Do You Duplex?
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Do You Duplex? by Kevin McManus

First published in Industrial Engineer magazine March 2002

It must have been around fifteen years ago that my pet peeve regarding non-duplexed (print only on one side) handouts began to be formed. At that time, I was working for a company that was very cost reduction focused. We included an annual cost reduction plan as part of our annual planning package, we had a recognition process that rewarded people for implementing cost savings ideas, and we kept the supply closet under lock and key. We also had a copier that would duplex and we used the feature regularly. It was easy to determine that cost reduction was ingrained in the company culture at this location.

I can also say that cost reduction was a stated area of focus at the other employers I have worked with since that time, but I cannot say that a cost optimization mentality was ingrained in these company cultures as well. How can I say such a thing with conviction? It's easy. In addition to lacking systems that supported cost savings efforts or a consistent set of conversations that centered on this performance area, few people in these companies used both sides of the paper (duplexing) when they made copies.

While it may sound simplistic, I now only need to look at the handouts I receive at a presentation to determine if the handout maker is cost reduction focused. If only one side of the paper has been used, the ‘waste' light goes on in my mind and my perspective of the handout maker shifts to some degree. At an average cost of five cents a copy (or more), it does not take long to figure out how much money was wasted in preparing those ten sets of ten page handouts. Do you duplex? If not, do you still preach the cost reduction message on a regular basis?

In addition to sending a pretty obvious message about a lack of a true cost reduction focus, non-duplexed handouts also send signals about two other key things. First of all, one-sided handouts reflect a degree of complacency regarding the environment. If the handouts don't make it into a file folder or a notebook, they find their way to the trash or the shredder. They are subsequently taken to a landfill or some other form of disposal site. Using only one side of the paper will fill up our landfills in half the time, in addition to doubling the cost of providing the information itself.

Secondly, as technology continues to become more affordable, the existence of handouts period indicates that the organization in question may be a little behind the curve in terms of becoming paperless. The fact that I am writing on the topic of duplexing itself bothers me to some degree, because I am really trying to ‘think paperless' myself. If we were really using technology to its most cost effective extent, we would not be making near as many handouts – people would get the information from an Internet or intranet site, or through some form of video conferencing.

Human behavior serves as the best indicator for assessing the gap between espoused values and the values that are in use (or actually believed). Preaching to others about cost reduction will have a reduced effect if the leader displays cost wasting behaviors such as using only one side of the paper, showing up late for a meeting, or wasting meeting time simply reading what is on the handout itself. Our people both see and look for such hypocrisy, even in situations as relatively minor as these may seem.

I have stated in previous articles that non-production processes often have more waste still in them than your average production process does. Additionally, much of this waste is of a non-human nature. In other words, we are not employing too many people, but we are most likely not using the daily time investment that each of them makes very wisely. This goes for both management and hourly support people. The lack of duplexing, a sound cost reduction plan, and systems that promote cost optimization all serve as indicators of potential savings to be gained, both large and small. More importantly, they serve as indicators of the lack of an ingrained cost optimization mindset across the organization.

In addition to ranting about a pet peeve of mine, I am really trying to make three key points here. First and foremost, we need to be cognizant of how our actions speak louder than our words. Secondly, we really need to be pursuing the ‘paperless' organization more aggressively and more intensely. Finally, we need to better understand where our waste streams are (specially the non-human ones), what the relative significance of each one is, and what system changes are needed to greatly reduce them, both for environmental and cost savings reasons.

I have attempted to point this mild form of business hypocrisy out to others on occasion when I felt that the relationship between myself and the offender would withstand such a challenge. In most cases, people think I am making a joke or simply displaying another of those idealistic beliefs I have about high performance work practices. As time goes on however, I am becoming more and more convinced that non-duplexed handouts can serve as a barometer for an organization's cost reduction focus, its level of environmental responsibility, and the degree to which it embraces effective, new technologies.

It is my sincere intent that you too adopt such a distaste for single sided handouts, and that you begin to help me in showing people what their existence indicates regarding cost reduction, environmental awareness, and technology application. If we can all more actively strive to put an end to this form of business waste, perhaps our efforts will also help the organization out in other ways. For example, our notebooks won't be as heavy and our file cabinets won't fill up at fast. Do you duplex?

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