How to Calculate Your Office Paper Footprint

paper-footprint by Andrea Hart, Sustainability Analyst, BlueMap Inc.

To help you calculate exactly how many trees are used to make the paper for your latest office report, the Environmental Defense Fund has created a paper calculator on its website. Although it’s a great tool, it expects the user to know how many pounds of paper are used. This is a more difficult task than you might think: Most people don’t know how much their office paper actually weighs. What most people do know is the number of sheets of paper in a given case, how many cases they go through, and a number on the side measured in “pounds” – typically indicated on the paper’s wrapping or invoice. Despite being called “pounds,” this number does not directly indicate how much that paper actually weighs, rather it distinguishes the quality of the paper stock itself. Business cards typically use 80 lb. paper stock while office paper is typically 20 lbs. So, if we do not know how much the paper actually weighs, how can we accurately calculate its footprint?

Here’s a quick way to do it:

In order to easily and effectively calculate your office’s paper use in relation to the number of trees used, follow the steps listed below.

1. Start at the Environmental Defense Fund paper calculator: Link Here
Scroll down and select “Compare individual papers”

2. Enter the proper information regarding your baseline paper information. For the “Quantity per Year” tab, temporarily leave blank. For the “Percent Recycled Content” tab, select the appropriate percentage.

3. To determine the “Quantity per Year” figure, visit Appletonecoated’s website in a new tab. Enter the proper information regarding the paper. Typically, office paper is 81/2’’ x 11’’. The “Basis Weight” of the paper can be found on either the packaging or the invoice for the paper. After completing the form, you’ll receive an “M-Weight.” Write this number down.

4. Return to the Environmental Defense Fund Website. Under the “Quantity per Year” tab, now enter the M-Weight number from the Appletoncoated website. Make sure you select the appropriate weight measurement (ie tons versus pounds). Select “calculate.”

The Environmental Defense Fund offers some really interesting information regarding your calculation. The number of trees is included, but also the net energy, greenhouse gas emissions, waster water and solid waste. This is a great calculation to better understand the broader impact of paper use.

5. In order to put these numbers more into context, visit the EPA’s website of Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculations. Scroll down to “Option 2” and enter appropriate information under the Carbon Dioxide tab. To find this information, return to the Environmental Defense Fund calculation. Take the number of Greenhouse Gas lbs and enter it into the Carbon Dioxide tab back on the EPA’s website.

The paper calculator is a helpful tool in better understanding just how many trees and environmental impacts go into making the paper your office uses every day. Keep that in mind when printing large reports (think double sided printing instead!).


Andrea Hart is a Sustainability Analyst at BlueMap Inc., a research firm focused on the quantification of sustainability decisions and clean tech investments for our clients. BlueMap Inc. specializes in creating profitable and innovative environmental impact reduction strategies for our clients. BlueMap’s advantage is its focus on quantitative analysis to prove which strategies concurrently lower overall costs as well as environmental impact.

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5 responses

  1. This is a great start, but it measures paper only. There is additional impact to the toner or ink used, so any attempt to calculate savings will not be complete without them. For example, 1 million printed pages use at least 100 toner cartridges, resulting in over 1000 pounds (about 500 Kg) of CO2 emissions, not to mention the financial savings.

    1. Agreed. Aside from inks,there is an additional impact from the non-renewable petroleum chemicals used as coating and binder additives in coated papers (such as SB latex). It would be great to eventually see the footprint of these measured as well.

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