April 4, 2005

Group looks to curb campus appetite for paper

More than 50 years ago, early computer pioneers predicted the era of the "paperless" office when computers would make printed documents obsolete. Today a task force is hoping to nudge the campus community closer to that ideal as one way to help reduce the environmental impacts of campus operations.

It's a topic that has emerged at President Gonzalez' Town Hall meetings and last year a committee representing Human Resources, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, University Affairs, the University Computer Center, Reprographics, University Enterprises, and the University Counsel made recommendations that call for the campus community to take a more targeted approach to sharing information that relies less on paper and more on electronic communication such as e-mail. This semester, the group began looking for ways to implement its recommendations and measure the impact.

Sacramento State has already made some big strides in its effort to use less paper:

Mike Lee, associate vice president and dean of academic programs and chair of the paper reduction task force, readily acknowledges that eliminating paper entirely isn't possible or even desirable. For example, the legality of certain documents depends on having an original written signature. And not every campus employee, especially those working in maintenance and food service, has regular access to a computer.

"If an electronic document is not easily accessible, then paper is the way to go," Lee says.

Finding a reliable way to track campuswide paper use has proved challenging. One measure is the rate of paper recycling. Last year, Sacramento State sent 250 tons of office paper and shredded confidential documents to the recycler-that's an average of 166 pounds for each of Sacramento State's 3,000 employees.

"The biggest challenge for any paper reduction effort is habit, the need to have a paper copy," says Lee. He's convinced that most paper is used for storing information, not distributing it. Lee would like to find ways to encourage people to make better use of their computer's filing capacity.

"We're dealing with a cultural change," Lee observes. "We have to try to convince people that there's something bigger than the urge to hit 'Print.' We have to encourage them to pay attention to impacts on the environment."
Lee says the task force wants to hear about successful paper reduction efforts already in place at Sacramento State. The group also welcomes ideas and suggestions for reducing paper use. Lee can be reached at mikelee@csus.edu
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