Greening my office: these guys print everything

| 18th February 2010
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In the first of a new blog, young environmental pretender Sylvia Sunshine reports on her attempts to convert her office workplace to more sustainable practices

My inaugural week of work is finally finished.

It’s been my first five consecutive days of ‘nine-to-five’ since I was hit by redundancy last year. And it marks the start of my latest project: to ‘greenify’ my office.

After an hour at my desk the first target appears obvious: paper. I’m surrounded by piles of shredded trees; in bags, in files and on shelves.

The stationery cupboard is piled high with post-its, hardback dividers and notepads, and I’ve even got access to three printers: one colour, one non-colour (though this model is later shown to have colour printing-capabilities) and one printer dedicated to the office’s big cheese.

View from the boss

‘We just like to keep everything separate’ my boss says. ‘It makes things simpler.’

Hmmm, this is not my idea of simplicity, nor is it my idea of sanity, but I let it pass without comment. Still, how can having a choice of three printers make anyone’s life ‘simpler’?

But it doesn’t stop there. After my second day I conclude that my office contains a tiny army of trigger-happy paper-printees. Predictably this is bad news: for my concentration levels, for the junior trainee - whose job it is to carefully file away every last morsel of printed word and most importantly, for the environment.

However, when I enquire, I am told that secretaries must print out emails and documents for bosses to read; bosses must print out notes for secretaries to type up; and clerks must print reports to keep a record of the above.

It’s a paper trail worthy of any environmental criminality.

Too busy to read

‘John is just too busy to look at his emails on the screen or print them off himself,’ said one of the secretaries.

‘He needs them to be printed or else he wouldn’t be able to keep up.’

An interesting, if frustratingly backwards idea: how can John (the big cheese), who is never more than a sharp lunge away from his Blackberry, be too busy to read emails but not too busy to read print-outs?

Feeling mildly deflated I broach the topic with my boss. But once again I am rebutted; though this time for slightly more considered reasons:
‘I have to print everything off because I’m not used to reading from the screen. You were probably taught on iPhones and touch screens right?’

I nod politely (though, being born in the 80s, this is of course factually incorrect).

My boss goes on: ‘I can’t take-in documents on the computer. I can read specific snippets of text or glance at an image, but I cannot absorb an entire document.’

Printing all the time

I understand my boss’s sentiment. I too love the romance of newspapers and books. But in the workplace I see print as a luxury or an alternative, not as the norm.

‘It’s pretty standard for me to need to print on paper’ she says with a smirk.

‘My eye-to-brain coordination just isn’t programmed for the screen. I was taught with a paper and a pen. Computers are too busy, they give me a headache.’

This comment brings up an interesting issue. My boss is not thick. She is relatively environmentally-savvy and she is even willing to listen to up-starts like me. But she is hindered by a generational-technological barrier; unable to re-program herself; unable to change.

This coupled with the complex trail of supposedly-required printing, means that the relentless printing regime currently in operation in my office, will remain - for the time being.

Week one: a false start


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