The paper chase

Our college used around two million sheets of paper in our printers and photocopiers last year. For an organisation of our size, that’s really significant. This staggering figure looks set to rise further as we are collectively printing more than ever and our printing devices consume record levels of ink and paper – yet we continue to consume at a worrying rate.

Perhaps ‘going green’ is mentioned all too often in social and business activities today, but adopting a green policy and challenging ourselves to reduce our environmental impact is now much less an option and more of a requirement. This applies equally to all of us who form the education community. We have a ‘green policy’ that encompasses many environmental aspects of college life, and we should all give some consideration (better still, take some action) about issues it addresses.

As a support team, the IT Services department, is presented with new challenges to ensure we can maintain a printing and copying service for all, but also to deliver this service with a reduced environmental impact and cost.

Our biggest challenge is not technical, nor is it financial. Our biggest challenge is social. The evolutionary development of our College has encouraged everyone – students and staff – to use the available resources to their fullest in order to achieve outstanding results. Achieving outstanding results of course remains an essential outcome. This evolution has, however, led us to make excessive, costly and sometimes wasteful use of our printing facilities. Waste paper levels are very high and a ‘convenience printing’ culture now has a significant impact upon our spending.

As a user, I can’t do anything to change this, can I? Quite the opposite – everyone can help. We are a very large organisation, and small efforts from everyone can make a huge difference.

Printing to the nearest printer or copier is ultimately very convenient. If you need your document in a rush, the nearest printer will often deliver it without delay. But what about those larger print jobs? Tens or even hundreds of pages – perhaps not printed at once, but over the course of several days and in smaller batches? In this case, the convenience printer is not the ideal choice. Yes, it will deliver the printed material to a nearby location, but the cost for multiple pages is high. Send your larger print jobs to one of the photocopiers on campus, and take advantage of their improved speed, quality and features.

Waste paper is bulky and cumbersome. It can also be a highly visible indicator of a poorly used resource. A document may be produced by a printer, but this isn’t necessarily an effective use of a resource if the waste product is continually significant. Naturally, the human element sometimes lets the printing process down; failing to collect the document, or realising that the layout or content is incorrect. It’s fair to say that a print job can only be regarded as truly efficient if the document has been printed, collected by the user, and subsequently used to support or deliver part of their work or study.

Why not take a few more minutes each week to consider your printer usage? If you are running out of paper very frequently, your printer may not be up to the job being demanded from it. Equally, are the most frequent users of a printer where you work taking care to consider their needs for having a printed document? Remind your peers, and also your students of their own responsibility.