Going paperless, one sheet at a time - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Going paperless, one sheet at a time

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TOWN OF BRISTOL (WKOW) -- You can drive around and read about homes for sale on an MLS flyer, or in a few cases, the house will just talk back to you.

Real estate broker Chris Thomas got the idea five years ago to hook up electronic boxes with small radio frequencies inside houses on the market. A short 60-second broadcast of his voice airs as you approach in a car, allowing you to hear the specs of a home.

Thomas estimates the technique saves him and his business Right on Target Real Estate a few reams of paper a year, but he wanted to conserve more.

"The old days, you had to print a page, maybe drive to meet somebody, so now you're wasting gas on top of that," said Thomas.

Those days are gone, however. That's because at the start of this year, Thomas signed up for a service called DocuSign. For about $20 a month, a computer program creates specially-coded signatures that can be created and inserted into electronic documents, and then emailed.

He demonstrated how it has allowed him to save twenty to thirty pages of paper for each simple transaction.   The savings multiply when one considers the amount of copies made each time an amendment is negotiated.

While it's true you could recycle the paper, a local expert said the environmental benefits are better if you "pre-cycle," or never use paper and the trees from which it originated.

Steve Smith is the Chief Operating Officer of Esker, Inc., a French-based company with its North American headquarters in Madison.  Esker's mission is to shows offices how to reduce paper.

"It also affects the amount of oil that's used, water that's used, the electricity that's used to make it," Smith said of pre-cycling.

Along with conserving paper, Smith's team of consultants are equally focused on finding ways to make business run smoother, largely with electronic coding of documents.

"A process for one of our customers that used to take over three hours per document, now is reduced down to 47 seconds," said Smith. "It's a huge savings."

Thomas is focused not just on his own savings, but the larger impact if others follow suit. "Me being the little guy, I can only do so much, but I think if the word got out, more agents started doing that, then I think it could be a lot more dramatic."

So far, Chris Thomas has cut his paper use 60-percent this year.  A paperless world, however, that's something else.

"People in my age group, and above, are still used to reading something on a paper," said Smith, who says even his Madison office could do a better job of reducing paper use.

Smith cautioned, however, that "paperless office" movements in earlier decades failed because they were too extreme, with an all or none approach.  He said societal and technological shifts will create a transition to eventually reaching that goal.

Even real estate broker Chris Thomas, who also rescreens faxes electronically before printing, says he plans to always keep one paper back-up of each files, just in case.

By the way, reducing paper also reduces the amount of toner you have to buy.  Consider this... if you were to buy ink by the gallon, it could cost up to $8,000.  Smith says he links potential clients to a website called GreenPrint, which lists dozens of statistics on paper conservation. 

Email Carl Agnelly at cagnelly@wkowtv.com

Follow Carl on Twitter as "agnelly_WKOW"

Read Carl's Good to be Green blog.

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