Every PDF sent, saved or submitted reduces your carbon footprint and saves money too. Appligent Document Solutions CEO Duff Johnson looks at the role PDF can play in the environmentally-aware and budget-conscious office.
Going green is no fashion statement
There are many reasons to focus on green technology. Even for those unpersuaded by ocean acidification (my personal peccadillo), global climate change, desertification, topsoil erosion, pollution, or wars over resource depletion, a sense of “greenliness” is growing. Business and government are listening – and looking to save money as well.
It just so happens that one of the greenest office technologies ever invented is already on your computer; the lowly PDF file.
How could PDF be green?
I’ve been in the “paperless office” business for 13 years, and in that time, I’ve realized that offices are never paperless – people are.
Think about why you would ever bother to create, send or use a PDF file in the first place. Why not send email, or Word files, or screen-shots, or links to web-pages?
Persuading people to stop using paper for important business documents and forms works only when they are convinced that the option of reliable printing will always be available to them.
PDF looks the same, wherever it’s displayed or printed, it’s universally recognized, and the Reader is free. That’s why PDF is the electronic equivalent of paper, or can be, if the people in the workflow are willing to see it that way.
Let’s see how PDFs can lighten your carbon footprint, and save your organization real money at the same time. PDF doesn’t become green technology until it actually replaces paper, and that’s a step most businesses haven’t (yet) taken.
Reducing print is just the beginning
The first, and most obvious way in which PDF can be green comes from simply resisting the urge to pull the trigger on some pale, defenseless cellulose. Worldwide, office-workers average 4,000 sheets, or 8 reams each year. Paper comes from trees (which eat carbon), and is very energy-intensive to make and ship. One of the reasons office paper costs a lot of money is that it’s just not green, even with post-consumer recycled content.
Paper’s expense, of course, isn’t just by the ream, but comes the form or printers, photocopiers and electricity and printer consumables. Other hard costs include shipping, sorting and filing as well as faxing, copying and scanning. These hardware, software and time-intensive clerical costs are all precipitated by physical paper; the lowest common denominator for transacted information.
Even if you don’t care for the modest expense and hassle of document management systems, the humble file-systems in desktop computers, allied with the huge space of modern hard-drives, itself makes the filing and retrieval process a function of personal and institutional organization rather than technology.
Saving money on printing and clerical labor is wonderful, of course, but for high-value documents such as applications, contracts, briefing materials, sales presentations and more, additional considerations often apply. Small file-size might be key. Confirmed authenticity may be vital, or the ability to easily share notes about a document could emerge as the difference between a significant expense versus no expense. For many workflows, ink signatures may be necessary.
To create effective electronic-paper workflows with PDF, you need to to look inside the document workflow, and select the concept that’s keeping the work itself “stuck” on paper.
Replacing paper forms with PDF
Electronic forms are the most obvious, yet still the most underutilized of environmentally-friendly, cost-saving technologies. PDF is uniquely suitable for replacing paper forms in no small part because it may be introduced gradually. Users may print a PDF form at any time in the workflow for paper-based processes whenever required.
Still worried about the forms that HAVE to be printed? Add barcodes to the printed pages, and the form can be easily scanned and returned to electronic document processes.
FedEx gets it there overnight, but PDF gets there in seconds
The vast majority of FedEx packages are nothing more than printed documents. As must be obvious, when paper gets a cardboard wrapper and an airplane ride, it’s the least green of paper. PDF gets the document delivered in seconds via email, not overnight via Memphis. Reforming that document’s workflow can therefore dramatically reduce both emissions and costs, and save time as well.
PDF was designed to deal with the problem of sharing documents between remote users. While digital signature technology has been available in Adobe Reader for some time, it remains impractical for many ad hoc and consumer-oriented workflows, certainly as of this writing. Even so, simply moving the printing operation to the remote user cuts your own costs and saves the transportation cost (and carbon).
Many other efficiencies are available to those taking a larger leap into electronic documents. Equipping a workforce – and customers – with legally-binding digital signature technology can eliminate a central cause of printing. A variety of online and offline collaboration solutions allow users to share marked-up PDF documents. Servers may be put to use facilitating document-management processes ranging from document assembly to page-numbering, from redaction to extraction.
At the end of the day, you still have to file it
During my career in document management, it’s never ceased to amaze me how so many people worry about “losing” their electronic documents. Sure, that can happen in a poorly administered system, but it’s hardly as if documents are never lost from paper-based systems!
Beyond physical loss, the key issue in electronic document filing is the ability to handle arbitrary documents equally, as paper-based systems can. PDF qualifies due to the qualities of reliability and consistency in print. For filing systems, it’s vital to know that a scanned receipt is visually identical to a photocopied receipt, and that an emailed receipt appears just the way the sender intended.
Like buying filing cabinets and implementing filing systems, electronic document management requires and rewards preparation and planning. PDF is the obvious format for any such document storage application That’s why PDF/A, the ISO Standard for archival PDF, was designed to address the requirements of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for ensuring the preservation of the original “as printed” page.
The green benefits of filing electronically are obvious. From filing cabinets to storage space, from furniture to staffing, paper-based approaches to document retention are low-hanging fruit for PDF-based document filing systems.
The basic tool required to bridge the gap between the carbon-intensive paper document present and the greener electronic document future was invented in 1993 as a way to streamline communications between publishers and printers.
Today, the humble PDF file is the file format of choice for “final” electronic documents. Properly created and deployed, PDF alone serves a critical need in reducing both business costs and environmental impacts.
By Duff Johnson