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Getting greener: Don’t make it, don’t take it.

I’ve never been a big environmentalist. Never been anti either.  Just neutral.

But I’m increasingly aware of just how much crud I generate.  As far as I can tell, someone comes into our house every night while we are sleeping and fills all the garbage cans with paper.  The Trash Fairy? Garbage Claus?  (Admittedly, a huge percentage seems to be related to substances that come out of my 4-month-old baby.  She is a perfectly optimized milk-to-turd conversion engine.)

Here’s where I can make a little difference … follow along if you please.

Don’t Make It – Don’t Take It

1. Don’t take paper.  Don’t let people give it to you. 

  • Don’t accept printed marketing material. Tell them to email it to you. You don’t need to lug around a bunch of brochures. (This so disappointed my cool new design firm, who printed an amazingly attractive portfolio for me.  I’ll look at it online here.)
  • Tell restaurants you don’t need a bag to carry the already over-wrapped single sandwich you are going to eat in the next sixty seconds.
  • Buy stuff with minimal packaging.  I like these Avery folders, that just have a little sticker instead of being wrapped in cellophane. Train manufacturers to use less packaging by buying things with less packaging.

2. Don’t make paper.

  • Don’t print stuff just to file it (and then throw away 10 years from now).  Just save it on the hard drive and back up often.
  • Use tiny handouts instead of big brochures.  This bookmark is more effective than anything I’ve ever printed. It’s also cheaper, cooler, and 200 fit in your back pocket. Get creative, learn to tell your story in a 2×7 inch space.
  • Print large documents 2 pages per sheet (or 6 per sheet for powerpoint). All laser printers do this.
  • Stop printing emails.  I’ve started seeing the following on the bottom emails I received: "Please do not print this e-mail unless absolutely

3. Large-scale situations.

  • Conference producers: Stop printing handouts. Put them on a CD or memory stick instead. It’s cheaper for you, easier to travel with, and nobody wants a 300 page ring binder.  (Even better… put them all on SlideShare.)
  • Get rid of the copy machine. Offices that don’t have copy machines don’t make so many copies. You think twice when have to go to Kinkos and pay for it. You can do fine printing extras on a laser printer or using a little fax/copier deal for small quantities.

4. Exceptions.

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  1. Lindy Dreyer September 5, 2007 at 4:04 pm #

    Andy–I love your blog…and thanks for the post about reducing waste. I work on a number of conferences that are going paperless. There’s some controversy over whether CDs and memory sticks are the best way to go–a lot of energy and resources go into manufacturing them, compared with paper. Better to host handouts on the Internet, as you astutely suggested, and give people a printing station to print just what they need.
    Now–tell us how to get great WOM out of paperless meetings…thoughts?

  2. Andy Sernovitz September 5, 2007 at 5:06 pm #

    Thanks, Lindy!
    You do ask the right question. As a conference producer, I’d be thrilled to just get rid of all the reproduction of presentations. It’s one of the biggest expenses, and the biggest hassle.
    But attendees get upset when they don’t get stuff to follow along with, especially at a $1000+ event.
    Maybe we can limit speakers to a single-page handout?

  3. Bronwyn Ximm September 12, 2007 at 11:24 am #

    Great post! To pack even more “Don’t Take It” punch, people can take the step of reducing unwanted mail.
    The Center for a New American Dream’s site has a link to a web form that generates opt-out letters to a bunch of junk-mail generators:
    And — a for-profit company that donates to a lot of nonprofits — says it will zap 90% of your junk mail for five years, for a $41 fee.

  4. Michelle Rafter January 8, 2008 at 5:30 pm #

    Hi Andy: I’m a tech writer doing a story on going paperless for, the Inc. magazine Web site. I really liked the EPA info that you linked to, but have looked high and low and can’t find its origin on the EPA Web site so I can give it a proper attribution. Can you help?
    Michelle Rafter
    Contributing Writer

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