Responsible Purchasing Network

Copy Paper: Best Practices

A successful paper program follows best practices for procurement, use, and disposal. Best practices include forming a team dedicated to the task, establishing baseline data, setting goals, adopting a policy, improving current behaviors, evaluating standards and specifications, and measuring and reporting progress. See Figure 2.

Form a Team

Figure 2: Team Flow ChartDedicate a team to developing a green paper program. The team should include representatives from procurement, administrative support, waste management/recycling, and management. It should recommend and implement plans for paper procurement, use, reduction, and recycling or reuse, and measure the program’s costs and benefits.

As a first step, the team should educate themselves on issues associated with paper purchasing, including misconceptions about environmentally preferable paper. This information will help the team determine strategies to address the use and procurement of paper and prepare them to respond to questions about new policies and procedures. See the Cost, Quality and Supply section for more information about the reliability of recycled-content copy paper.

Gather Baseline Data

Inventory the types and quantities of paper products currently purchased and consumed, calculating environmental and economic costs and benefits. For each product type record:

  • Quantity in reams, cases, or sheets
  •  Brightness and weight
  • Percentage postconsumer and total recycled content
  • Percentage virgin fiber originating from sustainable sources
  • Certification of chlorine-free production
  • Unit pricing
  • Delivery costs
  • Disposal costs

This data will help set priorities and goals for transitioning to environmentally preferable paper.

Use resources such as the Paper Calculator to establish the baseline impacts of current paper use. Compare current usage against other paper choices to project reduced impacts on wood use, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and solid waste generation.


Set Goals

Using current baseline data, set ambitious but realistic goals for purchasing environmentally preferable paper and paper products. Design a plan of action, with a specific timetable, for meeting these goals. To maximize impact, the plan should begin by focusing on products consumed in large quantities and where environmentally preferable alternatives already exist. Set targets for:

  • Paper consumption reductions
  • Recycled content
  • Recycling rates
  • Energy and greenhouse gas emissions reductions
  • Water conservation
  • Toxics reductions

See the Policies section for sample goals.

Adopt a Policy

Develop an organizational policy to formalize commitment to environmentally preferable paper practices and purchases. Communicate this policy to managers, staff, suppliers, customers, partners, and the public. For a model policy, See the Policies section below.

Improve Practices

Reduce costs and impacts with these strategies:

Increase Everyday Paper Efficiency

  • Switch to electronic workflows and reference documents like email memos and online staff handbooks (Hawkins, 2007).
  • Review and edit documents electronically.
  • Use electronic signature software such as Docusign.
  • Make an electronic letterhead template available.
  • Keep electronic records, such as archived emails.
  • Reduce white space by setting smaller default margins on word processing programs.
  • Optimize printer-to-employee ratio and use the right printer for the job.
  • Print double-sided using copiers, printers, and fax machines with duplexing capability. See the Responsible Purchasing Guides for Computers and Office Electronics for detailed tips.
  • Rethink publication design (e.g., no title pages, no cover pages, no blank pages).
  • Reuse products such as file folders, storage boxes, and paper printed on one side.
  • Minimize unsolicited mail, both sent and received.
  • Minimize overruns and maximize sell-through for published materials.



Ready to buy preferable paper?

Use cooperative contracts to leverage competitive pricing. Learn more about cooperative contracts.

Choose the Right Paper

  • Avoid coated and bright-colored papers, which are often less recyclable.
  • Purchase paper with the minimum brightness suitable for the job.
  • Reduce the basis weight and trim size of printed pieces.
  • Reuse single-sided scrap paper for internal or draft print-outs.
  • Purchase papers with recycled content and recyclable packaging.



Work with Partners and Suppliers

  • Give preference to suppliers, manufacturers, and printing services that use preferable papers and green power at their facilities.

  • Ask printers to use vegetable-based inks (e.g. soy, linseed, corn) without toxic metals.

Get Staff Onboard

It is important to educate staff because paper use efficiency is directly tied to their behavior.

  • Post signs above printers, such as usage graphs, educating staff about paper use.
  • Provide how-to tips and reminders on paper conservation.
  • Conduct short instructional trainings or brownbag lunches on setting printing defaults.

Close the Loop

Establish an office paper recycling program or policy, or improve upon an existing one, to increase the supply of recycled content pulp.

  • Contact the local municipal waste management departments if a recycling program does not exist or is ineffectual. Most governments will offer customized assistance.
  • Collect and recycle paper used internally and paper received from outside sources.
  • Educate co-workers about recycling programs and alert janitorial staff and waste haulers to maintain separation of recyclables and trash.
  • Work with waste haulers and/or building management to separate used paper from other recyclables in order to maximize its recyclability.
  • Ask document destruction contractors to verify that they recycle.

Evaluate Standards and Specifications

Once goals are set, aim to achieve them by drafting product specifications that meet needs. Don't start from scratch: reference existing environmental paper standards and draw from specifications used by other institutions. Read the Standards section for details on third-party environmental paper certifications and browse our sample Specifications for institutional buyers.

Track and Report Progress

Schedule and conduct regular progress reports. Identify and address obstacles that may be hindering success and adjust goals if necessary. Reward or recognize the stakeholders responsible for successes.

Use the Paper Calculator to measure improvements in units equivalent to cars taken off the road and trees saved. Report the organizational paper purchasing policy, goals, and achievements on organizational websites, press releases and in an annual sustainability reports. Raise awareness further by including paper attributes on all printed documents.

Related Documents

Environmental Paper Network: Pulp Tracking Form

Environmental Defense Fund: Annual Paper Supplier Evaluation Form


Creative Commons License This work by theResponsible Purchasing Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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