Paper and supplies

Paper and supplies

Office accessories may play a supporting role to the products or services you company offers, but they can come with a stiff environmental price tag.

Tools of the trade: waste and other eco-impacts

Office paper

Four million tons of copy paper alone are used in the US each year. That's approximately 27 pounds per person. Offices account for most of that consumption, with the average office worker going through about 10,000 sheets annually.[1] Taken together, the amount of copy paper used in the US each year consumes the amount of wood needed to build 1 million American homes and its production generates waste equal to the solid waste produced from 2.5 million households in a year.[2]

Switching from copy paper made with 100 percent virgin forest fibers to 100 percent recycled content affords the following significant benefits:

  • total energy consumption cut by 44 percent
  • net greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 38 percent
  • 41 percent fewer particulate emissions
  • half the amount of solid waste
  • 100 percent less wood used[3]

Office supplies

The overall US office supply market nets an estimated $50 billion in retail sales per year.[4] And while paper in all its variations (envelopes, sticky notes, copy paper, file folders, index cards, etc.) likely makes up the bulk of what's in the company stockroom, there are also pens, markers, highlighters, binders, clipboards, paperclips, staplers, pencils, and more. These goods are made from renewable and nonrenewable raw materials, including plastic, wood, and steel, which are concocted, harvested or mined, each with its own set of environmental downsides. This eco-impact continues during their manufacture when energy is used and waste, as well as air and water pollution, is created. More waste is produced when they are ultimately discarded.

Going green gets easier

Carefully choosing the products that keep the workplace humming can greatly reduce the corporate environmental impact from office supplies. Aside from using less of any particular product, a premier green aim, moving toward supplies that incorporate recycled and nontoxic materials is a worthy goal.

Fortunately, the job of finding green office sundries is getting easier as office supply retailers add new eco-friendly offerings. The $30 million dollar, Illinois-based office supply company Garvey's Office Products has seen eco-savvy customer demand drive a 15 to 20 percent annual increase in sales of green office supplies. In 2008, the company released its first dedicated green catalog that contains 1,000 items.[5] National retailer Office Depot's 2007 Green Book catalog carried about 3,000 green items compared to 1,200 items in the 2003 (its first) Green Book.[6] The company also recently launched its own green office products line. A report card survey by ForestEthics and the Dogwood Alliance noted progress in the responsible environmental practices among three of the five major office supply companies. Staples and FedEx Kinko’s both earned a B+, Office Depot snagged a B-, Corporate Express came in with a C+, while OfficeMax lagged with a D+.

Questions to get you started…

Before you go on a buying binge with company money to restock the office supplies in a lovely shade of green, create an environmental purchasing policy if you don't already have one. Let that policy guide your purchases, but also consider these questions:

  • Are any of the company's office supplies made from recycled materials (paper with high recycled content, pens, pencils, binders)?
  • Does your company use products that are reusable or contain reusable parts (refillable pens and mechanical pencils, etc.)?
  • Are any of your office paper products Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified?
  • Do any products with recycled content contain post-consumer waste (PCW), also called post-consumer recycled content (the higher, the better)?


  • post-consumer waste (PCW): Means there is some percentage of pulp made from paper once used by consumers that was recycled.

External links



There is a growing green office movement online outside of the big box stores with places like Naked Binder offering 100% recycled and recyclable binders. Now with everything from chairs to pencils being recycled, it is easier than ever to green up an office.

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