Paperless? Environmentally friendly? Hardly.

I met with a group of students recently to discuss technology; where we are now, the challenges in funding, and where we want to be in 2-3 years. They shared a number of valuable perspectives.

One issue that bubbled up that concerns me greatly. Students use our public clusters a lot. Whether to jump online between classes, more in-depth surfing or writing papers, the convenience is obvious. But they also seem to flock to computer clusters for the printing. They can write on their own computers, but they like to print on campus printers. And why wouldn’t they? We provide a large printing quota that, if exceeded, can be increased by a simple request.

Students can print at will. Print a draft, or two or three, then final copies. They are sometimes required by instructors to print several copies of their papers for distribution in class to others. It is not uncommon to see hordes of paper printed and often discarded to recycle bins just as quickly.

The cost of printing is yet another matter. Reams upon reams of paper are consumed. Toner cartridges are replaced often. High volume printers need replacement parts and have to be upgraded every few years. It is one person’s job to keep pace with daily printer needs around campus.

The promise of a paperless world is a concept unproved. In fact, it seems that we are printing more than ever. I understand. While I spend a lot of time reading online, it is still easier and quicker to have that paper in hand.

However, there is a cost to that convenience. And as I preach, change is about modifying behavior.

We are a ‘green’ campus. We promote environmentally friendly themes. This is an area of conspicuous consumption we could address.

How? First raise awareness. Help the campus understand the cost and impact to the environment. Then, engage discussion among faculty, talk about how can we use the technology tools at our disposal to work more online and demote rampant printing. Finally, place appropriate signage and information about printing in the labs.

The funding we save over time would be significant. And we would practice what we preach as environmentalists.

4 thoughts on “Paperless? Environmentally friendly? Hardly.

  1. If you have some time, you might find the book The Myth of the Paperless Office interesting. I have not read it, but have heard good things about it and the excerpts I have read from it are interesting.

    While the book is geared toward industry I'm sure many of the topics would translate to our environment.

    Our library on campus does not seem to shelve this; however, I'm sure it could be requested.

  2. Printing costs money, PSU can no longer afford to provide this as a totally free service to students (especially ones who are abusing the system) at the expense of another computational infrastructure needs. I propose the following cost recovery model:

    1. Lower the starting print quota to 50 pages for each student per semester.

    2. If a student goes over the quota, student may "purchase" another quota of 100 pages for $10 (10 cents a page) paid through the Computer Store (since they are already configured to accept payments, hopefully a my.Plymouth payment page could eventually be deployed), at the time of payment, helpdesk personnel receive an email to reset the quota.

    3. Any unused prints (under quota) will be lost at the end of the semester (similar to what Sodexho does with dining points)

    I come from NJ, the toll booth capital of the world. When the NJ Turnpike raises tolls, there is a quick backlash of folks who swear they will never drive on the road again. About 6 months later, the Turnpike Authority ususally reports record traffic volume levels, despite the higher costs. I suspect the same behavior would hold true if this scenario played out on campus.

  3. Brendon's comment reminded me of a couple things...
    First, we're actually in a great place as far as printing goes. When I was at Boston University we were struggling with trying to get control of printing on campus. There were no quotas and no restrictions on where people could print. Beyond the overwhelming volume there was also a constant problem with pornography being printed to office printers.
    Second, one of the main arguments against charging for print quota has been that the helpdesk is not always open and is not set up to take cash. Given that the Lamson Learning Common will have longer hours and operate 7 days/week I think we would be foolish to not to plan to take money for print quota as well. The library already handles late fees for books right?

  4. Good comments. Will take a look at the Paperless Office.

    I agree we should assert more controls and limits to what is included for the tech fee. I think 50 page limit is too harsh, not that I don't think it's a good message, but because many of the faculty assign projects and papers that call for printing many copies for peer review.

    Printing limitations have two main challenges: academic culture and personal habits. Until and unless faculty embrace the concept of less pring/more online, they will continue to request hard copies of assignments. And then there is the personal preference...many of us would rather print and read/comment/critique instead of doing this online.

    We will talk with some of the faculty and see if we can incite some interest around 'green themes.' Meanwhile, we will explore printing quota changes and charges for overages. Students need to weigh's their tech fee.

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