It was wicked simple: Some employees at Hancock Lumber Co.'s yard in Kennebunk, Maine, thought it would be good to recycle office trash. General manager Bob Greene called the town and learned Kennebunk would supply it a six-yard dumpster at no charge.

Hancock set out some extra trash cans designated for recycling, and soon Greene found the company was filling its 30-yard rolloff dumpster for regular trash one-third slower than before. Greene can expect to pay a trash hauler up to $200 to take away that dumpster every time it fills up, which used to occur about once a month. Adding the recycling bin should save him close to $800 per year.

When LBM executives think about moving forest products through their yards and millwork operations, they're more likely to notice the piles of sawdust and scraps they create than the piles of paper they churn out. But think about it: Billtrust estimates that the average dealer generates 4.2 pieces of paper just to make an accounts receivable transaction.

All that paper carries financial as well as resource costs. BlueTarp Financial says a dealer with 1,000 accounts and 3,300 invoices per month can spend $25,000 a year on postage and paper. Parr Lumber, a $430 million operation based in Hillsboro, Ore., estimates that it costs the company $6.50 to create an accounts payable invoice.

Those paper piles and money piles provide extra incentive for dealers to regard electronic document management as a win-win for both the wallet and the environment. After Ply Mart of Norcross, Ga., installed document scanners and a network to share documents electronically across its locations, it found the savings in gasoline from no longer driving paper plans around more than paid the cost of the software. The reduced carbon dioxide emissions were icing on the cake.

When asked how it's going green, Parr executives bring up the company's paperwork reduction program. Their goal is to cut the $6.50 average cost for accounts receivable down to $1.80.

Parr also is thinking of green ways to renovate its yard in central Portland's Pearl District. The renovation, set to be finished this month, will have flooring, ceiling, and cubicle walls made from recycled materials. A solar energy system will cut energy costs by 30%, and during hot times, a 15 SEER (seasonal energy efficiency rating) air conditioner–far more efficient than needed for an Energy Star rating–will cool the building.

For some dealers, going green can be as simple as changing the paper coffee cup. Many are coated with a plastic that's tough to separate during recycling. International Paper has developed a cup in which the coating is made from a corn-based derivative, thus making the cup fully compostable.

Then again, you'd be better off encouraging in-house employees and regular visitors to fill up with their own coffee mugs. But think twice about ordering mugs just for this purpose. By some estimate, the amount of energy used by a kiln to create a ceramic mug is so great, one would have to use it 1,600 times for it to break even with the energy used to create that many paper cups. While you're at it, think also about how you serve water. If you buy cases of half-liter bottles for the staff, consider purchasing your water in jugs instead. Or just use tap water–that's where a big share of bottled water comes from anyway.

There also is an inexpensive green way to reduce the absenteeism caused when workers get respiratory and allergic problems from common pollutants that might come out of the walls, furniture, and copies in your office. Research spearheaded by NASA touts how spider plants gobble up formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. Other recommended toxin-eating plants include aloe vera, Boston fern, English ivy, and philodendron.

–Craig Webb