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ATPM 16.09
September 2010






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by Mark Tennent,

Two Sides

The only reason my new employers use e-mail to send highly confidential documents—instead of faxing them—is because the facsimile machine had broken. No one could get the new one to work. When I started with the company a year ago, my employers were happy to send 50 pages of reports by fax. They thought it was safer and more secure because “The Internet” was open to anyone to read what you sent.

They are correct up to a point, but when the 50-page confidential fax gets delivered to the wrong number—wrong by only one mis-dialed digit—security has just gone out the window. Plus, the time it takes to send a fax meant we could lose the order because someone else had got in by e-mail before our fax had finished arriving. Finally, requests for our services also contain highly personal details but are sent to us by e-mail. We know our customers have reconciled themselves to the insecurities of the Internet.

With the fax fixed, it is now mainly used to send time-sheets for the agency workers in the office and to receive junk faxes. The latter killed fax transmission for my own business in the late 1990s. We got fed up with getting long, unsolicited junk faxes, and nothing seemed to stop them from coming through. Not even the Fax Preference Service or telephoning the senders and threatening them with dire consequences or telling them which part of their anatomy we will shove their fax up.

Meanwhile, the amount of paper generated by our office hasn’t declined in the slightest. It is all very well keeping documents in electronic formats, but at some point they have to be printed. This has shifted from producer to consumer. In exactly the same way as I am sending 50-page e-mails for others to print off, they are doing the same to me.

Every switched-on household in the U.K. has had to suffer this. Our banks and utility suppliers brag about how many trees they are saving when they issue us paperless bills and bank statements. That’s as much bollocks as their reasoning why they pay themselves enormous bonuses to reward the huge financial mess they have left the world in.

All they have done is moved the burden to the customers. My shopping list regularly contains “ream of A4 paper.” Who, five years ago, would have expected supermarkets to sell paper—let alone inkjet cartridges, memory sticks, blank CDs, and DVDs? Nowadays our local Waitrose has an aisle devoted to them.

The industry I have just left (temporarily I hope)—design, printing, and publishing—used to take the stick for creating unnecessary paper. Right-thinking but misguided clients started to demand recycled paper, never thinking about the amount of bleach needed to make used paper white again. They moaned about the quality of the printing on the expensive, inferior stock that couldn’t take an image as well as a coated paper. We eventually got them to reconsider recycled and instead go for paper from renewable sources with a high-recycled rag and pulp content. Ordinary paper, in other words. Or bite the bullet and spend a fortune on high-quality wood-free stock.

Yet those same clients never thought about the reams of paper their photocopiers churned through, none recycled and most from often-dubious sources. All printed on one side of the page even though most output devices can duplex.

The National Association of Paper Merchants even introduced an initiative in 2007 that it calls “Two Sides.” It is the association’s attempt to change the perception of the paper industry and especially to counteract the environmental lobby’s stance against the paper industry.

One thing is for sure. Even though it has have suffered a huge downturn in the recession and bad debts from printers, the paper industry is in good shape. The days of a paperless office seem further away than ever.

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