PDF In-Depth

PDF is green tech for your office

FedEx gets it there overnight, but PDF gets there in seconds


The vast majority of FedEx packages are nothing more than printed documents. As must be obvious, when paper gets a cardboard wrapper and an airplane ride, it's the least green of paper. PDF gets the document delivered in seconds via email, not overnight via Memphis. Reforming that document's workflow can therefore dramatically reduce both emissions and costs, and save time as well.

PDF was designed to deal with the problem of sharing documents between remote users. While digital signature technology has been available in Adobe Reader for some time, it remains impractical for many ad hoc and consumer-oriented workflows, certainly as of this writing. Even so, simply moving the printing operation to the remote user cuts your own costs and saves the transportation cost (and carbon).

Many other efficiencies are available to those taking a larger leap into electronic documents. Equipping a workforce - and customers -- with legally-binding digital signature technology can eliminate a central cause of printing. A variety of online and offline collaboration solutions allow users to share marked-up PDF documents. Servers may be put to use facilitating document-management processes ranging from document assembly to page-numbering, from redaction to extraction.

At the end of the day, you still have to file it

During my career in document management, it's never ceased to amaze me how so many people worry about "losing" their electronic documents. Sure, that can happen in a poorly administered system, but it's hardly as if documents are never lost from paper-based systems!

Beyond physical loss, the key issue in electronic document filing is the ability to handle arbitrary documents equally, as paper-based systems can. PDF qualifies due to the qualities of reliability and consistency in print. For filing systems, it's vital to know that a scanned receipt is visually identical to a photocopied receipt, and that an emailed receipt appears just the way the sender intended.

Like buying filing cabinets and implementing filing systems, electronic document management requires and rewards preparation and planning. PDF is the obvious format for any such document storage application That's why PDF/A, the ISO Standard for archival PDF, was designed to address the requirements of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for ensuring the preservation of the original "as printed" page.

The green benefits of filing electronically are obvious. From filing cabinets to storage space, from furniture to staffing, paper-based approaches to document retention are low-hanging fruit for PDF-based document filing systems.


The basic tool required to bridge the gap between the carbon-intensive paper document present and the greener electronic document future was invented in 1993 as a way to streamline communications between publishers and printers.

Today, the humble PDF file is the file format of choice for "final" electronic documents. Properly created and deployed, PDF alone serves a critical need in reducing both business costs and environmental impacts.

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