Print smart, reduce waste

by Ged McMahon 06 Jun 2016

Back in 1975, Business Week published an article entitled ‘The Office of the Future’. In that article, we heard about the paperless office and how it was going to revolutionise how offices work. However, 40 years later, take a look around your average work space and you’ll often see pieces of paper strewn across desks and bulging out of folders. Extend this to the average classroom and you’ll also often see random pieces of paper spread across student desks and crammed into already packed school bags. In 2016, the paperless office and classroom can still seem a long way away.

In the 40 years that have passed since 1975, we have no doubt seen incredible advances in technology. We have also seen significant changes in the way people use technology in their everyday lives. So, with the introduction of new technology, the obvious benefits to the environment when we use less paper, and the reduction of costs for schools when less printing is happening, why are we still seeing paper cluttering up classrooms?

So, with the introduction of new technology, the obvious benefits to the environment when we use less paper, and the reduction of costs for schools when less printing is happening, why are we still seeing paper cluttering up classrooms?
The answer to this question is the same as the old Facebook option for relationship statuses – it’s complicated. While it can be easy to point the finger at the ‘older generation’ (aka teachers) and their seemingly unshakeable attachment to printed material, students are not entirely faultless when it comes to excess paper usage. Whether they are simply taking the lead of teachers who continue to provide piles of printed handouts and photocopies or not, it is undeniable that students would benefit from using less paper at school. And these benefits are plentiful.


To begin with, reducing the amount of printed material in the classroom would obviously save your school money. Printing costs in schools vary due to a number of different factors – student numbers, printer availability, school budgets, student access to electronic devices, teacher and student attitudes towards paperless technology, etc. Due to these variances it’s hard to put a blanket figure on printing costs but it will no doubt be in the tens of thousands and, in some cases, may even reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Any kind of reduction in these figures would be beneficial to your school as the saved funds could then be redirected into other areas that are crying out for additional funding.

As a student, the security of your information and resources is paramount. This is especially the case when you consider that students are carrying so much or their work around in their school bag. A bag that, as any parent could tell you, can quite easily be lost on the way to or from school. Therefore, another benefit of digitising documents rather than relying on printed material is that it is harder to lose – as long as the student is carefully backing up their work on an external hard drive or online. Having digital copies of all of their important documents can significantly reduce the potential pain and anguish of leaving a school bag on the bus.

Hauling a mass of printed material around in their school bag has obvious implications for a student’s health. In addition to causing back pain in an important time of adolescent growth, some experts claim that, over time, a heavy school bag can make us shrink! Regardless of whether students will shrink or not, there is no argument that a lighter school bag is beneficial for the ongoing health of students.

Finally and, in the grand scheme of things, arguably most significantly, any reduction in printing is a win for the environment. Before we even think about disposing of paper, printers, and ink cartridges, the mere production of printing paper has a significant impact on the environment. Making paper is one of the most resource-intensive and polluting of all the manufacturing industries. So the less paper we use, the better it is for the planet. Reinforcing this message to students can play an important part in encouraging them to review the amount of paper that they use in the course of their studies.

These are just some of the benefits of reduced paper use. So, while the idea of a purely paperless office or classroom may still be something of a pipe dream, the closer we can get to it the better it will be for all of us.

Ged McMahon
Sub-editor, Education Technology Solutions

Ged McMahon is a qualified writer and editor with broad experience in both print and digital media. He is the former Editor of Australian Business Solutions, a magazine for owners and managers of small- to medium-sized businesses. In this role, he worked with some of Australia’s brightest business minds to provide relevant and dynamic content to the vibrant SME sector.

Ged is the current Sub-editor of leading industry magazines Security Solutions and Education Technology Solutions. These long-running magazines continue to serve the professional development needs of the security and education industries respectively. In addition to his involvement with the print media, Ged is the current Web Editor at a leading private school in Melbourne.