Your Paper Footprint – Environmental Murder?

WASTE – Trees and killing the Environment

A barrow-full of waste paper

Recently, I had to clean out the attic to make room to store some more stuff I no longer require – just in case I need it in the future. Confused? Read on …

One of the things I came across (which I added to my “rubbish to throw out” pile) was my old accounting documentation. I had a wheelbarrow full of papers, dating back more than 10 years to when I started my business. They were all neatly bundled, categorised and labeled, and, of course, buried under a ton of dust.

Apart from the schlepp to now move and get rid of all this paper, there is the BIG issue of WASTE. Why, I asked myself, had I produced and kept this paper trail for years?

The answer lies in some relic of an accounting/legal requirement that we have to make hard copies of all our transactions and keep them for 5 years, in case there is an audit by SARS. It’s not only bookkeepers, but also sales, logistics and a number of other disciplines that are stuck in this paradigm of “one original with triplicate copies” – white, pink, green and yellow – to give this waste some colour.

Please understand that I have nothing against paper (SAPPI is one of my World Class clients), bookkeepers, copier and printer companies or sales and delivery people per se. I do, in fact, understand and subscribe to efficient systems and controls to keep track of and account for money and assets. Furthermore, the world cannot function without paper for packaging, printing and books. Paper is still the #1 means for knowledge transfer and will continue to be for ages to come.

What I do have a problem with is the WASTE of resources like Time, Money, Energy, Space and also Human Resources. There is waste in producing paper we don’t need in the first place, handling it, filing it, storing it, disposing of it and, ultimately, filling up our waste dumps or having to collect and recycle it. The irony is that, in most cases, the information on the paper is transferred by data capture clerks into one or other computer system! Why not enter it directly into the system, without any paper? The legal/auditing reason I mentioned earlier is a poor excuse. Nowadays, even money-sensitive operations like SARS and banks are going more and more PAPERLESS. With the growth in EFTs, the cheque book will soon become a true museum piece. Yet, I am frequently asked to provide a “cancelled cheque” to verify my account details when completing a vendor application!


Forget the carbon footprint for a moment and look at your PAPER FOOTPRINT. In areas under your control, like your safety systems, how much WASTE are you creating through your paper systems? All in the name of being able to have a “paper trail” which you can audit? There are tons of smarter ways to do this using technology.

Start at home, in your safety area of responsibility. As long as you have files & folders, filing cabinets and archives, monthly reports, board papers and the glossy annual reports, you leave a huge paper footprint. You are killing the environment. Incidentally, printers and copiers are paper eaters of note. If you place these devices and filing cabinets in offices, people will feel obliged to use them. Period!

You need to break the habit of “let’s make / keep a copy” by firstly changing your systems and attitude towards data capture and storage. Issue all employees with a memory stick to “take a copy” if they have to. Better still, keep documentation in a controlled network location, where access to it can be logged electronically (security feature) whilst still being accessible to those who need the information. Then, once you have proven it can be done, go to the EXCO and make a case for using this concept to drive home the issue of WASTE and actively contribute to taking care of the ENVIRONMENT.


Watch it! If you are fuming by now, you might set all the paper around you alight. 😀 😀 😀


Safety Data – a blessing or a curse?

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To Meet or Not to Meet, That’s YOUR Question

grandfather clock by speaker, author, thought leader Jurgen Tietz

Following on from my previous communiques on meetings, MyTime and So Many Meetings, So Little Time, and because time is such an important aspect of our lives.

Time is the most precious resource we have.
We all have this finite resource of 24 hours,
so why waste it in unproductive meetings?

And so, “To meet, or not to meet?” – that’s the question you need to answer if you are the meeting owner. 

Have a look at the 5 worst reasons for a meeting and examine your meetings. Do they fall into the category of “worst meetings”? 

Impromptu meetings, especially when abusing your position, really reflect on your lack of planning and crisis management style. You know how disruptive it is when you are called to a “the boss wants to see you now” meeting.

If you have to involve a group of people, then meet on your feet rather than on your seat. Sitting down with cookies and tea invariably draws out the session, but you can only stand for so long. 

If you want to know how others value your meeting, then organise it for after hours and see how many people don’t pitch or make excuses and how quickly you complete the agenda. 

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So many safety professionals complain about too many meetings and too much time spent in meetings.

In my latest group mail, I talk about this meeting paradox: We don’t have time to prepare for effective meetings, because we spend too much time in ineffective meetings. Here, I want to share a different perspective.

Before I was retrenched in 1998, I too had a severe case of “meetings overdose”. Now that I am self-employed, I have taken control of MyTime – the time which I spend in meetings. I realised that a large proportion of the meetings I was involved in were my own doing. Now, when I get a meeting request from a client, or, before I set up a meeting with someone, I ask myself a few critical questions:

  1. Will the meeting make or save me some money? What is the business potential?
  2. Do I have a clear purpose? Can this be achieved without a face-to-face meeting using some other medium (telecon, Skype, e-mail, etc)?
  3. Do I have to establish, refresh or reinforce a relationship or trust with the other party?
  4. Do I have to demonstrate or share some of my COOL TOOL™ or showcase what I can do?
  5. Who is going to pay for my time ‘out on the road’ and travel & accommodation expenses?

I have learnt to say NO to a meeting request/meeting setup thought if the answers to these questions do not give me a “YES, HAVE A MEETING” sign. I have also developed my 10 Questions to get the information I need from a potential client, without having to meet ubuso ngombuso, i.e. face-to-face.

I hear you say, “BUT in my situation …”

Think about your meetings as if you were running your own business and it will change your perspective. You will drop the meetings which do not further your business interests. You will learn to say NO to your involvement in meetings which do not meet the above criteria.When you own your own business, you quickly learn to become as tough as nails about wasting MyTime, or you go hungry. 

Next time, I will share the best and worst reasons for setting up meetings.

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Do Just One Thing

I am a great believer in FOCUS by doing and FINISHING one thing at a time – see my current group mail series Do One (Safety) Thing This Month.

I have a habit of preparing important proposals and customizing my presentations at night. That is the best time for me to set aside a few hours, concentrate on the task at hand, and finish it. If I try to do these during the day, with all the interruptions, it takes me twice as long and the likelihood that I will make mistakes increases. 

If you are employed in a corporate setup, you can do it too – set aside time in your diary, ‘take the phone off the hook’, set your e-mail to offline and then focus on the important task you need to get done.

I have done it for years and it works. You just have to teach subordinates and colleagues, as well as your boss, to respect your Focus Time!

Let me know if you’d like my Habit Poster and be sure to read Tony Schwartz’ blog post The Magic of Doing One Thing At a Time for more on this technique.

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Be the Master of Your Time

Being self-employed means I have to make sure everything gets done. However, that doesn’t mean I have to do everything myself. It is a poor investment in time if I do things which someone else can do for me – steals time from those things which only I can do. I have to focus on those things I do best and for which I have the skills and expertise that others do not.

Usually, this isn’t a big issue in a corporate set up, because there are many service and support functions. Nevertheless, we should all examine how and on what we spend our time.

So often we get to the end of the day, tired and exhausted, because we have been so busy ‘doing things’ – but what have we really accomplished? Often, it turns out we could have finished some of the important things if only we had not been caught up in all the ‘urgent’ things others could have done for us.

For example: Instead of me driving across town to collect or deliver an item, I make use of a courier company. Sure, on the face of it, it costs me more. However, the savings in time and effort alone are priceless.

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