February: Paper

North Americans consume more paper per capita than anyone else in the world.[1]  The manufacturing, transport, and disposal of paper consume significant water and energy resources and also release toxic chemicals into the air and water. 

In addition to the cost of paper itself, there are costs associated with managing paper. Studies estimate that the costs of using paper could be as much as 13 to 31 times the cost of purchasing paper, which includes storage, copying, printing, postage, disposal, and recycling.[2]  PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that on average, organizations spend in labor costs: $20 to file a document, $120 to find a misfiled document, and $220 to reproduce a lost document.[3]

The Yale Sustainability Strategic Plan 2013-2016 includes a goal to reduce paper purchases 10% from 2013 levels by June 2016. In Fiscal Year 2013, Yale purchased nearly 100 million sheets of paper.  If these were stacked one on top of another, the stack would be taller than Mount Everest!  

Sustainable choices you can make…

The following tools and tips can help you use paper wisely to minimize unnecessary use and waste.

Use electronic document storage: Box at Yale is a cloud-based file sharing and storage service that can be accessed from any computer, tablet, or smart phone. Instead of printing out a web page, select “Print to PDF” and save it as a PDF in your Box.

Have paperless meetings. Use a projector to display meeting agendas rather than printing hard copies.  Encourage note-taking on laptops, tablets, or smart phones using programs such as Microsoft OneNote or Evernote

Print fewer pages. Use smaller margins and font sizes or print multiple pages per sheet. Use the “Print Selection” option to print only the pages you actually need.

Print double sided. Make sure your printer is set to print double-sided by default. Be a good coworker and offer to help others adjust their printer settings.

Recycle.  Familiarize yourself with what and where to recycle in your workplace. If you have a desk, choose one location to keep used paper until you take it to the recycling bin. With single stream recycling at Yale, you can recycle copy paper, envelopes, magazines, cereal boxes, and even sticky notes all in the same place.


Additional Resources

Explore the Office of Sustainability’s paper toolkit.

Showcase your workplace’s paper reduction efforts and get Green Certified! Use the Office of Sustainability’s new Green Workplace Certification checklist to identify other easy sustainability projects as well.

See the World Wildlife Fund’s tips on responsible paper purchasing


[1] Forest Ethics.  “The Facts: Paper Consumption and its Impacts.”  http://forestethics.org/paper-the-facts

[2] Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “Become a Paperless Office.”