On the way to green: Universities waste paper by design

August Pelliccio – Features and Opinions Editor

Paper usage is always a touchy subject. Environmentalists will always vouch to save
the trees, and use more sustainable resources. Yet, colleges and universities have always consumed so much paper, that its tough to foresee a paperless university at this point.

There have been innovations in my lifetime that seem like they could eliminate paper. have not written a check out, physically, more than a handful of times in my life. When my bank statement comes, it arrives in my email inbox, not the box on a post on my front lawn. I catch all of my favorite magazines online, and when I write notes to myself, it is through the keyboard of my iPhone. If the supply of paper stopped completely, permanently, there is little about my life I would have to change. The university, on the other hand, would have some catching up to do.

There are a lot of steps that this school takes to reduce the consumption of paper, and some of them make a serious difference. Every page of an assignment turned in digitally on Blackboard Learn 9, for one, is a page not printed and eventually, thrown away. On the surface, it seems like the university is encouraging sustainable resources, namely computer operation, but dig deeper, and see how much paper can be seen all over campus.

The reason for this is simple. The idea of a paperless university is noble, sensible, and to be frank: possible. Motivating a change of that scale upon a system this large, however, is no small feat. Years of technology development, persistence, passion and practice must happen first.

Walk into any building on campus, and look around for five minutes. See any flyers? Pamphlets? Signs? To this university’s credit, the Adanti Student Center features a pretty impressive sight upon first entry; televisions line the top of the walls, above the main elevators. Similar screens are propped up on posts adjacent the entrance to the food court. These innovations reduce the need for constantly changing paper banners, signs, or handouts, regarding that day’s events. Walk a bit further, however, and see cork boards layered in paper flyers and advertisements.

The application of digital textbooks, and online assignments is another way this university has fought the battle against paper consumption. However, the only classes I have taken that used digital submission alone were online classes. Every class I have taken wherein I show up to a classroom or lecture hall in person, there are handouts, and I am asked to submit hard copies of assignments.

I understand it. I am a hands-on learner, and I prefer to read, correct, and rearrange my work on paper. I like to write in red pen over something as I edit my draft. I prefer hard copy textbooks to online versions. As innovations make paperless learning easier, I add them into my repertoire, but as a student, I have little control over how assignments are expected to be turned in.

Even as close behind as high school, or middle school, I remember when computers weren’t as reliable as they are today. I remember a time when “I couldn’t access the server from my home internet connection,” or “My printer can’t print out the file type that was posted online,” were sound arguments. There is very little to be desired, today, in regards to internet reliability. Blackboard could definitely operate with less glitches, but I haven’t had a problem serious enough to prevent submission of an article. We should use it more, and paper less.

According to Brandon Gaille, a small business and marketing advice company, nearly 50 percent of the world’s logging industry can be traced to paper production. We are using as much paper as we are wood. The acceleration of paper usage needs to stop, because trees are not sustainable forever.

I look forward to the college and university system that operates without using paper, and I do think it is possible. The change is underway, and we have a long way to go, but environmentalists cannot give up. We rely on the technology to eliminate paper, and we are so close to being there.

Photo Credit: August Pelliccio


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