Forging a New Paper Trail

With its greenery and college-town looks, Tufts seems like an environmentally friendly place. But, like most schools that rely on printers and copy machines to satisfy its hordes of paper assignments, Tufts hasn’t been so perfect. Luckily, a student initiative is seeking to combat paper waste and further environmental consciousness on campus.

Students in the Experimental College (ExCollege) class Environmental Action: Shifting from Saying to Doing, are working to change paper waste culture. The class works with campus environmental groups, including Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE), the Office of Sustainability, and Tufts Recycles!, as part of its attempt to limit paper use.

“We are trying to reduce paper use by working with professors and the administration to have more documents submitted online, and we are trying to change the default printer settings in the library and Eaton,” said freshman Melissa Langer, a member of the class initiative.

Tufts certainly isn’t shy about paper when it comes to spending. The campus purchased 269,745 lbs. of paper in 2009, about 70 percent of which was virgin paper made from freshly cut trees and not recycled, according to Tina Woolston, Project Coordinator of the Office of Sustainability and a class instructor. “The paper Tufts uses is about 2,662 trees or almost three football fields of green space,” she said.

Suzi Grossman

Luckily, the movement has an answer to these proportions. The campaign hopes to reduce paper use through double-sided printing and use of online software.

“Since Tufts’ paper use has increased whereas technology continues to get better… it seems like we as a university… should take advantage of technology to reduce our use of natural resources,” Woolston said.

The campaign works to make double-sided printing the default setting for all printers in campus printing centers but has encountered some technical problems. Two contracts manage multifunction printers: one for printers in faculty offices and one for public printers that charge a fee, like those in Tisch Library and Eaton Computer Lab. While staff printers were set to double-sided printing last year, others were set to single-sided.

The library staff supports the move to double-sided printing but first must be conscious of the needs of those who print there. Head of Library IT Support Christine Kittle cited concerns that professors would not allow or deduct points for double-sided documents.

“Tisch is committed to making the university a more sustainable environment,” Kittle said. “Unfortunately, it is not as easy as just making the switch. The largest consideration has to be the students and faculty needs.”

This point reinforces the overarching mission of the campaign—to change Tufts’ printing culture and enforce campus environmentalism.

To make the campaign a success, student  collaboration with faculty is necessary. Langer has been working on the student-oriented aspect of the campaign and has helped create several ways for students to get involved.

“Students can join the Facebook and event and sign the petition and talk to their professors and encourage them to reduce their paper use and the paper use for the class,” Langer said.

Although the campaign needs popular support to overcome some technical difficulties, the bigger challenge is inspiring the campus to be more attuned to environmental issues.

Students have also researched  efforts at schools in the Boston area, including Harvard and MIT. According to MIT student Jason Hoch, most students submit on Stellar—MIT’s version of Blackboard—or email assignments to their TAs. Hoch feels this is not so much a policy but a practice that has become ingrained in the school.

This movement hopes to incorporate environmental awareness into day-to-day Tufts life. The Community Health and the Environmental Studies departments have agreed to participate in a trial program in which professors will accept papers online. Additionally, Tufts is in the process of finding a new educational platform to replace Blackboard Academic Suite—one that would facilitate the process of submitting and editing documents online and thus moderate paper printing.

The class hopes to not only change printing behavior on campus, but also to inspire greater environmentalism through example according to Dallase Scott, a graduate student in the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning program who co-teaches the class.

“I hope it’s an each-one-teach-one idea, where students on campus learn from this movement and become interested in other environmental issues,” Scott said. “Sustainability is going to be a talking point, and there will be change on campus. The class feels it on a personal level, and the campus sees it because it’s becoming a culture. I hope that it accomplishes giving students in this course the confidence and the competence to take on social change through social marketing and their own personal behavior.”

Tufts Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell spoke to the class and expressed her desire to see the students pioneer the campaign.

“I think it’s such a no-brainer. It’s such an easy way to save [paper] that it will happen. It just needs someone to push for it,” she said. “There hasn’t been a champion yet at Tufts. I think that a champion or a leader, someone who can explain it or show a path is necessary.”

Woolston hopes that the campaign will reform the campus culture of paper waste and stir an environmentally conscious attitude.

“I hope this campaign will inspire students to act in a constructive, collaborative manner when confronted by things then consider environmental or social injustices,” she said. “I hope people will think back and remember, ‘We were able to create change on campus. It was hard and involved a lot of work, but we were able to make something happen.’”

Until a concrete shift in printing policy occurs on campus, students should remember to be environmentally conscious when printing those 20 pages of Blackboard readings in Tisch the night before an exam. Double-sided printing is easy to do and a small step in curbing the amount of paper waste on campus.