The meetings industry is a paper tiger

Oddly, as technological innovations have advanced, and use of handheld communication devices expanded, so has the production of paper and consumption of trees.  In 1961, world production of paper and paperboard stood at 77 million tons.  In 2005,  354 million tons (more here).

Meanwhile,  recycling of paper and paperboard in industrialized nations is consistently less than 50% of the waste stream.

Fun fact:Recycling 1 ton of paper saves the energy equivalent of 185 gallons (700 liters) of gasoline.

Less fun fact: In 2008, the US EPA reported that in the US alone, over 35 million tons of paper went unrecycled.

Meetings Industry example: COP15  exceeded 8 million printed pages for its 10 day event (=the weight of  two Caterpillar dump trucks).

There exist many, many tools, resources and recommendations to guide a move to reduced printing. What’s needed now is social change (getting comfortable with practices to reduce paper use at the source) and action.  Some fundamentals:

1.  Measure your use and attach a monetary value to that.  Set a goal to reduce use using money as a goal.

2.  Convert your paper use to interesting environmental impact figures: Check out this

3.  Change your purchasing practices to mandate a minimum of 35% post consumer recycled paper.  In most industrialized nations, it’s cost is at par or below virgin paper stock.  Pressure suppliers.

4. Educate your stakeholders (see above) and advise them that your Congress directories, annual reports, telephone directory, newsletter, etc, will only be available online.  Encourage readers not to print.

5.  Collaborate with your printer.  The more you print, the more they make, but good providers have practical solutions for reducing (expanded margins, smaller sizes, paper types, etc).  Explain your goals and approach them as a resource and a partner.

Let’s tame that paper hungry beast

Your ideas?  Helpful resources?


  1. Julie Baylor says:

    I’ve noticed in my recent business dealings that people are still so concerned with how others view printed presentations; if we normally print reports double-sided for internal use, we still print single-sided to make a good impression for bosses or potential clients. If we commit to reducing paper usage, it should not be so selective. Allow bosses and clients to see and partcipate in the efforts you are making – take the chance that they will share your waste reduction values.

    • Michael Luehrs says:

      What an important point. This speaks to (a) the need for leadership/stakeholder engagement and (b) ‘walking the talk’. It also speaks to the cultural norms that our businesses observe. This is a very practical and visible way to send a quiet, yet important, message.
      Such an action would be an important follow-up to measurement and goal setting.
      2 sided printing belongs on the ‘fundamentals’ list, Thank you, Julie!

  2. Check out this software called PaperCut NG:

    This is some of the coolest technology I’ve seen. While it’s not designed for a meeting (or congress) application, it is still the most remarkable tool for doing exactly what you suggest – measuring & monetizing as well as creating an environmental impact equivalent for paper use.
    It can track paper use by user or department, providing both instant feedback and long-term evaluation. I just discovered this recently and really excited about the potential for our industry (although will probably take some imagination and perhaps some adjustments for reporting).

    I really think you hit the nail on the head in associating a tangible value (whether economic or environmental) to the paper consumption as forcing behavioural change.

    Good stuff, as always!
    Midori Connolly, Chief AVGirl

    • Michael Luehrs says:

      PaperCut is a great example. There are similar products that work with networked printers. The user prints a document from their PC then goes to the printer, enters a code and retrieves a document. This practice is reported to reduce office paper consumption by more than 20%.
      If people think about their own offices, how often do you forget to get a document you’ve printed? How often did you realize you needed to make a change, then printed it again? Networked printers may be less convenient than having a personal printer but the savings can be huge.
      Thank you, Midori!

  3. tulum says:

    Hi. I honestly liked reading your current article!. High-quality information. I would have to suggest you to come up with blogposts a bit more frequently. By doing this, with this kind of a helpful blog I think that you will rank better in the search engines 🙂 . I also subscribed to your Rss. Carry on this great job!

  4. This is an interesting discussion.
    All paper in meeting industry is so unnecessary. Todays technology with email an PDF viewer should be used more often in Meetings. Attendants should get an agenda and a digital link to refer to in this agenda where to download The information and consider themselves which info to read on web and which info to print. If you are not familiar with attendants be sure though it is easy to leave contacts to receive info. If you have à list of attendants already before, you can even send it before meeting.

    Paper is still the small problem in the Meetings industry. Still you can gain credibility in reducing paper and you don’t put the problem in your attendees hands to recycle.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: