Not long ago I received a letter from a client with some important information. I wanted to take it with me to a meeting, so I printed it out. It was two pages. The only writing on the second page was the signature block and a well-intentioned message below it urging everyone to conserve resources. The irony was, that if a few strategic edits had been made on the first page, there wouldn’t have been a second page and it would have spared a sheet of paper and helped save the planet.
You would be right, of course, in observing that I could have chosen not to print it out at all. Gone completely paperless. That’s what we all thought would happen with the rise of the personal computer. But the rise of the personal computer also saw the rise of the desktop printer. Why? Because every now and then we need a piece of paper – a tangible artifact we can share with someone or keep as a convenient record.
I once worked with a guy who was so scattered that he printed out everything because he was afraid of losing something. Problem was, he had so many papers on his desk he never could find what he was looking for. And I know people who try to keep everything electronic and continually delay meetings scrolling through their smartphones in vain. Sometimes one piece of paper is a perfect solution.
By printing less, you also can save money on toner costs. Consumer Reports estimates that a gallon of printer ink costs nearly $10 thousand. With that money you could buy 2,200 gallons of premium gas or 6 bottles of 2012 Chateau Petrus (whichever propels you best). In many cases, the annual cost of printer ink is equal to the cost of the printer itself. So in addition to environmental considerations, there’s real financial incentive to reducing printing needs to one paper at a time. Now if we could get websites to cooperate…
Perhaps the best reason to keep things to one page is that it greatly improves communication. John Asher, with whom I’ve worked for a number of years, asks during his presentations to CEOs: “Who here likes to read a two-page email? Should that tell you something?” He’s right. Very few have time to read two pages of anything, be it an email, a letter, a bio, a statement of work or a contract. I’ve always felt that what spills over to the second page goes down the drain.
When I was at the Pentagon we used one-page “Staff Summary Sheets” to get general officer decisions. Every important and relevant piece of information was right there on top, including the recommendation, and all the details were in attachments. It was a very efficient and effective way to handle a lot of data. Today I still like to give clients a one-page proposal for work, with attachments if necessary.
It’s hard, but try and keep your communications to one page. Save the planet, save your money and, above all, save your reader.