Please don’t print this e-mail unless you really need to!
June 2, 2008
A reader asks, “What do you know about this symbol? It seems to appear on various organisations’ e-mails. Where does it come from? Is it an official symbol? Can anyone use it?”
The short answer: Anyone can use it. It’s not an official symbol. It’s gained use by popular appeal.
Is it worth using? That’s an entirely different question…
How did this whole thing start?
I’ve yet to find the first recorded use. Unlikely that I will! Anyone help out? It got a boost from TreeHugger’s Take Action Eco-Tip in Email Signature: Help us Start a Meme! (2007-03-12). From the comments there, it seems likely both text and image were around for a while before, as the tip only mentions starting a meme by,
Add the following lines to your email signature: “Eco-Tip: Printing emails is usually a waste. Make this tip go viral, add it to your email signature.” There’s an optional third line for the really devoted TreeHugger fans: “For more eco-tips, visit http://www.TreeHugger.com”.
What’s the fuss?
Seems this is one of those little things that can spark a big argument, more than once, and one which doesn’t have a clear outcome. For a good read, complete with insults try Hey, You Condescending Jerk, No One Prints Emails Anyway (2008-02-01), at TechCruch, a generally well-respected tech industry site. For another, shorter trip round the same, see Painted green (2008-02-16). Or an honest self-appraisal from someone who does print, Don’t Print (undated?). Or the News & Observer‘s article ‘Don’t print’ eases e-mail senders (2008-03-02), which manages not to come to any conclusions.
For some startling facts on paper used for printing, see before printing this email (2008-05-05). And for an amusing counter-claim – can anyone check the costs? – consider The dangers of using the email forward button and how you can save the environment.
So… to use or not to use?
Lots of people really do print emails (not even considering attachments). Because: they can’t read them properly on screen; they’ve been emailed a meeting agenda; they don’t carry a laptop every where; it’s easier to write notes on paper than an email; they read print faster than on screen; there’s some rule in their office about having a paper copy of everything; they’re not sure that electronic stuff really won’t get destroyed too easily. We’re a long way from the paperless office!
Printing emails uses paper, ink and electricity. So anything that helps remind people not to print emails may be a good thing. Colour printing costs more than black and white; perhaps we shouldn’t use this symbol or text in green! Especially where you’ve got a printer that automatically prints in colour, just because there’s something in colour to print. And don’t type it in bold, that uses more ink. (Does it use enough extra for that to really mean anything?)
But the symbol and text then costs more to print for every printed page it appears on. How could this possibly be studied and costed? On a local – personal or organisation basis – or global scale? How much direct effect has the symbol had – pages not printed? Do people really print emails just because there’s a message saying, please don’t? Does it cost less overall to print the email than read it on screen?
Is it a bandwagon? Guilt reduction? Smug factor?
Probably all of those for someone or other. But it’s got people talking about the issue. Some companies are even doing something about informing staff not to print. Perhaps they’re even training people in eco-aware office practice! If that works it way through supply chains, surely a plus.
I don’t use a signature on any email, beyond name or contact details when needed. Because I don’t think it will change this behaviour of the people I email, it’ll just seem preachy. I don’t include witty or worthy sayings either.
If you’re going to put something on your emails, how about this:
If you need to print this email or any attachments, reuse and recycle the paper.
Or why not use some the excellent alternatives from Green Signature Drafts, one has over 1,000 characters (which will mean something later). This article (2007-03-29) was quoted in the US national press! See the follow ups for links.
And why not change the message every now and again. I certainly don’t read bits of messages that look like the sender doesn’t care: like sign-up to email service XYZ.
Get your own symbol
Pretty much anyone using Windows has it. The symbol itself – a tree and winding road – comes from Microsoft’s Webdings font, released in 1997 with Internet Explorer 4. (There’s a page about the minor update of Webdings, with a little more history. It forms part of the “Community” characters in the font.
Using Word, PowerPoint (in a text box), etc.: Insert > Symbol ; change the font to Webdings; locate the symbol in the pane of characters; select it and insert into your document. Change the text colour to whatever seems appropriate, though green is an obvious choice! However, before you change the colour, read the printing issues above and below.
If you want some HTML to cut and paste into emails, try this:
<font color="#006600" face="Webdings" size="+3">P</font><font color="#006600"> <strong>Please consider the environment before printing this email.</strong></font>
(The quote marks should all be ordinary double quotes, and don’t respell color as colour.)
The code is from The Doc’s Blog, Please consider the environment before printing this email (2007-05-06), but anyone can use this as it’s very standard. If you prefer it inblack, change the numbers to “#000000”.
Sometimes the symbol gets replaced with (uppercase) “P”. This means you don’t have the font installed, or the application your viewing it in doesn’t know what to do with the webdings font. Some people replace it with an image, though much smaller than the one above! Gets round the non-printing problem, but does mean the recipient has to be willing to accept images in their email.
If you want an image, and can’t be bothered to make your own…
|green JPG||1,046 bytes|
|green GIF||98 bytes|
|black JPG||734 bytes|
|black GIF||98 bytes|
What are the numbers for? I was curious about how much effect the text and images have on the length of the message – which increases its transmission costs. For the text symbol it’s 56 bytes, excluding the message. 1 byte = 1 text character, so that’s around 10 words. So the tiny, blurry GIFs are worse than the HTML. And the better quality JPGs are equivalent to adding nearly 1,000 characters to the text. Give or take a few, this shows that a picture is worth 170 words!
Who does it belong to?
I don’t know what the intellectual property rights position is on using a symbol derived from a font. As it’s in general use, it would probably be hard for anyone to attempt to control it, and most likely pointless.
When is a symbol not a symbol?
For those interested in typography, in the context of a typeface/font, it’s not a character or symbol, it’s a glyph.
This entry is part of the Infomancy Eco-Symbols Series.