I recently had the pleasure of giving a presentation on the topic of Eco-Friendly Office Organizing at the DC Ecowomen’s first all day conference in Silver Spring, MD. It was so popular that I thought it would make a great topic for a blog post, as it is something that comes up more and more often in our society today.
Whether organizing your work or home office, the three main areas that most affect the environment are paper, plastic and electronics. In the first part of this two-part post, I will be focusing on paper, the area that has the biggest impact both environmentally and organizationally.
First, a few startling statistics about paper:
According to the EPA, paper waste accounts for up to 40% of total waste produced in the United States each year, which adds up to 71.6 million tons of paper waste per year in the United States alone.
The paper industry is the 4th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions among the United States manufacturing industries.
Worldwide consumption of paper has risen by 400% in the past 40 years leading to increase in deforestation, with 35% of harvested trees being used for paper manufacture.
Not only does paper have a hugely negative impact on our environment, but it also contributes the most to office disorganization. We are all flooded with too much junk mail – too many memos and printed emails, coupons, flyers – paper in all its forms. When paper piles up, it is hard to see what’s important and focus on what really needs to be done.
The first and most important step in office organizing is to take a hard look at your paper and decide what really needs to be there and what doesn’t, and start reducing the influx of paper into your workspace. This will not only clear your mind and desktop, but will help the earth at the same time.
First, start by unsubscribing from catalogs, magazines, and mailing lists you don’t need or read that add unnecessarily to clutter. You can always go online to order things, and you can read your favorite magazines on line or on your tablet as well on apps like Flipboard.
There are some great free apps out there to help you unsubscribe from junk mail and catalogs – my favorite is PaperKarma, which works on both Apple and Android based products. According to PaperKarma, each US household receives about 850 pieces of unwanted junk mail per year. This adds up to more than 100 billion pieces of mail per year for the US, about 44% of which goes into landfills without even being opened!
The free PaperKarma app enables you to simply snap a picture of your unwanted mail, press “Send”, and get unsubscribed. It works best for catalogs, magazines, credit card offers and yellow/white pages. They do not sell or rent your information to anyone, and all webserver activity is done via SSL (strong encryption).
To opt out of all those pre-screened credit card and insurance offers that seem to constantly come in the mail, you can go to optoutprescreen.com and while you’re at it, get yourself on the Do Not Call list for those pesky telemarketers who always seem to call during dinner.
Next, you need to think hard about what paper you yourself physically bring into your home or office. Do you really need that flyer from Whole Foods, or can you take a picture of it on your smart phone to refer to later or look it up online? Do you need to clip paper coupons, or is there a coupon app you can use instead? CVS, Staples and most other major retailers all make their coupons available on apps these days. You can even snap photos of business cards with apps such asWorldCard Mobile which will then transfer the information directly into your address book. The less paper you bring in, the less visual and mental clutter you have.
Controlling paper outflow is also vitally important in organizing in the office. You don’t want to create more paper to just put in piles or to have to file. Think twice before printing, and try not to print temporary pieces of information like emails. If it is an email you need to refer to later, flag it and look it up in your smartphone, or create email folders by topic and archive them there for future reference.
Instead of printing documents, save them as PDFs on an electronic folder on your hard drive. You’ll end up saving on both paper and printer ink, which as we all know can really add up cost wise.
Another way to go paperless is to use cloud-based systems like Evernote to digitally capture all the bits of random information that you want to remember instead of writing it down on sticky notes or memo pads. You can scan, take photos or webclip everything from recipes, to travel plans, to useful household reference information, and save it directly into your Evernote account.
You can think of Evernote as an online bulletin board with virtually unlimited capacity and perfect organization capabilities. Evernote makes it so easy, that even if you don’t use their system of notebooks or tags, you can still find any note you entered by doing a search for any word that might be in that note.
Even with all the tips above, our use of paper is not going to disappear any time soon. So when you do use paper, you can reduce your impact on the environment by purchasing recycled paper. Paper made with 100% recycled content uses 44% less energy, 38% less greenhouse gas emissions, 50% less waste water, and of course, 100% less wood!
And for when you are done with your paper, make sure you have a recycling bin in your office – preferably right under your desk. It doesn’t have to be large or bulky, just something to separate paper from trash. And a cross cut shredder is key as well to shred anything with personal information on it. Shredded material can be recycled as well.
Penny Catterall offers professional organizing services for clients in the Washington DC Metro area. If you missed her workshop on Saturday – “Organizing your Life” – check out her page on facebook!