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The Value of Collaboration #2: Reducing how much your firm prints

Could you pick a more mundane use case than reducing how much people print at your firm? Yet a collaborative effort to do this can be worth a lot of money – more than the cost of your entire social business effort. 

In the catalog of solutions we’re compiling, printing is in a class of solutions targeting personal consumption. Printing, mobile phone bills, car service usage, file storage. All of these services tend to be bloated by waste since people typically don’t know how much they cost nor how to access cheaper alternatives.

We’ll examine each of these solutions in separate posts. Just reducing printing by 20%, though, could be worth $6 million to a large firm.

The problem

Although environmental awareness has reduced printing at many firms, we still print too much. And much of what we print is unnecessarily costly.

Without including printing for external clients, a large firm still prints between 500 million and a billion pages a year. For perspective, the World Trade Center in NYC is about 5 million pages high. Now imagine 100 or even 200 World Trade Centers stacked on top of each other stretching 60 miles into the sky. Or, worse, imagine cutting down a forest of 120,000 trees every year.

And we have more control over printing costs than you might think. A complex full-color title slide, for example, can cost well over 50 cents – 50 times more than a less colorful version and 200 times more compared to a simple black and white version.

The solution

There are many ways to reduce printing. Defaulting to black & white and 2-sided printing. Using simpler templates that don’t require as much toner. Using “pull print” technology to avoid those stacks of printouts people never pick up. Accessing docs via iPads instead of printing anything at all.

The hard part is changing behavior. And that’s where the social platform comes in.

Most people don’t know – don’t even think about – how much their personal printing costs and how much it adds up across the firm. The same is true for other personal consumption at work. For all of these campaigns, we’ll use the 4 elements of the “The Dragonfly Effect” framework that I described here:

Focus: Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.

Grab attention: Make someone look. Cut through the noise…with something unexpected, visceral, and visual.

Engage: Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering an audience enough to want to do something themselves.

Take action: Enable and empower others to take action…move audience members from being customers to becoming team members.”

Applying that to printing might look like this:

Pick a clear goal: “Reduce printing by 20%.”

Make people care about it: “We can save 22,000 trees and $6 million!”

Make it easy for them to change: “Here are 3 great alternatives.”

Give them feedback and stories to keep changing: “You’ve already reduced your printing by 8%. Together we’ve saved 5,200 so far this year.”

Just as “The Dragonfly Effect” relates numerous stories of using social media to drive social change, you’ll be using your firm’s social collaboration platform to drive behavioral changes across the firm.

What’s it worth?

I used to print and file everything – handouts from every meeting I attended, every document I commented on. Now, at work, I can store all those docs on the firm’s collaboration platform and access them via an iPad. That shift has reduced my printing costs to zero.

For those who don’t have this setup, simply changing templates and getting everyone to switch can reduce toner costs by 15%. Setting defaults to double-sided printing can reduce paper consumption by half.

The key is to spread the new behaviors across the firm.

Given all the alternatives, you could realistically cut printing by half within your firm. To realize $6 million in savings, you’d only have to reduce printing by 20%.

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

The main barrier here is that no one is responsible – and everyone is responsible – for printing. You need to find and connect the few technical people who can, for example, change printer defaults globally. And you also need to inform and motivate everyone across the firm to reconsider what they print.

That used to be impossible. Now, though, social tools and practices make solutions like this something every firm can and should implement.