"Please consider the environment before printing this email"

I keep seeing this sage advice at the bottom of emails. Do people honestly do this? Am I badly out of touch, or would other people also consider that even thinking about printing out email a mind-numbingly silly thing to do?

It got me wondering how much paper I’ve saved by not even thinking about printing my emails this year. Since I started using GMail (in September 2004), I have archived 9,687 emails, or about 12 per day. Those are the good ones. I actually ignored a further 1,994 unread spam just in the last 30 days, but let’s discount them.

12 personal emails per day, and my work email account is at least twice that busy as well, so let’s conservatively say I get an average 36 non-junk emails per day. I have not idea if this is close. It’s probably an under-estimate. I reckon an average email could be conveniently printed on one page. Actually, repeatedly printing threaded conversations would get annoying, but maybe I’d print off the new bit and add it to the pile for that conversation. Even thinking about this is making me feel sick the the mess it would generate.

Since my imaginary black and white laser printer (because you’re mad if you think I’m buying ink cartridges for this) doesn’t do duplex, I reckon I’d need at least 12,816 A4 sheets per year. That’s more than 25 reams of paper. No thank you.

Update: most amused to see that the idea of printing every email was actually GMail’s april fools prank this year.

By the way: using a mail footer which reminds people about wastefully printing out email is just one of fifty way to ‘change the world for a fiver‘ (a cool book which is also available directly from the publisher’s shop).


Hello. Thanks for stopping by. You can subscribe to my blog’s feed or follow me on Twitter. You know, if you like.

42 Comments »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. I can imagine a happy little dot-matrix sat in the corner, with a few boxes of fan-folded paper beneath it, regularly clattering away, tearing off each email as it arrives.

    It would be noisy. Very noisy.

    Comment by Nick O'Leary — March 10, 2007 #

  2. Ironically one of our clients uses this message on the base of every email. I print out very few emails but in this case there was a matrix of TODO’s which I figured would be useful to print out. Unfortunately when printing not only did it output the required matrix, but also a second page with the message “Please consider the environment before printing this email”

    doh!!!

    Comment by Al — March 11, 2007 #

  3. I also only print mails when it’s necessary.
    Why printing documents as they can be saved on the computer and despatched by mail.

    Comment by Phil — May 16, 2007 #

  4. I have just been asked to program this onto the bottom of all our outgoing messages. It would be ironic if this additional information in the footer caused the printer to throw an additional page…

    Comment by Stephen — June 13, 2007 #

  5. I recently installed a system that converts Fax’s to pdf’s and delivers them by email to end user. Then we removed the fax machine. Now… the user recieves the email/fax, prints it out and goes and gives it to someone (who incedently also has email). – I did ask why they done this, and i the answer i was given was… “well… its a fax”

    Comment by Jay — June 14, 2007 #

  6. Every little helps. There are people who will happily print off an email or attachment without thinking of the environment. Some are older people still getting used to the idea that just because it’s not in your hand it doesn’t mean you don’t have it. I’m all for education and the opening of clouded retina eyes to the wonderful world of technology. Saying that, some documents are important enough to be transferred to hard copy, say, legal documents, so no I wouldn’t consider that a mind-numbingly silly thing to consider, but consider it might make us do, at least until we get blind to the normality of it and need something else to awaken our responsibilities.

    Comment by lou — July 12, 2007 #

  7. It’s true though – people DO print out a lot of emails, just b/c they can’t be bothered to write a note on a post-it or whatever… I think a little reminder at the bottom of the email just that – a little reminder about how we all affect the environment. Cheers to you, that you consider it moronic to print an email, but let me tell you – I see it all the time.

    Comment by jjbigs — July 25, 2007 #

  8. I used to work for a recruitment company – in the good old days we got CVs by post, then scanned them and imported them into a recruitment database of candidates. We had a dozy sub office that weren’t too computer savvy, so after years of them scanning paper CVs I then found out they were receiving emailed CVs, printing them out and then scanning them in!! When I showed them how to speed this up by about 95%, they were amazed!!! Oh the joy…

    Comment by Stuart Noton — August 9, 2007 #

  9. Has anyone ever sat down and worked out the effect of paper on the environment?
    Surely paper from a sustained forest that is then buried in landfill could be considered a form of carbon sequestration…

    Comment by Dave — August 20, 2007 #

  10. Dave: I’d agree, if it was first encased in something which would stop it biodegrading. :-)

    Comment by Roo — September 4, 2007 #

  11. Much like Maddox’s approach to vegetarians, I get a strong urge to print out multiple copies of emails bearing this message, just out of spite.

    Regarding carbon sequestration, biodegrading paper emits methane which in the UK is captured and used to generate electricity.

    Comment by Rob Fisher — November 14, 2007 #

  12. You would not believe how much paper is wasted in a law firm environment. The majority of lawyers print out every single email and put in a “chron file”. That message may seen obvious, but having seen it myself, its absolutely unbeleiveable how much waste is generated “just becuase”.

    Comment by Paper Saver — December 21, 2007 #

  13. If you are that bothered by it, then simply don’t read the very last line of your email. It shouldn’t inconvenience you and it simply put the thought in your mind to conserve. Cheers to you for conserving by not having to think about it, but the rest of the world needs a simple reminder.

    Comment by Your Printer — January 31, 2008 #

  14. Hello “Your Printer”. (I’m not entirely sure how comfortable I am with anonymous comments by the way, but that’s a conversation for another time).

    I didn’t say I wanted people to stop including the reminder (did I?). I said that printing every email was a silly thing to do. As I’m seeing in the comments, there are a lot of silly people in the world (many of them lawyers, it would seem) who need that reminder, and even then may do it regardless.

    In any case, I’m more amused than “bothered” by it.

    Comment by Roo — January 31, 2008 #

  15. Hi ya’ll,

    All this is pretty hypocritical.
    If we were to use hemp for paper instead of trees, there would be no such discussion.

    All this ‘save the trees, don’t print’ is just dealing with the symptoms, not the cause.
    Stop using trees for paper and find a better solution in hemp.

    Comment by Linda — March 10, 2008 #

  16. “I keep seeing this sage advice at the bottom of emails. Do people honestly do this?”

    Recently, as part of our company’s ISO14000 certification, we were requested to include the said ‘environmental’ signature in our emails.

    Comment by Chris — May 15, 2008 #

  17. Required by ISO14000 eh? That’s interesting. Thanks.

    Comment by Roo — May 15, 2008 #

  18. How can all of you be so uninformed?
    Once forest land is no longer usefull for growing trees (ie paper products) it will be sold for development. Tell me how green it will be then? Morons.

    Comment by TS — May 19, 2008 #

  19. Chris — May 15 at 9:11 a.m. — I am trying to find rights to use an environmental signature at the college — did ISO 14000 provide logos and taglines, or refer you to a resource? Thank you — Kathy
    PS — To TS — the only moron is one not willing to consider alternatives to a limited perspective.

    Comment by Kathy — May 20, 2008 #

  20. Printing out emails is not totally unknown. In a previous job, my father used to have a secretary who would print his emails at various points during the day. He would write on them (always with a green pen) and she would type the replies.

    These days he uses Outlook in the conventional way at work, but my mum still prints personal mail for him at home.

    Comment by Pete — May 20, 2008 #

  21. Linda: No. It’s still a waste of electricity and natural resources, even if it’s hemp paper.

    If hemp were used to replace all those things it can replace, we’d need a couple of extra planets just to grow hemp.

    Comment by Sunnan — July 13, 2008 #

  22. Where did that little slogan originate?

    Comment by J — July 31, 2008 #

  23. Greenwashing at it’s best.

    Comment by Green Lantern — August 21, 2008 #

  24. Trees are a renewable resource. What’s the problem?

    Comment by Mister2 — September 25, 2008 #

  25. Paper can come from sustainable forests, and be recycled. I don’t have a massive problem with paper. But what about the electricity used to power the printers, as well as the ink (or toner), and the associated packaging?

    Comment by Roo — October 11, 2008 #

  26. I don’t actually believe that millions of people waste a ton of paper on printing e-mails, however I do see it as a way for the person who is sending an e-mail to let everyone know that they are doing their share in trying to protect the enviornment. In fact I’m interesed in placing this particular footer on all my out going e-mailts, anyone have an idea of how I can go about doing so.

    Comment by Jack — October 22, 2008 #

  27. Most paper is produced from sustainable forests. The annual growth is estimated and cut each year. The forest base or capital stock is a carbon sink. Carbon is sequestered in a forest. The growing sustainable forest is a valuable environmental asset. The sustainable forest also provides employment for tens of thousands of North Americans – jobs that we cannot afford to lose. Yes, we use some electricity in the production of pulp and paper, but we also use electricity to produce a lot of wasteful consumer fluff. Unfortunately, many who see the phrase at the bottom of an email think”Oh great here is a way I can be green” without really thinking the thing through.

    Comment by Richard — November 10, 2008 #

  28. [...] a Google search, it appears many think this is a silly thing to do. That was my first reaction. Like, “Well, duh!” But I know a few people in my [...]

    Pingback by Go Green » Trim your paper waistline? — November 11, 2008 #

  29. Anyone know if there is any software, patch or Outlook attachment that would record everytime an e-mail is printed?

    We installed Faxpress which is a fax to e-mail router, but judging by our print counts (on the printers cum fax machines) we are still printing approx’ the same amount of A4 sheets per month.

    Thanks

    Comment by Craig Bradley — December 16, 2008 #

  30. I find it a little stupid when people say that because of the message, there is extra page printed. Maybe 1 more message is also required.

    Select the text you need to print and then choose ‘Selection’ option in printer options and then hit print!

    Simple enough I think …

    Comment by gokce — February 20, 2009 #

  31. I am very surprised at the majority of ill-informed comments on this subject!Richards comment in November is spot on! Well done Richard.
    The save a tree malarky from the 1970′s carried through by some people today who actually seem to believe that by not printing emails is somehow going to help save the planet is barmy! The facts are just the opposite as Richrd points out!!
    Ever heard of photosynthesis you lot? Trees take in harmful carbon dioxide (you know that stuff that we breathe out, and fossil fuels give off when it burns and the stuff that helps to make holes in the ozone layer above us) and give out life-saving oxygen as a thank you! What does this planet need? Less carbon dioxide and more oxygen! It follows then, that trees actually will help us to look after our planet.
    Now the research bit that no-one (apart from good old
    Richard) seems to have done. Do you know that almost all paper comes from trees that are farmed and harvested? In other words a sustainable source, especially FSC grades, which most paper is these days, (plain white photocopier generally is). In other words they are grown specifically to make paper. With all this ‘don’t print this email, think of the environment’ claptrap it is likely that the people who follow this idea will actually make a difference to the number of trees planted. If less paper is used in the world, and because trees are harvested, less new trees will be planted, as it is a supply and demand thing. Therefore in over just a few years, there will be substantially less trees growing, so less of the harmful carbon dioxide will be absorbed by photosynthesis, meaning the possibility of bigger holes in the ozone layer and less life-giving oxygen available for us all. Lets change the message to:
    ‘If you need to, print this email and help save the planet!’ Those who earlier suggested writing down main points in emails to save printing themare still using paper aren’t they? Duh!

    Comment by Bryn Oakley — March 5, 2009 #

  32. There’s information about adding an email signature and a how-to guide at thinkbeforeprinting.org

    Comment by Green printing — June 24, 2009 #

  33. Bryn I think that your approach is wrong.

    The ground where the trees live is ultimately going to be depleted of resources. Printing less requires less cutting of trees, thus less land is depleted of resources and it is available for farms, meaning that other forests do not need to be cut elsewhere for agriculture. The demand for farmland is ever higher these days, with the very harmful idea of using plants for biofuels, which is wasting the land.

    Also to consider: the paper never returns to the ground and unfortunately most of it is NOT recycled but ends up in archives or goes together with the domestic garbage, where it emits carbon dioxide an methane through decomposition. Also consider the electricity and chemicals used to produce the paper from wood, plus the fuel needed to transport the paper to the customers plus the toner and ink and electric energy needed to print that paper.

    I agree however that the forests are the most valuable asset of our world, because of photosynthesis plus:
    - the trees reflect back to space the infrared light (which is carrying most of the heat we receive from the Sun) – have you noticed how cool and fresh is the air in the forest?, which help cooling our overheated planet
    - the trees regulate the moisture in the air through evaporation and also help redistributing the water in the atmosphere through formation of clouds, which means more rain for agriculture
    - they roots work against erosion and help the soil to absorb water (without them the water from rain will form torrents and will go straight into the rivers, producing overflows).
    - the forests are home for biodiversity

    Moreover I am convinced that the most important step the humanity needs to take in order to save and sustain the life on this planet is stopping and reversing the massive deforestation.

    Hope that you or others read this late reply and agree.

    Comment by marius — July 6, 2009 #

  34. Another post on this http://fwd4.me/3fY

    Comment by printercartridge — November 10, 2009 #

  35. Funnier still out of the 12,816 pages mentioned in the above article, if the line “Please consider the environment before printing this email” was removed then that would technically save around 257 pages!

    Comment by Julian B — January 19, 2010 #

  36. I’ll consider my eyes before thinking of not printing any e-mail

    Comment by Dan — February 25, 2010 #

  37. Dan– you are an asshole. People like you should be shot! You are a waste of space and resources.

    Comment by Julia — March 1, 2010 #

  38. I think, with all this ‘don’t print this email, think of the environment’ claptrap it is likely that the people who follow this idea will actually make a difference to the number of trees planted.

    Comment by fax email — February 19, 2011 #

  39. Well, The sustainable forest also provides employment for tens of thousands of North Americans – jobs that we cannot afford to lose. ;)

    Comment by Odesk — March 11, 2011 #

  40. Did anyone every think of the carbon footprint this message has left on the environment? Every word you type and store in email is placed in a server. That means that this small but consistent message is being save every time. At work alone my email is 100+ a day. I reply and send more than 100 but for this sake let’s say 100 too. Let’s also assume everyone in my company uses this stupid tag to remind others how to save the world. That message has to be repeatedly saved on our exchange server 200+ times for me. Take that space for year after year and think how many servers and storage had to be created to hold this message. It is actually a lot of irony. You can save the planet by changing who and what you stand for, there isn’t a message out there that will change others and even if there were you would put it in your email signature.

    Comment by Ashley — July 13, 2011 #

  41. Sometimes having seen this “Please consider the environment before printing” made me realized i can help preserving the environment in my own little way..Now i only print the important ones and reuse the blanc back page of used papers..

    Comment by Sternchen Skivogu — October 16, 2011 #

  42. Thank you for your post. Great.

    Comment by Jerimiah Paradise — January 21, 2012 #

Leave a comment

XHTML: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Powered by WordPress with GimpStyle Theme design by Horacio Bella.
The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.