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Paper-Less Is More

June 1, 2008

by Stephanie Lance

Save a tree, recycle paper! It’s the classic slogan of environmentalism. Effective, too, considering that paper is the item most Americans recycle. Still, we can do more at home and in the office to reduce paper waste.

Here are some of the many ways your association can go paperless. You’ll save not only trees, but time, money, and energy.

Stop Feeding the Fax Machine
By simply ditching the fax machine, Francisco Aguilar, director of MLS and technology for the Corpus Christi Association of Realtors® in Texas, improved office efficiency and drastically reduced paper usage—for just $10 a month. “We utilize MyFax rather than a standard fax machine. It’s saved a lot of staff time and frustration. We receive [faxes] via e-mail so they can be saved or forwarded to the proper person. We also fax out through this service, which eliminates the need to print paper documents,” he says.

From File Cabinets to File Servers
If you have bulky file cabinets stuffed with years of member records, consider converting to digital records. Although this can be a very time-consuming and tedious task initially, the benefits of electronic document retention are worth it in the long run. “We worked with a temp agency when we converted our membership records to digital format,” Francisco says. “Now, rather than paper files, we have everything maintained on our server, which is easily accessible by our entire staff. Just make sure you have a really good backup system in place,” he cautions. Also, be sure to consult your legal counsel first, since you may need to keep hard copies of certain documents, particularly those requiring signatures. (See “Electronic Signatures: As legal as pen on paper?,” RAE, REALTOR.org/eomag.nsf/pages/LegalSpg01.)

Francisco was also concerned with the kind of everyday incidental paper waste that adds up. By using a tablet PC for everyday office tasks in the membership department, “a new member can complete and sign their applications and forms right on the tablet at the office. The documents are saved in PDF format and filed in our electronic member record system. No paper, no problem,” he explains.

Read it online, Not on paper
Reading e-mail and online publications rather than their print counterparts not only will reduce the paper flow in your office, but may also save you some money. Most publications are now available online for a reduced rate or even for free. For associations on the production end of things, you can lower your publication costs by posting your issues online for download. Granted, some members will still prefer the printed version, but at least this gives them the option to print out only the sections they intend to read.

What else can you do?
* Cancel your newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Chances are, you don’t read every page anyway. And, it’s most likely available online.
* Set up your office with a free online instant messaging service to minimize sticky-note usage.
* Review your interoffice form system to determine what really needs to be delivered to your desk or submitted to you on paper.
* Stop printing extra copies of meeting minutes and agendas. Most are e-mailed to participants in advance. Try connecting your laptop to a projector to display the information on a white screen during the meeting.
* Pay your bills online. Many financial institutions now offer this service for free. No more checks, envelopes, or stamps, and you can even receive your statement via e-mail.
It’s great that so many Americans are recycling, and it just makes sense that we all do our part to stem the tide of paper waste. The environment will thank you, as will the person who has to empty your recycle bins!

Stephanie Lance is the executive officer of the Bullhead City-Mohave Valley Association of Realtors®, Ariz., and a member of RAE’s editorial board. She can be reached at stephanie@bullheadrealtors.com.