Sustainable Printing: Lessons from a Cat

by | May 17, 2016

Heat loss. Wasted energy. The unwanted transfer of thermal energy. Yes, we can learn a lot from a cat.  Heat, or thermal energy, is a wavelength of light that is invisible to our eyes. While most of us know that heat loss happens, we don’t really understand the magnitude of it until we get a larger-than-expected bill. The bill is a just a symptom of the problem, while the source remains hidden. The bill provides zero insight into the source of the heat loss.  To find the source, we need to make the invisible, well… visible. Enter the thermal camera, a device that converts invisible infrared light into something we can see and understand—something on which we can take action.  If we do nothing, the problem persists.


Printing costs. Habitual, often mindless choices. Wasted money. Wasted energy. Wasted paper. Wasted labor. When it comes to office printing, the sources of cost and waste are often hidden. The invoice we get from our Managed Print Services (MPS) provider is one symptom of the problem which only accounts for 10–15% of the total cost of printing. Worse, this bill is the result of printing activity that has already happened, and doing nothing dooms us to repeat the same thing next month.

The hard costs of printing are well understood and include elements such as:

  • Device cost
  • Device consumables (ink/toner)
  • Break/fix service
  • Paper

With the exception of paper, these costs are rolled into a commonly known and visible metric, the Cost Per Page (CPP). The typical response to the desire to reduce the CPP  involves an RFP process and slugging through several rounds of question and answer sessions to possibly gain another $0.001 concession on CPP from an MPS vendor.  Meanwhile, the hidden costs keep piling up while the RFP process is running. 

So if the hard costs only account for 15% of the total cost of printing, what’s in the other 85%? How do we get a different perspective on these hidden costs?  Wouldn’t it make sense to think differently about print by looking at it through a lens of sustainability? Consider the following sequence of events, which suggests a better way to lower your total cost of ownership (TCO): Sustainability Chart

Beginning with Step 1 above, something magical happens when you acquire your own baseline data. Perhaps for the first time, you can actually take control of your organization’s printing habits and hardware and use that information to develop a data-driven strategy.

Today, you can deploy a lightweight technology that connects to a cloud platform to reveal a complete and up-to-date list of your organization’s printing assets, on demand. It also reveals who is printing, the applications that are driving print, what documents are being printed, and what devices are being used. With this data set, your hidden costs are revealed (Step 2).

Here are some of common conditions that are likely to be revealed in your baseline data.

Condition: An overly complex device fleet (having too many different manufacturers and models in your device fleet)

  • Financial Impact: Costlier for IT staff to maintain with firmware and device drivers; can be “free” or totally depreciated, but at the same time costlier to service.  Unique devices are expensive to service and support in the long run.
  • Sustainability Impact: Outdated devices are still functional but typically consume more power that the latest models.

Condition: Device underutilization

  • Financial Impact: Capital is tied up in underutilized assets, labor costs for maintaining firmware and device drivers will exist regardless of usage, and energy costs accumulate.
  • Sustainability Impact: Energy is consumed through energy state transitions, phantom plug loads and router loads; networked printing devices are connected to a print server which is sitting in a rack in an air conditioned room.  This energy waste is real and has a measureable financial impact even when printing devices are idle.

Condition: Unmonitored, non-essential print volume

  • Financial Impact: 10–20% of unmanaged print is typically not essential to the performance of the business. Paper costs, click charges, and device service costs are all accelerated when the printing of emails, web pages or other forms of transient information is loosely tolerated.
  • Sustainability Impact: Non-essential printing wastes paper that eventually must be disposed of. According to a Lexmark study, the production of paper accounts for 80% of the carbon footprint associated with printing.

Condition: Unmonitored, color print volume

  • Financial Impact: Color printing should constitute less than 10% of your overall print volume, as it typically costs 5X more than monochrome, and sometimes much more than that.
  • Sustainability Impact: Wasted paper and color toner. 

Condition: Single-sided print in excess of industry benchmarks

  • Financial Impact: Single-sided printing above 20% of total volume drives up paper costs significantly, while also increasing  the volume and cost of the resulting waste stream.
  • Sustainability Impact: Again, paper is both a direct cost as well as a component of the waste stream. Printing double-sided is more cost effective and results in a lower carbon footprint.

In these common conditions, are you seeing some of your own hidden costs that you hadn’t considered before? When you look at print through the lens of sustainability, you quickly reach the conclusion that a print strategy that addresses these sustainability metrics will ultimately produce the most financial benefit. When it comes to print, cost savings and sustainability are inextricably linked.

What COO or CFO would knowingly support an unnecessarily complex device fleet that is also grossly underutilized? Imagine a workforce of informed, engaged employees who get behind your sustainability goals to help drive your print volume down still further. As a result, you are left with a lower demand for print, which in turn reveals an opportunity to reduce the size and complexity of your device fleet even further. Now you are looking through the lens of sustainability, and your previously hidden costs are exposed.

By looking at the image produced by my infrared camera, I gain new insights on my cat that were previously hidden. Could this be a novel discovery? A bona fide, heat-leaking calico cat? Perhaps not.  Her role in a sustainable future is likely constrained to locally grown, organic mouse consumption!

Dale McIntyre
Vice President


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