Document Management: Go Green, Save Green 

By Shell Haffner

A recent study at Purdue University showed that one lawyer can use up to 100,000 sheets of paper in just one year—enough to publish 347 copies of Harper Lee’s legal classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. It doesn’t take an ecology degree to know this adds up to a hefty carbon footprint for the legal industry.

As we become more educated about greener lifestyles, we apply changes in our personal lives, but bringing that mind-set into a legal practice can present a challenge. Can a small legal practice afford to change its ways and become more eco-friendly? Finding a better solution to the traditional paper-laden processes that many lawyers use may be the golden road to green, but every small practice must first be mindful of the bottom line. With the right technology, implementing a greener document management and print strategy can make a large impact, leaving your office running smoother and more profitably than ever.

Choose the Right Tool
Step one to a greener practice is to assess the tools currently used in the office. Documents are created, copied, printed, scanned, and faxed on a daily basis. Many practices have a variety of individual machines to handle these tasks, and each one uses electricity. A copier, two printers, and a fax machine can consume 1400 kWh of energy in a year. Replacing such a collection of stand-alone office products with a single, multifunction printer (MFP) that performs all of the same jobs uses only 700 kWh annually. By consolidating these products, you’re not only saving energy, you’re opening up valuable floor space and most likely saving money on lease and service agreements. In fact, energy savings can double if the multifunction system replaces products that are not ENERGY STAR qualified.

Thanks to advanced paper handling and finishing capabilities of today’s MFPs, print jobs such as full-color marketing brochures or finished briefs may now be produced in-house, affordably and with professional print quality. By decreasing the number of jobs you need to outsource, you can reduce the emissions needed to transport materials, communicate with vendors, and fulfill print orders.

Buying environmentally friendly office equipment is also a good practice, but this requires some homework. It’s important to take a look at individual manufacturers and their particular environmental practices for recycling. It is also critical to include the impact of supplies—paper, ink, toner—to get a comprehensive picture of the overall carbon footprint of your MFP.

Solid Ink Technology
Making the decision to switch to an MFP is a step in the right direction, but there are several types of MFPs on the market, each with a different environmental impact. What’s the responsible choice? A solid ink MFP. This technology uses solid ink sticks instead of toner or liquid ink and produces 90 percent less waste than a comparable laser device over the four-year life cycle.

Solid ink has been providing businesses with excellent print quality and an easy-to-use, environmentally responsible way to print for nearly two decades. Instead of rolling toner or squirting liquid ink onto the page to recreate an image, this technology uses resin-based color. This type of ink is instantly fused to the paper using heat and pressure, unlike toner and liquid ink, which are soaked up by the paper. Solid ink creates a sharp image, regardless of media. The resin contains no solvents, is easy to handle, and comes in stick form—a no-mess, nontoxic alternative to other print methods.

Solid ink is cartridge-free, so there is no excess waste to dispose of and far less packaging to end up in landfills. In fact, over an MFP’s life cycle, a typical cartridge-based laser printer produces about 450 pounds of waste; a solid ink machine produces only 23 pounds of waste.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when transitioning to a solid ink MFP is that it is a move toward a healthy environment and bottom line. The cost of operations over the life cycle of a solid ink MFP is much lower than that of ink-jet or toner-based machines.

Other MFP Features
When choosing an MFP, also look for—and remember to actually use—other environmentally friendly features. For example, an “intelligent ready” option minimizes energy use by learning your workgroup’s usage patterns and moving to a low-power mode when you are least likely to use it. So if the office typically starts printing around 9:15 am, the MFP will know to be powered up and ready to go at that time. And if business winds down around 5:30 pm, the MFP will recognize that it should go into a low-power mode until the next day.

Software solutions can be paired with solid ink MFPs to provide insight into print behavior and offer environmentally friendly suggestions that drive responsible printing. GreenPrint Software ( www.printgreener.com), available as a free download for many MFPs, eliminates waste before printing—saving paper, ink, and millions of trees. It does this by analyzing each page of every document sent to the printer and looking for typical waste characteristics (e.g., pages with just a URL, banner ad, or logo) and then highlighting and removing them. GreenPrint also allows users to remove images from a page with a single click before printing, resulting in significant savings in ink or toner. GreenPrint saves the average user more than $90 and 1,400 wasted pages per year.

Now, about Your Filing System . . .
An MFP can be a portal to a better way of filing, maintaining, and accessing information. Lawyers who have been practicing for any length of time can be buried beneath years of legacy documents, paperwork related to active cases, forms, client information, and research. Managing this incredible amount of paper consumes time, space, and often sanity. Using the scanning function of your MFP to convert paper documents to digital files and uploading them to an enterprise content management system can reduce time spent finding business-critical documents by 80 percent and ultimately reduce dependence on paper. This creates an immediate boost in customer service, response times, and overall efficiency within the office.

Converting to a digital content management system is relatively simple. Using scan cover sheets at the MFP routes documents into specific folders, allowing you to instantly organize, archive, and use all of your content. (Remember, also, to back up your documents to protect them from accidental loss, including natural disasters and other business interruptions.)

Sharing information becomes easier with a virtual system as well. Any team member can access the most current version of a document at any time, which speeds efficiency and reduces errors and misinformation. Documents are secure and accessible whether you are at home, in the office, or anywhere around the globe. Choosing a system that indexes documents creates an easy search-and-retrieval process. Instead of rifling through filing cabinets or stacks of paper, you can locate and use documents within seconds.

Keeping Information Safe
If you want to stay in business, your court records, statements, and other documents must be kept secure. Selecting a secure digital content management system is one part of securing all of your practice’s data. Many firms don’t realize that an MFP can leave behind an image on the system’s hard drive each time a document is copied, printed, scanned, or faxed. When building a plan to ensure sensitive information is kept safe at your practice, the security of your networked MFPs should be evaluated and viewed as a critical component. To effectively resist attack from internal or external intruders attempting to gain access to the information flowing through MFPs, look for these security features:

  • Secure print. Jobs are safely stored at the device until the owner enters a personal number to release them.
  • Network authentication and authorization. Access to scan, e-mail, and fax features can be restricted by verifying network user names and passwords in network directories prior to use of these functions.
  • Image overwrite. Information stored on the hard disks of devices are electronically “shredded” as part of routine job processing. The electronic erasing can be performed automatically when each print job is completed, or started manually as needed.
  • Encryption. State-of-the-art encryption ensures all data in and out of the MFP is unreadable.
  • Fax/network separation. There should be complete separation between the telephone line and the network connection to prevent an “open back door” to the network.

Be sure to look for these features when shopping for new equipment, and keep in mind that your current equipment may have security options of which you’re not aware, so check with your vendor to learn about what you may already have.

The Time Is Now
Taking steps toward sustainability becomes more important with each passing year. Choosing document management technology with green components and a digital content management system is an efficient, secure way to lessen the environmental impact of your practice—and to boost your firm’s profitability.

 

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