The cost of printing: College must offer incentives to lower amount of paper waste

As an environmental studies concentrator, it has been exciting to witness the new role Williams has taken in environmental initiatives over the past year. In January, President Schapiro announced that the Board of Trustees has committed the College to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below its 1990-91 emissions levels by 2020. An alumnus just wrote Williams a $5 million check to fund an environmental center. And Thursday Night Group is being attended in record numbers.

However, despite all this excitement, it seems like the majority of Williams students do not think about the environmental cost of their actions. Every day I see newspapers and bottles thrown in trash cans that are next to the recycling bins. There is also a significant lack of appreciation for the work that Dining Services does in the name of environmental stewardship. Worst of all is the amount of paper that is wasted everyday at the printers. The library printers are full of leftover one-sided documents that didn’t really need to be printed in the first place. Who really needs to print out every slide from his Biology lecture individually . . . twice? Fortunately, this is a problem that can be easily fixed by a small change of habits by the students.

Being a political economy major, I believe that market failures can be corrected by certain policies. I’ve started brainstorming about how we can get people to change their habits and think twice about printing documents. After doing a little research about what other schools are doing, I found that the cheapest option to the consumer would be to install release stations at every public printer on campus. This would work similarly to the release station that is already in place at the Jesup color printer. However, while this option would save people from accidentally printing out documents multiple times, it probably would not actually get people to print less.

At the other end of the spectrum is charging per page. A lot of schools already do this, including our rival, Amherst. Like many institutions that chose this route, Amherst charges $0.05 per page and then $0.03 if you print double sided. Trinity charges $0.09. Using these numbers, students at Amherst gives up a bottle of Coke for every 41 pages they print out. On second thought, I know Williams students really like their soda, especially when finishing a 45-page thesis, so maybe a less costly solution would be better.

The middle of the road option would be some sort of quota per student of free paper. For an economist, this option presents all sorts of possibilities. Even if a quota was set so high that it was not possible to reach it, research at other schools show that there is still a reduction in printing. I think it would be exciting having a quota target per student and creating rewards for those who don’t max out their target. Maybe even get people to trade leftover paper quota for other rewards. More realistically, however, would be the school setting a reasonable quota for students to reach perhaps based on semester, what classes you are taking or your class year. Setting a quota or allowance for students has been a very popular route for small liberal arts schools like ours. Middlebury does this, as does Ohio Wesleyan. One school pointed out that since implementing a quota of 400 pages a year, over 90 percent of students have used less than 60 percent of their quota. Even better is that the school has still seen a significant reduction in its paper waste from printers.

Obviously there are a lot of issues involved in implementing any kind of payment system. First, how will students who are on financial aid be treated? Even though Williams has a huge range of diversity when it comes to students’ economic incomes, the school takes significant efforts to erase this advantage when it comes to academics. Perhaps they would be given a bigger quota or no quota at all. There is also the issue of printing allocation to student groups and clubs on campus. Lastly, the major complaint that I hear when I discuss this with classmates is that it is “Un-Williams-like,” that this is a Purple Bubble where we don’t have to deal with the real world and everything that comes with it. My response is that similar academic institutions are dealing with this issue and are seeing results. Most of all, we are privileged to go to the best liberal arts college in the nation and we have a responsibility to set an example for other intuitions. Reducing paper waste this way is an easy and low cost step the College could make, especially in light of its new role in environmental stewardship.

Caroline Goodbody ’08 is a political

economy major and environmental studies

concentrator from Washington, D.C.