10 Easy Ways to Reduce Paper Usage in the Workplace in 2023
The film industry has a long history of wasteful practices and paper waste in the workplace is one of them.
However, reducing paper usage in the workplace has now become a priority. Awareness about workplace paper printing waste has finally started to change things, and there’s a widespread consensus that paper use on and off set must be reduced.
According to statistics found in the Green Production Guide, U.S. offices use 12.1 trillion sheets of paper a year, and every year 900,000,000 trees are cut down to provide raw materials for the American paper industry and wood pulp mills. Recycling 2200 pounds of paper saves seventeen trees and enough energy to run the average car for about 1,250 miles.
Studios, production companies, and high-profile people in positions of power in the industry now realize that addressing climate change by eliminating unsustainable practices in the workplace, such as using too much paper, is crucial to the future of the planet. And it can lead to cost savings, too.
When I was a trainee in the 1980s, there weren’t the alternatives to paper usage that we have today. The paper consumption in a single day on a feature film or TV show was outrageous, with stacks of call sheets, shooting schedules, storyboards, actor contracts, and extra vouchers that could stand several feet high, as almost all communication was via a paper document.
While the paperless office has yet to be achieved, we have easy ways to use less paper in our industry. And since reducing paper use also reduces paper costs, studios, producers, and other decision-makers are committed to using fewer paper products. No one objects to saving the planet and saving money at the same time.
Here are ten easy ways to reduce paper usage in the workplace
1. Use Digital Production Tools
Just as office productivity won’t decline with less paper use, production efficiency in our industry won’t decrease when we use less paper. Scriptation, Sync On Set, and Scenechronize are some of the digital production tools available to reduce paper use in our industry.
Scriptation has already become a favorite digital tool as its use increases on and off set, reducing the endless sheets of paper used for numerous script revisions.
When I was a trainee, we learned script breakdown and scheduling by using paper strip boards. Today they’re a rarity, as every a.d. and UPM uses digital scheduling and budgeting programs, reducing paper use and increasing efficiency.
We can also reduce the use of paper call sheets. The daily call sheet is usually emailed to the cast and crew anyway, and everyone has email on their phones, so it’s unnecessary to print a stack of call sheets that are often glanced at once and then tossed aside. The Green Production Guide has paper-saving tips and statistics that can be added to every call sheet to remind people to reduce paper use.
2. The Paperless Office
Anyone old enough to remember when computers began to be widely used in offices will remember the predictions touting the future paperless office. Computers would supposedly eliminate the need for paper and print devices in offices would disappear. Well, that didn’t happen, and paper in offices is still widely used and wasted.
However, there are more digital solutions than ever for offices to go all or nearly all digital.
Printing can be double-sided printing using both sides of the paper, and with document scanners, most documents can be shared in digital format. Printing a hard copy of every single document creates paper wastage and uses toner cartridges that take a thousand years to biodegrade.
Getting team members to reduce their use of paper also reduces the need for filing cabinets, which take up space and waste office workers' time searching for files in them.
The average office worker may not work in a paperless office, but even important documents can be produced, shared, and stored digitally.
3. Double-sided Printing
It’s a good idea to make it a print policy in companies that all print jobs and print services use double-sided printing. There’s no reason for every piece of paper that’s printed to have a blank side, and double-sided printing can save an enormous amount of paper.
Another total waste of paper in the office is sticky notes, and I hate to mention them because I like and use them all the time. But are sticky notes really necessary for an office to function efficiently? They use a lot of paper, so I’m saying goodbye to the colorful sticky notes in my own work environment.
4. Eliminate or Reduce Paper Handouts at Meetings
One of the simple ways to reduce paper use is to eliminate or at least reduce paper handouts at meetings. Most paper handouts, especially meeting agendas, are glanced at briefly and left behind, so sending out meeting information digitally or using a whiteboard in meetings is a great way to reduce the amount of paper and natural resources wasted.
Cover sheets should be eliminated on all physical copies, as they rarely have more than a few words printed on them, and eliminating them is one of the easiest ways to save paper and reduce print volume.
Another area on the to-do list for reducing paper usage is location scouts. The scouting crew doesn’t need hard copies of documents for the scout that will be left behind or thrown away later when all documents can be sent out in advance digitally and easily accessed on the scout.
5. Make Recycling Bins Easy to Access
I remember when recycling bins first began to appear on sound stages. They were moved around so much that no one knew where to find them.
The recycling bin would invariably end up stuffed in a corner somewhere, often with equipment in front of it making it inaccessible for use.
In offices, on stages, and on location, recycling bins must be easy to access if companies expect employees to use them. Employees need to know that employers are committed to a recycling program and that it’s not an afterthought. In the long run, making recycling easily accessible for workers is an effective way to ensure paper and plastic items are recycled and don’t end up as more landfill waste.
Since plastic waste is also a problem, give the crew reusable water bottles. It will save the company money by not having to purchase dozens of cases of water in single-use plastic water bottles and reduce the show's carbon footprint.
6. Sign Up for Paperless Documents with the Payroll Companies
Entertainment Partners, Cast and Crew, and other payroll companies all offer direct deposit and digital versions of tax documents that can be accessed online.
Paper paychecks generate more paper production, especially since they usually come in an envelope, which wastes even more paper. Direct deposit is faster and easier for companies and employees.
I signed up with the payroll companies to access all tax documents digitally, which not only saves paper but allows me to get the documents as soon as they’re available with no snail mail delays.
Companies should encourage new employees to sign up for direct deposit and paperless tax forms when they’re hired. All freelancers in our industry will find it far less stressful at tax time trying to track down documents if they sign up for paperless forms.
7. Studios and Production Companies Should Establish Paper Reduction Initiatives
Reducing paper usage in the workplace starts at the top. If companies want employees to use less paper, they need to adopt business processes such as cloud storage and commit to establishing specific paper reduction goals and initiatives. That means normalizing an office environment where things are done in a greener, more planet-friendly way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Directors and producers can also commit to paper reduction goals on set, setting an example for others to follow. Maybe that means (gasp) limiting the use of mini-sides, which use lots of paper, are a pain to make, and often get handed out to people on set who don’t need them.
The climate crisis should also feature more prominently in storytelling. POSTed Studio by Global Inheritance has professionally designed artwork for use on screen to communicate about important environmental issues.
Making environmental issues, such as paper and plastic waste more prominent on screen can go a long way toward reminding viewers about wasteful consumption and sustainability.
8. Use Online Forms for Digital Time Cards, W-4s, I-9s, Kit Rental, and Petty Cash Forms
We freelancers fill out a lot of forms in our business, and they’re almost always paper forms. When we start a new job, which can be numerous times a year, we’re handed a stack of start paperwork to fill out.
Occasionally, some forms can be completed online and stored in a cloud-based system, but from my experience, the majority cannot. It’s not the best way to reduce paper usage.
Studios, production companies, and payroll companies should commit to paperless forms whenever possible.
As for extra vouchers, I’ve never seen or signed a digital extra voucher, so that’s an area to explore in the interest of reducing paper usage in the workplace.
9. Use of Electronic Signatures on Documents Like Contracts and Deal Memos
Electronic signatures are considered legal signatures on a wide variety of documents, including the income tax forms used for electronically filing taxes. So why are we still using paper contracts in our industry?
I think back to all the contracts I gave out to actors during an entire season working on a TV series. That was an enormous amount of paper since each contract is several pages long and I gave out at least a few dozen contracts each season.
Electronic document signing is widely used and well-accepted, so maybe our industry needs to catch up on the contract front.
10. Use Recycled Paper
Whether it’s mini-sides or paper towels, all paper used on and off set should be recycled paper. Napkins, plates, and cups at craft service made of recycled paper and compostable utensils would help reduce the carbon footprint on set.
According to the Green Production Guide, the greenhouse gas emission reductions from recycling ten tons of mixed paper are comparable to preventing the use of ninety-four barrels of crude oil.
That’s not an insignificant greenhouse gas emission reduction and recycling and using recycled paper products should be the norm on every set and in every office.
The film industry has progressed greatly in the adoption of greener, more planet-friendly practices in the past decade, but still has a ways to go in reducing paper use on and off set and adopting better print management systems.
Remote work has been found to reduce paper use, so allowing or even encouraging office workers in our industry to work remotely would be a plus for reducing paper use and the fossil fuel emissions generated by commuting.
Statistics show that worldwide consumption of paper is increasing, so anything studios, companies, and workers can do to decrease paper usage and recycle is welcome. It’s estimated that every ton of recycled paper saves three hundred eighty gallons of oil.
Reducing paper use in the workplace is just one component of adopting greener policies. Others are the plastic and food waste that we see daily on set, and the use of fossil fuels in transportation vehicles and generators.
These are all problems that are being addressed in our industry, just not as quickly as most of us would like, with the climate crisis growing daily. But still, studios and production companies are making progress towards greener sets and a greener planet.
Organizations Supporting Sustainability in the Film Industry: