Filing and Recycling

by Don Friedman on November 29, 2016

Not our office:

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I’ve talked about the B Corp idea and how recycling fits into it. And I’ve talked about the replacement of paper with PDFs. And I’ve talked, amazingly enough, about filing systems. It’s time to combine those topics…or in other words, regrind my axe.

We’ll be moving our office shortly – all of four blocks, but it’s still a move – and I’ve been sorting through what we need to save and what can be tossed. The biggest amount of material we have, by physical volume, is our library, which is obviously coming with us. The second biggest group is files, both letter-size and drawings, and that group will eventually go away.

We number our projects consecutively (we’re currently in the 3700s for new projects) and our electronic files are organized by 100s, so I tend to think of the our projects by century. For example, we were in the 1900s when the recession started in 2008. Our files – in file cabinets, drawing boxes, and file boxes – are stored by century. For a number of years, we automatically labelled a file folder for each project as soon as the project started, regardless of whether there was anything to be filed. This was actually a minimal practice: I have worked in three offices where two copies of every piece of paper were filed, one by project and one by date in the infamous “chron file.”

In reviewing boxed files, I found that a number of centuries actually had more empty file folders than filled ones. Every project that had only electronic documents had an empty folder and the percentage of those projects has grown over time. About three years ago, our filed-paper quantity fell off a cliff: the last five centuries fit in one file cabinet drawer.

Similarly, the vast majority of our filed drawings are either shop drawings or record drawings from the New York Department of Buildings (perforated sets). As time goes by, more and more shops are being submitted to us as PDFs, which is great. And as the DoB moves to electronic filing the perforated sets will go away.

I said, in one of the old blog posts linked to above, that we may never again buy file folders. That’s now a definitive statement: we will never need to buy file folders again. We can recycle the folders we have for the decreasing amount of paper we file; as we start scanning old files, the absolute amount of filed paper will decrease even as the number of old projects grows. It’s a strange thing to realize we are watching the slow-motion death of the file cabinet, the banker’s box, the hanging file, and all of the associated paper technologies. Strange but good, as the amount of paper use and ultimate waste is reduced. Our new office will have less space devoted as a home for paper in boxes.

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