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How to reduce your energy consumption and carbon footprint with cloud printing

Does cloud printing shrink your carbon footprint? That’s the big question. The answer is: broadly yes. Which doesn’t sound very definitive, but the whole cloud-print-energy-consumption debate is kind of complicated, and it’s simplistic to say that cloud adoption (by itself) is inherently sustainable.

If a business really wants to reduce its carbon footprint, it needs to look at all sorts of things – from energy and procurement to investments and financed emissions. What we can say is that cloud printing and cloud solutions can help your business on that journey. They’re tools in your sustainability toolbox. Not a silver bullet, but definitely a step in the right direction.

In this article we’re going to look at some of the sustainability benefits of cloud printing, and how it relates to carbon footprint reduction.

The environmental impact of traditional printing  

Let’s start with a look at the environmental impact of traditional, on-site printing. Which, as you can imagine, is substantial. Printing isn’t a particularly sustainable enterprise, which is why (here at PaperCut) we’re actually working hard to help our customers print less.

Approximately 85 million tons of paper are produced for printing every year. That’s about 4 billion trees-worth, annually. Emissions from the pulp and paper sector hit an all-time high in 2021, along with 500 million ink cartridges landing in landfill. Cloud printing won’t alleviate all these problems, of course: it still requires paper, ink and toner. But it can help us, as a society, reduce print demand and use energy more efficiently. And that’s the first step towards a more sustainable print sector.

How cloud print can shrink your carbon footprint

There are a bunch of ways that cloud printing can help with carbon footprint reduction in workplaces that don’t currently use print management software:

Less paper waste. Cloud printing helps organizations adopt a more paperless approach, which is always a good thing. By storing documents in the cloud (and printing only when you need to ) you can dramatically shrink your paper usage. Cloud printing also reduces printer errors, which means fewer duplicate jobs, and less paper in the bin.

Energy efficiency. We’re going to dive deeper into energy stats below, but here are the cliffnotes: by centralizing your print resources on the cloud, organizations can ditch traditional print servers, often saving significant amounts of energy. Cloud-based printing services can also be optimized for energy efficiency, further shrinking their carbon footprint.

Reduced hardware. No servers on-site, fewer printers, fewer scanners, less e-waste. That’s what it’s all about. By allowing businesses to reduce their reliance on physical servers and hardware, cloud printing results in less manufacturing, fewer transport emissions, and less overall maintenance. Device lifespan is also extended since you can easily update drivers and software over the cloud.

Better user behaviour. Cloud print management gives your IT managers and sysadmins unparalleled control over your print environment. Why is that a good thing for sustainability? Because it allows you to track printer errors and wasted paper. You can also implement stuff like individual print quotas, which cut down on unnecessary printing.

Remote printing. Don’t forget the flow-on effects of remote printing, either. With your staff able to collaborate and print from home, via the cloud, you’re removing the need for the physical transportation of documents, or even commuting. The numbers back this up. Studies have already shown that remote workers have a 54% lower carbon footprint than on-site employees.

Data centers and energy consumption

There’s no getting around it: cloud data centers chew up a lot of energy. Like seriously, a lot.  Data centers and data transmission networks account for about 1% of all greenhouse gas emissions. (Some estimate that number to be even higher). It’s a bigger carbon footprint than the airline industry. So, you can see it’s not as simple as ‘traditional printing bad, cloud printing good’.

The question really becomes: is it more efficient for multiple organizations to pool their resources and run printing through a single cloud server (or bank of servers), rather than handling everything on-site? Most cloud providers argue yes: in fact, Microsoft reckons general cloud migration can shrink your carbon footprint by up to 98%.

It’s hard to find independent stats on how much energy you’re likely to save with cloud printing – it’ll depend on a bunch of factors, like your cloud provider, print load, business needs, energy providers etc. – but the general consensus is that scalable cloud infrastructure is more efficient, footprint-wise.

Cloud printing and your sustainability goals

Working cloud printing into your broader sustainability goals is a great idea, but there are a few factors you need to consider.

Map your goals. You need a clear, measurable sustainability strategy, with real targets, before you can accurately measure the impact of cloud printing. If you haven’t done this yet, there are plenty of great sustainability consultants out there who can put you on the right track.

Do a print assessment. In the same vein, it’s a good idea to do an initial print audit, to better understand your current print environment and behaviors. What are your server costs right now? How much energy are you using? How much are you printing per annum? What are your error rates? How much ink are you going through each quarter?

Adopt cloud print. Chat to an MPS provider about the best cloud printing solutions for your business. It might be a self-hosted service, like PaperCut MF , which is ideal for private cloud deployments. Or something cloud-native, like PaperCut Hive , which is more suited to multi-tenant SaaS.

Report and review. By regularly checking your print activity with PaperCut, you’ll spot ways to reduce your paper use over time. Through PaperCut, you can generate reports tracking print volumes, paper usage, and overall costs. The trick is to tie this data back to your overarching sustainability strategy. Keep your metrics meaningful, simple, and transparent.

Printing and the circular economy

The circular economy is basically an economic model designed to minimize waste and make the most of your resources. That’s a pretty bare-bones definition, but it fits. By extending your printer lifespans, and reducing paper and e-waste, cloud printing is a great way to start implement circular principals within your organization.

Printing is traditionally seen as a wasteful exercise: from manufacture and paper to waste and energy consumption. But by optimizing your cloud performance and energy use, by centralizing your resources and adopting a more paperless approach, by recycling wherever you can, you’re going a long way to making your print room more circular.

Need some more sustainability tips? We’ve got you covered . Give our friendly team a call to find out how PaperCut can help you shrink your carbon footprint.

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