Education institutions have become increasingly aware of ways to save energy, protect the environment and reduce their carbon footprint. Moreover, the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction, has witnessed a huge increase in the number of schools interested in going green. Lighting a classroom, shipping and creating products, fueling buses and photocopying paper all contribute to a school's carbon footprint.

Many schools are committing to use technology to help them create a “paperless office.” New administrative software can significantly reduce a school's carbon footprint. A paperless office is environmentally friendly, saves time and money, and improves day-to-day efficiency.

Where to start

By working smarter to make computers work harder, an education institution can significantly reduce the amount of paper it uses. The average school would save about 5,000 sheets of paper (or one box at about $45) per user each year. Maximizing the use of an administrative software program can help eliminate paper, storage, postage, ink and numerous other supplies.

To begin the process, start analyzing the efficiencies that finance-management software can deliver. Many applications can automate a number of manual administrative processes and eliminate redundancies in staff responsibilities. Software often is customizable to meet specific report requirements and create user-specific security access. Look for capabilities that enable users to budget, monitor and control finances effectively. Search for software with a range of features such as managing grant reporting, controlling the creation of financial reports, and creating a budget from requisitions.

By working on only one database for finance, payroll and personnel, human resources can be accomplished quickly and seamlessly. Look for user-profile records that enable the system to be tailored to a school's specific requirements. Features such as multiple payroll cycles for regular, recurring and one-time additional pay components can process salaried and unit-paid employees in a single payroll run. Automatic leave accrual and attendance tracking is another great feature that monitors absence trends for employees.

Using software that incorporates accounting, budgeting and payroll eliminates redundant input. Look for features such as auditing trails of all transactions, comprehensive reporting capabilities, budget-creation tools, and the ability to process W-2s and 1099s. Handling such sensitive information, a software application should have security capabilities that enable users' access to be dictated by their logon information. In turn, staff members can gain access to only the applications, menus, programs and functions appropriate for their position.

Converting documents into PDF files is another way to initiate the paperless process. Start by scanning files from accounting, finance and human resources. Scanned images and PDFs then can be stored in the software's database and attached to specific records. E-mailing electronic PDFs rather than sending documents by mail can save hundreds of hours in time and dollars in postage. Storing reports as PDF images also can make them easier to find and retrieve.