How Green is My Printer?

If you're worried about green IT or putting a dent in you energy bill or consumables costs, your printer should keep your up at night. Electricity, paper, ink, network bandwidth, device management all make printers a cost cow in the enterprise. eWEEK editor M. David Stone explores the areas your printer can be green and save green.

For companies and IT departments that take green issues seriously, printers deserve special attention. In addition to the questions you might ask about any IT equipment -- from power use to the potential for recycling or reusing the material in the equipment itself -- there are a slew of issues specific to printers and to the paper and ink they use. (We'll use the broad definition for ink here, to include toner) If you want to evaluate how green a given printer is, and maximize the green potential of the printers you have, here are some key issues to consider, with an emphasis on paper and ink.

Duplexing

Some of the most important questions focus on minimizing wasted paper. High on the list is print duplexing -- printing on both sides of a page. There are some documents that have to be printed on one side of a page, but having an automatic duplexer in the printer offers the possibility, at least, of cutting paper use by something approaching 50 percent. (A full 50 percent will never happen in the real world, if only because some documents have an odd number of pages. But depending on what your office prints, you could get close to 50 percent.)

Does it Duplex Efficiently?

Just being able to duplex isn't always enough. Some printers can print in duplex mode without slowing down. Others slow down at least a little, because it takes longer for them to suck a piece of paper back in after printing on the first side than it takes to simply get started with the next sheet in the tray. The more a printer slows down when duplexing, the more likely users are to avoid duplexing long documents -- which are precisely the documents that give you the most benefit from duplexing. A key issue for evaluating a printer is to find out whether it slows down in duplex mode and, if so, by how much.

Can You Force Users to Duplex?

Another good question to ask is whether the manufacturer gives you tools to let you define permissions, so some or all users simply don't have the choice to print in simplex mode (on one side of the page).

Is using Duplex Mode Easy?

For users who you don't want to force to use duplex mode, look for settings in the driver that make it easy for them to switch between duplex and simplex as needed. If a printer can print in duplex, but the choice is hard to get to, some users simply aren't going to bother. If the driver doesn't give users an easy way to switch, consider setting up each user with two instances of the driver -- one for duplex mode and one for simplex. Then make the duplex version the default.

A Word on Manual Duplexing

Some printers that lack automatic duplexing offer a manual duplex mode in their drivers. Typically, these modes print the odd pages in a document, stop to give the user a chance to turn the pages over, then print the even pages. Some even include animations onscreen showing users how to flip the stack of pages. For most network printers in a corporate environment, manual duplexing is a poor substitute for automatic duplexing, since it involves a trip to the printer to turn the pages over. For a small workgroup, however, or for a personal printer in someone's office, manual duplexing is better than not having duplexing at all.