Sustainable insight from Gordy Moore: “Think about it—take a second—DING!”

Think about it—take a second—DING! This line from Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” is one of the more applicable interjections I have come across in quite some time—especially when it comes to fostering a sustainable attitude! Why? Read on to find out!

This fall, students probably have noticed—and discussed—the new printing balance indicator that appears in the upper right corner of your screen when you log in to a campus computer. This little widget, from the PaperCut program we already used to track printing on campus, shows your printing “balance,” or how many of the 500 sheet per semester average you have already printed.

That’s right—the average Mac student, per 2014–2015 data, prints just over 1,000 pages per year. The library, ITS and the Sustainability Office implemented the 500 Sheets Balance widget as a part of a wider paper waste reduction initiative on campus, and reducing wasteful printing is an important facet of that work.

This sustainable printing goal is a part of our broader goal of Zero Waste by 2020, and the amount we print annually is nothing to sneeze at—over 2 million pages! But where do Snoop’s helpful lyrics come into play?

Since this initiative’s implementation, there has been a lot of discussion around this topic on campus, and a measure of confusion as well. At the onset, double-sided printing was counted as two pages instead of one, which created confusion and inaccuracies in student printing counts. This problem was soon fixed. Double-sided paper is now counted as only one sheet.100 pages were also added to each student’s balance to account for the change.

Having a healthy dialogue on any new campus initiative is important, and it’s positive that students care enough to critique this new system. What I have heard around campus, directly and indirectly, is that many students do not understand the purpose of the 500 sheet number, and don’t know what happens when it reaches zero.

The truth is, nothing “happens” when your printing balance tracker reaches zero. No angry gnome jumps out of your computer to crab at you, and you’re not sucked into a vengeful tree matrix of doom! It’s no crime to crack jokes about a new initiative that can be hard to understand at first, and in the last few months I’ve heard a broad array of wisecracks on the topic.

I think it’s equally important, though, to move beyond initial misunderstanding, criticism and jokes to look at the rationale behind this sustainable printing project. Yes, the most visible part of this initiative is the 500-sheet balance for all students, but there’s more to it than a number. What’s most important about this and a wide variety of other initiatives is the awareness and consciousness aspect.

What, then, is the 500 sheet balance trying to get the average Mac student to do? One simple thing: “Think about it—take a second—DING!” It’s clear that printing is a necessity to us as college students, and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. There is no single, silver bullet solution for our society’s current consumption levels as a society. I think we all know that our individual decision to print or not print on any given Tuesday will not by itself solve the systemic consumption, energy and climate issues we face as a world community.

This is where having a sustainable attitude comes in, and where the deeper function of the sustainable printing initiative lies. If that weird little widget makes even one student a day think about the impact of their printing and critique their daily consumption decisions, and that student then begins to make subtle changes in their consumption patterns, then our environment will be better off for it. It is this sustainable attitude and sense of consciousness and purpose in consumption that projects like these are trying to foster in the Macalester community.
What’s also important to emphasize is that the 500 sheet balance is not a “punishment” for printing, or an attempt to make those who print more feel bad. A number of majors and professors require a lot of printing, and what’s more, many people learn and absorb information better when they read from a printed copy.

I hope that we, as a campus, can work our way toward a more conscious attitude surrounding sustainability in a broader, holistic sense, and consider the ways in which our attitudes and decisions affect campus culture and the environment. If you have any questions or comments about the 500 sheets balance printing initiative, email the Sustainability Office at [email protected] or me at [email protected] As your Sustainability Officer, I’m ready and excited to hear ideas and comments from the student body and would love to sit down and talk with anyone.