Remove paper for cost and environmental gains

David Tebbutt goes off in search of paper-saving ways of getting the money in.

27th April 2009 at 4:24 pm

Kevin Misselbrook is customer services director at Access Accounting.  He is also a member of the ICAEW’s IT Faculty Committee, in which capacity we were discussing environmental matters. In passing, he mentioned how few SMBs issue electronic versions of their invoices and statements, despite the unquestionable advantages for both the bottom line and the environment.

For example, if you don’t print stuff then you avoid paper (client’s copy and your copy), ink, folding, envelope stuffing, then franking or stamping. And, while not strictly your concern, the postal service delivery vehicles and sorting equipment all contribute their bit to the energy and environmental costs.

Then, of course, further savings can be made at your client because they won’t have to open the envelope, handle the paper or rekey its contents.

If you issue documents in a special format called XML, they could go straight into your client’s system and automatically become part of the workflow.

But, even if you take the easiest route and ‘print’ invoices as .PDF files and email them, then you’d still be taking a great step forward. This is readable on just about any machine these days. And the capability to output invoices in this way is provided in many accounting packages.

If your package doesn’t provide for this, or you’re using a database, spreadsheet or word processor to prepare your invoices, all is not lost. You can get a printer ‘plug-in’ – sometimes at no cost – which will ‘print’ your document to a .PDF file. CutePDF Writer is the one that both Alex Bellinger (the boss of SmallBizPod) and I use. You might prefer to go to Adobe itself, Scansoft or other companies that offer more sophistication.

STOP PRESS 1: Would you believe it? Microsoft has just made ‘Save as PDF’ one of its file save options in Office 2007 Service Pack 2.

STOP PRESS 2: Would you believe it? I just tried saving one invoice from Access 2007 and it outputs a completely different one. I don’t *think* I’m stupid, but I’m willing to get a second opinion.


David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World.

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  1. Mrtyn says:

    Hey David,

    Guess what – our FOSS in house developed ERP system will output EVERY document (invoices, orders, statements) to pdf out of the box.

    Every ‘report’ can be output to csv or whatever format suits – including html and pdf.

    No need to print anything if you dont want to.

  2. I’ve assumed that the readers have no in-house development staff. I’ve also assumed that they don’t want to change their existing systems.

    I could have added third party document management services and a number of ERP/accounting packages.

    FOSS, I presume is Free/Open Source Software. But free isn’t free when you have to develop stuff. Did you use ready-made modules?

  3. Sarah says:

    These are all great ideas SMBs can put into action to quickly start being a bit more green, and save money at the same time! Another tip: SMBs should also consider ditching the good old fax machine, and replace it with an online or server faxing solution, which could further help in reducing the amount of fax used up.

  4. Hi David

    Further to our conversation I can confirm Barron McCann Technology Ltd have a solution for transmitting any business document targeted at small businesses called epost.

    epost is available as a print driver that is easily installed by the user to any accounting package. This converts all text printed to a .PDF format which is emailed or faxed to the recipient at approximately half the cost of a 2nd class stamp.

    Stuart Morrison

  5. Hi Stuart. Yes, I looked at your stuff and Esker’s but thought I might be overcomplicating things. However, having spoken to you, I realised you could well be of interest to some of our readers. Thanks for dropping by.

    And give my best regards to your dad. (We worked in the same office at ICL in the late 70’s. And I also did a project with each of your company’s founders: Chris Barron and John McCann.) You certainly stirred up some old memories.

  6. Martyn says:


    Yep FOSS = free open source software

    Agreed it isnt free when you develop yourself, but… – Free
    Ubuntu – Free
    Thunderbird/Firefox – Free

    All do pdfs out of the box. No need for extra software.

    Plus OOo understands xml ‘natively’

  7. Martyn says:


    My point about our app was NOT that others should tread the same path (god forbid)…

    that building in pdf output into any app ain’t that difficult to do – when big software vendors advertise it as a whiz-bang feature they’re not being straight with their clients – it should be just ‘there’ as a matter of course.

  8. Tim Kimber says:

    Great advice David, completely agree. It’s also worth noting that there are a number of free software packages which can help SMBs go one step further than just simply emailing documents to clients and colleagues. These programs allow you to store Excel and Word documents online or in “the cloud”, effectively creating communal workspaces which people can edit from different locations. This is really useful if you’re constantly sending amended versions of spreadsheets over email with titles like “version 8” etc

  9. We are certainly benefiting from cost savings in moving much of training materials to PDF/electronic.

    In every case this has more than halved the amount of printed materials, and to be honest has made the experience of our delegates better, as we do not bombard with massive folders.

    Thanks for suggesting other PDF makers, will give them a try.

  10. Jake Carey-Rand says:

    Good points, David. If you aren’t using digital invoicing and CRM packages by this point, you are costing your business thousands a year, not to mention the environmental costs. However, looking at it from another angle we might be able to cut down on excess paper when documents absolutely need to be printed. Companies such as Greenprint ( are now putting this into place and working out the initial kinks which are certainly involved in such a task. Why not tackle the problem from multiple angles? Thanks!

  11. Yes, indeed. Thanks for the reminder. I mentioned that very company last year in a blog called ‘Cut print costs and related harm’.

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