Any thoughts?

I’m a business student majoring in Public Policy. This degree program was the foremost reason that I chose the Kelley School. I love the idea of using policy as a tool to maintain the balance between private and social interests.

Although it’s important to strive to maintain the balance between personal and social well-being, I understand that there is always a trade-off. No decision will ensure both without compromise. For example, printing out lengthy course materials wastes paper, but reading from a computer screen hurts your eyes.

It’s not easy to put the environment’s well-being first when the concept seems distant. It’s easy to be tempted to print everything out rather than always carry a laptop. Printing is convenient, especially on a college campus. But what happens when policy comes into play? Do the costs and benefits change? Can policy guide students to make different choices?

The answer is yes. Last semester, Kelley School had over 800 students in ICORE. That’s almost three times the number of ICORE students this spring semester. If each student decided to keep one hard copy of the case, 56,000 sheets of paper would have been consumed. In addition, each of the 137 groups of students handed in a final report of about 180 pages. That means, a total of 80,000 sheets of paper would’ve been used as the result of a two week case study.

In order to avoid that, Kelley School decided to publish the case exclusively in an electronic format. Students could access it online anytime, but could only print out one page at a time. Also, the file didn’t allow for copy and pasting. The only way to print out the whole case was to hit “print” for every single page; not a practical action during such a time intensive project. These decisions, made by the Kelley School, greatly discouraged students from individually printing out the whole case.

What was the result? Of 42 people randomly surveyed, only 17 said that they ended up printing out the whole case. Although those 17 students might not represent the entire class, the sample still implies that paper was saved by the changes. The printing barriers were designed to increase the cost of having a physical copy. As a result, students had an incentive to read the case on computer screens. These simple printing changes made a huge impact from a sustainability standpoint.

But just as other real world policies, this approach has a major drawback: fewer print outs didn’t necessarily lead to less paper consumption. Because students were limited to printing one page at a time, they weren’t able to print on both sides without manually flipping the printed pages, reinserting them into the printer, and printing again. Why does it matter? Suppose half of the 42 students want to print out the case. They would use 1,470 sheets of paper in total, being able to print one-sided only. Now let’s say all 42 students want a hard copy, but they print it on both sides. The number of sheets they’ll be using would be 1,470, which is exactly the same number we got earlier. From the above calculations, you can see that the success of this policy really depends on how many students decide not to print the case due to the change in the system.

So here I am writing to you. While Kelley School’s new ICORE case distribution policy was a good starting point to move toward more sustainable academics, it’s highly subjective to the individual student’s choice and preference. If more than half of the students print the case under the current system, they will be consuming even more sheets of paper than that they would without any barrier to print out the whole case. If you can think of any better way to encourage our current and future ICORE students to print less, please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to help you research and present the findings to the faculty for future ICORE classes. I believe putting together all of our little efforts will help the school achieve a desired level of environmental friendliness. I look forward to hearing from you.

Written by Jo Kim, Sustainable Computing Working Group Intern of the IU Office of Sustainability


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