PDF is green tech for your 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.

Forms also present some of the best opportunities for process optimization throughout the organization. The real power of PDF lies in the ability to include JavaScript to help users accurately complete the form without assistance. With scripting, forms managers can add instructions, warnings, validation and other functions to calculate values, require specific fields before printing and generally ensure that forms are always legible, correct, complete when delivered.

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.

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About the Author: Duff Johnson

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