Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The (Not So) Paperless Office

Our production and consumption of paper is destructive to both our environment and humanity. Yet, alongside with the digitization of information we continue to produce and consume more and more paper. The global consumption of paper has increased 20 fold over the last century and has tripled in the last 30 years alone. One report showed that our paper consumption increased with over 93% during the period 1983 - 2003. Despite having access to technologies which allow us to produce, distribute and consume information digitally, we now print more than ever.

Let’s start with some facts in order to get some perspective on what this increased consumption of paper means in terms of resource usage:
  • Paper accounts for 42% of industrial forest use. Our consumption of printing and writing paper amounts to around 30% of the total paper and paperboard production. Newspapers account for about 10% (source: IT-Energy)
  • On average one ton of uncoated non-recycled printing and office paper uses 24 trees. A ream of typical office paper (500 sheets) uses about 6% of a tree (Source: Conserveatree)
  • The typical U.S. office worker uses more than 10,000 sheets of paper per year, which is about 2 cases of paper per employee. (Source: InformIT)

So why is it important to reduce our consumption of paper?

One reason why organizations should encourage reduced consumption of paper is the cost of managing paper:
“A 2005 study by the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance estimated that associated costs could be as much as 31 times the purchasing cost of paper, which includes not only actual price, but storage, copying, printing, postage, disposal, and recycling.” (Source: InformIT)
Although reducing costs always appeals to organizations, it is really the environmental costs we should care about. Again, here are some facts that speak for themselves:
  • Most of the world’s paper supply, about 71 percent, is not made from timber harvested at tree farms but from forest-harvested timber, from regions with ecologically valuable, biologically diverse habitat. (Toward a Sustainable Paper Cycle: An Independent Study on the Sustainability of the Pulp and Paper Industry, 1996)
  • Tree plantations host about 90 percent fewer species than the forests that preceded them. (Allen Hershkowitz, Bronx Ecology, p. 75, 2002)

(Source: Environmental Paper Network)

Less apparent is maybe the impact the production of paper such as office printing paper has to human health.

For the production of one piece of A4-paper about 10 litres of water is used. When you’re printing a 50-page report, you’re actually wasting 500 litres of water. Now consider this:
“About 5 million people die each year from poor drinking water, poor sanitation, or a dirty home environment -- often resulting from water shortage. Of a population of roughly 6.1 billion, more than 1 billion lack access to potable water. We need 2-3 litres per day, and that’s just drinking water.” (Source: Water Woes)
In the western world we have externalized much of our water footprint. Much of the production of water-intensive goods like paper we consume now happens elsewhere in the world.

Avoiding printing that 50-page report would save enough water to satisfy one day's need for drinking water for about 150 people. That's based on the needs of grown-ups, so the number of children that would have their need for fresh water satisfied would be even higher.

Considering the many negative impacts of paper consumption and that much of this consumption comes from printing, we should all ask ourselves if it’s that much of a sacrifice to read more information on-screen without printing it, to always print on two sides and to spend more effort on proof-reading before printing to avoid re-printing.

With cloud storage enabling access to your content from anywhere, mobile broadband, and devices optimized for on-screen reading, there aren't very many excuses left for reducing our consumption of paper. Yet we always seem to find some excuse that helps us rationalize the habit of printing and using paper.

There are many simple things that you and I can do to stop this development. Mostly it is about change our automated behaviors; our habits. The most effective way to make us change our behaviors is to make it easier to do right and harder to do wrong. Here are some simple actions to take:
  • Set a PDF writer as the default printer.
  • Place the printer far away from the workplaces at the office.
  • Set a limit to the number of copies that can be printed per job, something which is possible on many printers
  • Consider reporting printer use by dept or user (credit to JP De Vooght)
  • Incorporate video into documents, paper can't play video (credit to Pat Ferdinandi).
When you really need to print something, you could do the following to reduce the impact printing has on the environment and human health:
  • Proofread everything carefully on screen before hitting the print button.
  • Set the default to print on both sides of paper.
  • Use only 100% recycled paper.

Most importantly, we have to get used to consuming information on-screen instead of on paper. Here is some practical advice that might help you make that shift (it has helped me):

  • Backup your data so you don't feel the need for a hard copy. There are many cloud-based and affordable services for this.
  • Learn how to take notes by typing on a tablet or smartphone.
  • Bring your notebook, tablet or smartphone from which you can access materials needed during the meeting instead of bringing printouts.
  • Use whiteboards if you need to illustrate something and the take a photo of it for documentation.
  • Cancel your newspaper subscription and consider paying for an online subscription instead.
  • Buy a book reader or tablet that offers good readability and mobility.
And remember - please don’t print articles like this!

Monday, March 7, 2011

My take on Social CRM

CRM used to be about collecting and analyzing data about customers that could be used for targeted direct marketing campaigns. The R in CRM wasn't as much about building mutual relationships as it was about getting old customers to return and make new purchases by sending them reminders and promotions every now and then. 

Now Social CRM is the buzzword on everybody's lips. But what is it really? 

First of all, Social CRM is not a system or a process. Rather, it is an approach to increase the loyalty of customers towards a brand by making the brand a part of their social identities. The R in Social CRM is about establishing and maintaining a relationship between the brand and the customers by becoming part of their social identities - how they want to be perceived by other members of a group, such as their friends (that's why "Social" was added as a prefix to CRM). The perfect place to do that is at places such as Facebook where people build and maintain their social identities by communicating and interacting with each other.  

Here's how such an approach could look like:
  1. Find out where the customers or potential customers hang out and interact to build and maintain their social identities on the web.
  2. Listen to what the customers are saying in order to learn what they care about.
  3. If the customers are open to it, establish a presence in close proximity to the customers.
  4. Be open to engage with any customers who turn to you to ask for information or to provide feedback.   
  5. If possible, create and seed engaging andusable content that can start or fuel conversations or interactions between people.
When people talk about their own or others' positive experiences of brands and their products or services with their friends, they usually don't mind being associated with those brands. They might even make them a part of their social identities.

When they do, the brand establishes itself top of mind. Whenever they think of a certain product or service, they think of the brand. When thinking about a sofa or home furnishing, they think IKEA and go to the IKEA store or web site to look for sofas. Whenever they think about a smartphone or computers, they think Apple and go to an Apple store or visit the Apple web site. And it doesn't stop there. If one of their friends needs a sofa, they will recommend him or her to check out the IKEA sofa range. And if the friend wants a smartphone, they recommend one from Apple and tell them about their own positive experiences. And they will do it at places such as Facebook or Twitter where lots of other people who listen to them might be influenced by their recommendations or opinions. The customers do the marketing for the brands while the brands can concentrate on creating and sharing engaging and compelling stories about their products or services.

Yet – we must never to forget that the loyalty of a customer towards a brand starts with a great customer experience, and it ends with a bad one. That's why businesses should at least perform step 1 and 2 (repeatedly) and use the input to learn how to provide great customer experiences.