Responsible Purchasing Network

Office Electronics: Overview

Welcome to the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Office Electronics. This Guide provides information and recommendations on responsible use, purchasing, and disposal of printers, copiers, fax machines, scanners, and multifunction devices (MFDs).

Below we provide an overview of each section of the Guide: Social & Environmental Issues; Best Practices; Cost, Quality & Supply; Policies; Specifications; Standards; Products; Handy Facts; Definitions; and Credits & Endnotes.

Download Office Electronics Case Studies

RPN has created two case studies concerning office electronics, that provides real-world experiences on how green procurement can save your institution money and environmental resources. They feature a private law firm in Michigan that successfully reduced paper and energy consumption through responsible purchasing and a government office in Illinois that lowered printing costs by 15% through the use of multi-functional devices (MFD).

Click the links below to download:
WN&J Law Firm
DCFS Government Office

Creating and exchanging documents is a function shared by all businesses, government agencies, and other organizations of all sizes and geographic locations. Document technologies have changed, but office electronics (printers, copiers, fax machines, scanners, multi-function devices, mailing machines, power adapters and others) will continue to be a significant part of any office for the foreseeable future.

Over the past decade, there have been significant shifts in the practices and technologies used by organizations to create and exchange documents:
  • The costs of printing and document management are staggering. These costs account for up to 10% of an organization’s annual revenues (Hawkins, 2007) even though, according to some industry estimates, office paper use nationwide has been on a slight decline in recent years (Ringquist, 2006). Some organizations still project increases in office paper use. For example, the Federal Government expects continued growth in paper consumption through 2020 (The Federal Network for Sustainability, 2007).
  • Document imaging technologies are changing. Analog copying has been replaced by digital technology, which produces not only higher-quality prints but also enables copiers to be connected to computer networks and serve as printers, scanners, fax machines, and even e-mail stations. With the rise of these multi-function devices (MFDs), the boundary between copying and printing equipment is rapidly disappearing.
  • Document printing practices are changing. The wide availability of electronic communication and document exchange has shifted the practices of document production from “print and distribute” (where the author produces and distributes hard copies of documents) to “distribute and print” (where the author distributes digital documents by e-mail or the web and readers print them). Thus, the costs and environmental impacts of printing are being shifted from the author to the reader.
These changes bring new financial and environmental challenges, but also offer new opportunities to address their impacts. This Purchasing Guide describes the components of a successful responsible office electronics procurement program, including copiers, fax machines, printers, scanners, multi-function devices (MFDs), mailing machines, and power adapters. Computers and monitors are covered in the companion Responsible Purchasing Guide: Computers. Below we provide an overview of each section of the Guide. 

Social & Environmental Issues

The social & environmental issues section addresses the impacts of imaging equipment on energy consumption, use of hazardous substances, indoor air quality, and end-of-life management. There are impacts associated with manufacturing, using, and disposing of equipment, and also impacts from the related consumables (i.e., toner, cartridges, drums, etc.) and paper used with the equipment. Thus, the overarching procurement goal is to reduce the environmental and social impact of the entire printing operation, including equipment, supplies, and paper.
As described in this Guide, responsible office electronics have the following characteristics:
  • Matches an organization’s document management and production needs;
  • Is energy efficient and contains other environmentally preferable design features;
  • Enables organizations to reduce waste associated with supplies and paper; and
  • Comes with options for responsible end-of-life management.

Best Practices

The best practices of this Guide offers a selection of practices for developing, implementing, and monitoring a successful responsible office equipment purchasing program. These practices can be grouped as follows: establish a balanced stakeholder team; conduct a baseline assessment of office equipment and its impacts; explore product and maintenance options; set goals; adopt policies to help guide those goals; review purchasing standards and specifications; and improve staff practices.

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Cost, Quality & Supply

The cost, quality & supply of this Guide demonstrates how responsible office equipment is widely available and generally comparable to conventional models. Overall, equipment represents a small part of the cost of an organization’s printing operation, with consumables, paper, maintenance, and energy costs accounting for the majority of the cost. Thus, even though some environmental features, such as duplex units and ENERGY STAR power management functions, may increase equipment purchase price slightly, these costs are quickly recouped in paper and energy savings.


Formally adopting a strong policy stating social and environmental principles helps establish a framework for implementing a successful program. The policies section of this Guide provides model policies that outline the importance of buying environmentally preferable office equipment, identify desired human health and environmental product attributes, and mandate their preferential purchase. Leading institutions, such as the States of Arizona and Delaware, the City of Berkeley, Alameda County, and Villanova University, have policies mandating responsible office equipment procurement. 


The specifications section of this Guide provides sample contract language for responsible office equipment procurement. At a minimum, contract specifications should address these considerations for product performance and vendor practices: energy consumption, hazardous substances, indoor air quality, end-of-life management, paper use, and remanufactured toner and inkjet cartridges.


The standards section of this Guide discusses and compares leading certifications and registration programs for office equipment.  As recommended, buyers should stipulate that office equipment meets credible environmental standards, including: ENERGY STAR, EcoLogo and GREENGUARD.


There are over 1,000 ENERGY STAR qualified copiers, printers, fax machines, scanners, multi-function devices (MFDs), mailing machines, digital duplicators and power adapters. EcoLogo also has registered products. A searchable list is available in the products section.

Handy Facts

The handy facts section provides a referenced set of facts and findings pertaining to office electronics.


The definitions section provides a glossary of terms used throughout the Guide.

Credits & Endnotes

The credits & endnotes section lists the people responsible for writing, reviewing, and editing this Guide along with a listing of sources referenced.