Think Ink to Help Save the Planet

(I’ve been reading through some of my old essays from when I had to write a monthly editorial for our publication. For the most part, they are still relevant, so I thought I’d share a few. This one dates back to 2010.)

How committed are colleges and universities to sustainability and climate change–even at a time when such things as record enrollments combined with budget cuts and furloughs top most people’s list?

The sustainability movement is not only alive and well on campus, but it is also exceeding many expectations.

For example, the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, formed in 2007 to help minimize greenhouse gasses and achieve climate neutrality, continues its work?with impressive results. In an economic downturn, environmental issues typically take a back seat. That clearly isn’t the case with the 677 schools that have signed the commitment.

Also read about the growing movement toward eco-friendly technology, with a collection of tips on how your own institution can help save energy, money, and the environment.

But what caught my eye as we were putting this issue together was a brief news item that came across my desk.

Officials at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay discovered they could save money on printing costs by switching the school’s default e-mail print font from Arial to Century Gothic.

It turns out that Century Gothic uses roughly 30 percent less ink, according to Diane Blohowiak, the university’s director of Computing and Information Technology. The font doesn’t allow quite as many letters per line, but considering that ink is about 60 percent of the cost of a printed page, it’s still a savings, she noted. And with printer ink costing roughly $10,000 a gallon, that simple change could result in real savings for the school.

A simple font switch could, over time, result in real savings.

Just the thought that someone would be able to calculate the savings produced by squeezing more letters out of an ink cartridge boggles the mind (or my mind anyway, which typically runs screaming whenever it hears that math is involved). I applaud the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s efforts at saving money down to the pica level. It’s a simple change that, over time, will make a difference.

But what U W-Green Bay probably didn’t expect was the reaction that the news of the font switch produced from people who you’d think would have more pressing matters with which to occupy their time.

First, there was some dismay from the school itself over how the story was perceived elsewhere.

“We note also that in the Houston Chronicle, it was placed in its ‘News Bizarre’ section. Is saving money and using less ink ‘bizarre?’ ” asked Communications Director Christopher Sampson. “And at the Miami Herald they think that this change is worthy of ‘Weird News.’ Maybe it’s the oxymoron of printing out your e-mails, but c’mon, practically everybody does it at least on occasion. Or maybe they’re getting too much sun in Miami and Houston.”

The topic was also fodder for a prolonged debate by a group of “Type A type types” on the tech-oriented Slashdot blog, who were eager to one-up one another with their opinions of U W-Green Bay’s ink inspiration.

“Who was the genius there that had them using ink jet printers instead of laser?” asked one commenter. “Probably the same genius that thinks this will save them money?”

Said another: “Seriously. If you’re printing e-mails on the school’s inkjet printers, your font is probably not the only change you need to make.”

One commenter chimed in: “In most universities the local IT has no power to change any of this, and has to walk a lot of very fine lines politically. Localized IT has both the responsibility to enforce these edicts, and none of the power to do so.”

Yet another pointed out, with supporting links, that printer ink actually costs more than things like human blood or a barrel of crude oil. (I am not making this up.)

So, if you’re wondering about the commitment of colleges and universities to sustainability, you can rest easy. They’re thinking about it. Trust me, they’re thinking about it.


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