to originate and manage documents, but once something needs to be signed, they go right back to the old (not to mention tedious and expensive) paper process. Electronic signatures allow businesses to close this loop in their workflow, and keep the process fully electronic. There are many businesses out there that provided electronic signature solutions, which allow you to sign documents electronically without compromising the legal integrity, admissibility or legal enforceability of the documents.

    I work for a leading electronic signature provider and industry pioneer- eOriginal. (Who’s technology was actually used to execute the very first electronic mortgage back in 2000). I often speak on the benefits and ROI of going paperless, and I think you are right on point when you speak of businesses keeping paper process due to the low cost of paper; this is certainly one of the many factors. I would also like to add; most businesses don’t however think about the cost of faxing, scanning, printing (toner), filing.. etc, which can accumulate significantly. More importantly the cost associated with paying employees to do the faxing, scanning, filing, archiving, which in many cases can cost business upwards of $20 to $100 and up in labor cost; per set of documents.

    Thanks again for sharing this information!

    Best Regards,

    John Jacobs
    eOriginal, Inc

  6. We’ve been pushing on going paperless and fortunately there are a lot of excellent and free online services you can use to cut down on paper usage. Using Google Docs to take notes during meetings for example – it not only saves on paper but it lets you collaborate on one document so you’re being more productive as well!

  7. I’m a recent convert to ‘paperless’, after swearing for years that is could never be done. I’m in the equipment leasing business (i.e. financial contracts) and inked signatures was the thing that demanded paper. Still does to some degree as many financial institutions haven’t adopted digital signatures (yet).

    There were 2 keys to my becoming paper-LESS:
    1) Multiple monitors on my computer. Being able to have multiple electronic pages on my desktop so that I could look at one and simultaneously do data entry on another without having to Alt-Tab switch between them was vital. (If you’ve been wanting to justify a multiple-monitor setup, this is your excuse.)
    2) Full-blown pdf software so that I can actually mark up pdf documents with highlighting, boxes, circles, comments, etc. Basically allows me to do what I was doing with pens on the paper in my paper-MORE life.

    I used to blow through a case of paper every quarter. At my current pace, I’m using paper at the rate of a little more than a ream per year.

    Thanks for the great article!