If you look around you might think we live in a paperless world. Everyone uses smartphones, tablets, laptops, e-readers and other gadgets, so who needs paper anymore, right? Well, wrong. According to the E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Americans use approximately 4 million tons of copy paper per year, much of it in offices. According to IDC, it’s not to decrease anytime soon with 1.4 percent growth in office use in the next 4 years and total pages exceeding 857 billion in 2015.
Some of this paper is just a waste. Not waste in terms of materials you should avoid printing (short emails for example), but in terms of excess printing that occurs every day everywhere, from web printouts littered with ad images and blank space to spreadsheets with poor formatting. This is exactly where PrintEco gets into the picture, offering households and businesses software that will save them money and reduce their carbon footprint.
Started in 2010 by five University of Illinois students, PrintEco is creating plugins to reduce printing costs for consumers and companies by optimizing print jobs. Currently they offer plugins for Microsoft Office, Firefox and Internet Explorer. The business version of their product also includes an analytics feature that helps companies track the financial and environmental impact of their printing habits through a web-based dashboard. As you can see from the demo below, the plugins are user-friendly and actually in some cases, like with Excel sheets, make the printing process even easier by finding the best fit for you.
Arpan Shah, President and Co-founder of PrintEco told Illinois Launch his aha moment for this business idea came while interning at Baxter Healthcare couple of summers ago. “I saw a lot of printing waste going on, and I thought, ‘You know, there has to be some way to help reduce this,’” Shah said. He quickly found out this is not just an environmental challenge, but also an opportunity for businesses to save a lot of money – estimates are that an average of 17 percent of corporate printing is wasteful and on average, corporations spend $500 per employee annually on printing costs. Now, just think how many people work in your office and do the math (hint: annual savings = the number of employees x $85).
Shah wasn’t the only or the first one that thought of creating an optimization software solution, and there are a few competitors on the market, like Green Print and Fine Print that provide similar services. Yet, Shah and his partners at PrintEco believe that their ability to create different plugins for different applications differentiate them from their competitors. “Green Print and Fine Print don’t target specific applications like we do. They are trying to do across all applications with one solution, and ours is different solutions,” Shah told Illinois Launch.
It’s not clear yet if Shah is right about PrintEco’s comparative advantage, but in case it looks like there’s enough room for more than one company in this market. Even if the paper waste figures are a bit exaggerated and it’s only 5-10 percent of total paper use, we’re still talking about billions of dollars in savings. And it’s not just the printing – according to a study of J.P. Morgan on the advantages of the paperless office for treasury departments, handling printed documents is also expensive. On average, according to the research, to file and maintain 500,000 pieces of paper, companies spend an estimated $250,000 in workflow management, and approximately $150,000 in storage and disposal costs. So even saving just few percentage of this amount of paper by optimizing the printing jobs can save companies a lot of money.
If you look at the advantages PrintEco offers to companies, from the simplicity of use and the analytic tools to monitor the savings to the low price ($11 per workstation of 2-25 users with free trial), you see why it should be a no brainer for businesses who look for low-hanging fruit in order to cut costs and their footprint.
Does it mean that we’ll see herds of IT managers running to purchase PrintEco software? Not so fast. You still need to educate potential users and show them that these plugins are really going to save them money and won’t have any negative effects on the company’s operations.
In the meantime PrintEco is moving forward from one milestone to another. The company has already two investors – IllionsVentures, a premier seed and early-stage technology investment firm, and Serra Ventures, a professional advisory firm. It was be recognized by Microsoft as a start-up in their BizSpark program, a global program that helps software startups succeed by giving them access to Microsoft software development tools, connecting them with key industry players, including investors, and providing marketing visibility.
Finally, last November, PrintEco won the annual OG25 green start-up award competition at the Opportunity Green 2011 Business Conference. PrintEco was selected by the attendees via real time text and received We Are Plus’s $25,000 Brand and Marketing Package. Excited about the award, Shah told the attendees that he has “a renewed sense of motivation and urgency to follow our vision to make a positive and environmental impact in the business world.”
Hopefully his journey to fulfill his vision will be a successful one. After all, the best thing is just to avoid printing, but if you must print something, it’s probably better both for your wallet and the environment to do it with PrintEco.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Department of Business Administration, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.