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7 Green Tips for the Paperless Professional

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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Green Tips posts, a collaboration between WebWorkerDaily and our sister site, Earth2Tech.

Going paperless is now a realistic option to making your work life more friendly on the planet and more efficient in general. From web-based faxing, to replacing all mail with email, to toting around your own coffee mug, the benefits of eliminating paper can both preserve natural resources and save you money. Ditching excess paper can also streamline many business practices, eliminating clutter and adding searchablity, data protection and ubiquitous access. Here are seven tips to get you started on your green paperless office.

1. Faxing & Mail

Bring faxing into the digital age. Web-based faxing services have been around for a while, and services out there include GreenFax, and MyFax. To make the most out of these variously priced fax capabilities, be sure to make a digitized version of your pen and ink signature on a transparent background. The next time you need to sign something and fax it back, you’ll be all set to do it without ever printing.

Services that convert paper mail to email don’t actually help to save paper, and some have faced privacy concerns. But the innovative Zumbox offers an electronic alternative to your physical mailbox. Users can send the electronic files of would-be snail mail pieces directly to your Zumbox, just by knowing your street address. Businesses can also pay to contact target customers within certain geographic areas with special offers. While Zumbox needs to build momentum to really be useful — as they need a critical mass of both senders and recipients to work well — it’s a concept that has been proven by postal services in other countries.

Most mailed paper bills can be eliminated with e-billing. Opting out of direct marketing (i.e. junk mail) and pre-approved credit card offers (call 1-888-5-OPTOUT) will also help reduce the amount of dead trees coming into your mailbox.

2. Invoicing

You don’t have to just receive e-bills, but you can generate them, too. Invoicing software like QuickBooks generates invoices that you can email. there are plenty of “freemium” online options too, including Freshbooks, Cashboard and CurdBee, or for a really simple solution, try the Google Calendar Invoice Creator (s goog).

3. Schedules & Calendars

Calendars and agendas can be hard to let go of in physical form, but the advantages of going paperless can ease the pain. With Google Calendar, MS Outlook (s msft) and Apple’s iCal (s aapl) your schedule is available and up-to-date wherever you go. Online task managers like Google Tasks and Remember the Milk can keep you on top of all of your to-do lists for a project without using a scrap of paper.

4. Mobile Tools

Your cell phone can be one of the easiest tools to help you banish the paper build up. A variety of iPhone, Android and BlackBerry (s rimm) apps allow you to invoice (Freshbooks), manage tasks (Task2Gather), handle scheduling (Tungle and TimeBridge) and remotely back up your files (SugarSync). Better yet, apps such as DocScanner, JotNot, and WorldCardMobile turn your phone into a document or business card scanner, getting rid of the need to bring paper back home with you. Online service Qipit, which is also available as an iPhone app, allows you to use any cameraphone (or plain digicam for that matter) to make digital copies of whiteboards or documents.

5. Digitizing What You Can’t Avoid

Try as you might to avoid eliminating paper, chances are you will get stuck with some sort of paper that you need to keep on file. A number of services can help get the paper clutter out of your office and into the cloud. Shoeboxed and OfficeDrop both make scanned versions of hard copies that you send them by mail, and customers can also upload files to the services for offsite storage.

If you prefer to do the scanning yourself, there are a few hardware options that are worth the investment. The Fujitsu ScanSnap combination of auto-feed document scanner and integrated software wins raves reviews from users. The retro-futuristic Neat Receipts and cute-but-functional Doxie both offer more portable scanning with OCR and cloud-based storage integration.

6. Storage

Backing up all of the important documents you’ve just digitized is a no-brainer. You can use Mozy (available in “Home” and “Pro” flavors for a fee), DropBox (up to 2Gb free) or LiveMesh (up to 5GB free) to move your important files to the more energy efficient cloud.

7. Where You Least Expect It

If you really get ambitious about phasing out paper from your daily routines, you can try some extra steps. Replace your sticky notes with reusable adhesive dry-erase sheets. Also consider eliminating the paper from your morning coffee ritual with reusable filters and a travel mug, instead of the paper cups from the café. Finally, if there’s still paper you just can’t cut out of your life; reuse it as scratch paper, recycle it or add it to your compost.

What technology or tactics do you use to avoid using paper? Share your answers in the comments.

Trenton DuVal has managed the online communications efforts of nonprofits focused on creating a more sustainable, just and equitable world since 2005. His varied experiences living and working on five continents have included professional gold farming, crossing the Atlantic by sailboat, a few meals with Nobel Laureates and a tragic run-in with a three-toed sloth.

Photo courtesy Flickr user EricaJoy, licensed under CC 2.0

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19 Responses to “7 Green Tips for the Paperless Professional”

  1. Thanks for these tips. I think paperless will soon be the in thing in the next few years to come, as more people will come to appreciate the ease and convenience of using these solutions. Yes, there will always be questions in security. We always want to have something to hold, something tangible.. and when electricity fails, that’s when you will miss your good old paper. Until then, we have to go greener by lessening the clutter.

  2. I believe you’ve written a very useful info here that many should read – specially those who are not that ready to embrace the paperless idea. I’m using cloud computing that saves me more money, space, and energy – where my files are accessible anytime, anywhere. Did you all know that almost 50% of industrial wood are converted into paper? Let’s utilize technology and help our planet go green for the next gen.

  3. I agree with the comments about reducing unnecessary printing and paper use, especially eliminating disposable one-time-use items. However, this article has more to do with the usability of data then with limiting our impact on our environment. Data stored in an electronic format has better retrieval, but poorer sustainability. If you consider that 50% of US energy comes from coal, we would be better off carrying around an address book and calendar then plugging in a smart phone. Your article also failed to consider the effects of a constant pursuit of an evolving technology. I could throw away a hundred calendars made from sustainable forests and not even come close to the environmental impact of you recycling (down-cycling) one of your phones. I am by no means a Luddite, and appreciate what technology can do for us, but we must be smart about our choices. This article is as effective as attaching a signature to ask the reader to consider the environment before printing the email, for helping us make those choices. This is a slow start and comes close to green washing, though I do appreciate the suggestions in #7 and hope to see more like this in the rest of this series. If you want to consider your impact on this planet, it is important that you become more environmentally astute and less trendy.

  4. Greg Hansen


    And what will you do if you are suddenly without electricity or without internet connection”

    This is yet another one of those silly “what if…” questions.

    Think it through: how often are you without electricity/internet and, on those rare occasions, how long is electricity out? Answer: rarely and not long. Then, what are the odds that you would need certain info during that period? Answer: infinitesimal.

    You don’t need paper backup of hardly anything except documents like birth certificates, I know, I live the paperless life and have for years.

    I’d add: you need your own scanner; the advice in the article to send off documents to have them scanned is impractical.

  5. Robert

    How about eliminating the need to eliminate paper by eliminating population growth? Stop reproducing so much! And I don’t mean just at the copier.

  6. rxantos

    And what will you do if you are suddenly without electricity or without internet connection?

    You are taking technology too much for granted. Is always good to have a backup of really important information on real paper.

  7. wotsit

    I think you should mention more ways to take notes e.g. a personal wiki such as media wiki if not a full wiki or on screen postits note software.

    Another great way to save people wasting paper is acurally haveing 2 screens as that allows you view one set info whilst workign on your document.

    To save wasting paper giving staff access to a pdf printer so that you can test a print before actually printing a document, and a double sided printer also helps and teaching staff to print booklets rather than print documents on a single sheet when required.

    oh and recycle any paper that you do use, and anything else you can.

  8. 7 great tips with the right focus on GTD. Being paperless is about building an environment where we don’t need paper. It is not about building an environment where we turn paper documents into digital files! Wish more people knew that! Well done.

  9. regarding the suggestion to send invoices thru QuickBooks, be aware that if you send them directly thur the QB mail function instead of thru an external mail client (QB only supports Outlook integration in the latest version, QB 2010 Pro), you won’t have a copy of the sent e-mail for future reference. At best, you’ll be able to see that you’ve e-mailed an invoice previously, but not when, and you won’t be able to see the text of the cover letter. At least, not without subscribing to one of Intuit’s premium services.


  10. My name is Caitlin and I work for In addition to our mail-in scanning service for receipts, business cards and other documents, we also offer mobile phone options for on-the-go expense tracking and contact management. With Shoeboxed Mobile, simply snap a picture of a receipt or business card with your mobile phone and send it to us for data entry and organization in your online account. The Shoeboxed iPhone app takes on-the-go expense tracking one step further, allowing you to create expense reports on your iPhone. We are also integrated with FreshBooks, QuickBooks, Quicken,, Constant Contact and BatchBooks, making it even easier to go paperless! Check us out at