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New policy will save 1,100 trees year annually

The switch to 100 percent recycled paper at one of the country’s greenest universities might not come as a surprise, but the grassroots effort behind it proves positive change can start anywhere and with anyone.

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh — a pioneer in campus sustainability that has been recognized by the Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges and ranked 35th nationally on the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools list — will immediately transition from 30 percent post-consumer recycled bond to 100 percent recycled bond for white paper.

While two other UW System institutions require employees and students to use 30 percent recycled paper, UW Oshkosh appears to be the first to commit to the fully 100 percent recycled paper.

The first reams of the new, eco-friendly paper, which are expected to save about 1,100 trees per year, were distributed throughout campus Dec. 20.

But the decision to reduce the UWO’s environmental impact did not originate as a suggestion from the University’s Campus Sustainability Council or as a mandate from administrators. Rather, a staff member from Central Stores, the department responsible for ordering paper for all of campus, took the initiative.

“There was a dramatic reduction in cost for the 100 percent recycled paper, negotiated through the state paper contract, so it was more or less common sense to look into purchasing it,” said Mike Morrissey, a classified staff member at the University since 2003 and a 2009 graduate. “UWO leads the country as a green campus, so why not take the next step?”

Putting the paper to the test

After learning that the price difference between the 30 percent and 100 percent recycled paper was a mere 20 cents per ream — a 5 percent price difference, as compared to 50-to-100 percent price difference in the past — Morrissey approached his supervisor, Barry Gauthier, with the prospect of making the change.

“He was very supportive,” Morrissey said. “He asked me to draw up some numbers and present them to the assistant vice chancellor of administrative services.”

Morrissey and Gauthier also knew they had to put the new paper to the test before distributing it campus-wide.

“The color is the exact same,” said Morrissey of the paper, which has the same brightness level as the previous option. “At a glance, there is no difference between to the two.”

However, to make sure that the paper would not cause any problems in equipment across campus, Morrissey and Gauthier worked with Academic Computing, trying the paper first in a low-traffic computer lab in Radford Hall and then in labs in Clow and Halsey halls.

“There were some concerns about duplex printing,” said Laura Knaapen, director of Academic Computing. “Would there be more bleed through? If we can’t print on both sides, that won’t save us any paper. But the bleed through was no worse than what we already had.

“There were no complaints from students at all and no jams in the printers,” Knaapen added.

Following weeks of quality testing in the student labs, the paper also successfully passed the test in copiers, fax machines and desktop printers across campus.

But Gauthier, the mail and document services manager, ran into some trouble while testing the 100 percent recycled paper in Document Services’ high-speed equipment.

“We were getting a little crumpling at times, so it could be an issue of moisture control. Or it could be less forgiving because it doesn’t have the same structural integrity as the 30 percent recycled paper, which has new paper mixed in,” Gauthier said.

Plans are in place to test the 100 percent recycled paper in the high-speed equipment in the summer, when there will be far more moisture in the air. Gauthier also expects that once the lease on Document Services’ equipment expires in 2011 and new equipment comes in, the department will join the rest of the campus in using the 100 percent recycled paper.

Achieving budget neutrality

Morrissey spoke with interim Director of Sustainability Michael Lizotte, who was pleasantly surprised by the drop in price of the 100 percent recycled paper.

“My first reaction after saying, ‘This is great news’ was ‘How can we reduce the paper consumption by 5 percent to make this budget-neutral?’” said Lizotte, a member of the Campus Sustainability Council, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and staff that advises the University’s administration on sustainability issues.

Lizotte and the Sustainability Council already have been working with Academic Computing and other departments across campus to brainstorm methods for reducing paper consumption — which has increased as student enrollment has increased over the past 10 years. For example, computer labs now incorporate a “countdown” showing how much paper a student has used.

“Nothing happens if a student gets to zero,” Lizotte said, “but people often don’t conserve if they don’t have a visual reminder. That usually has an effect on behavior.”

Knaapen said that Academic Computing has been working with the Oshkosh Students Association to look at printing limits in the labs. She expects that once statistics are gathered, appropriate limits will be set.

In addition, the Sustainability Council plans to work with faculty to reduce paper use on campus, including through their assignments to students. Faculty and teaching staff currently have the option to receive, edit and grade electronic submissions of assignments through GradeMark, an online tool that University licenses.

“Another example is if you print a PowerPoint presentation, and you don’t make the right selection, you get one slide per page, so if a professor wants a PowerPoint printed out, he or she should explain how to choose the setup for six slides per sheet,” Lizotte said.

Other tips for reducing paper consumption include printing on both sides of the page, using networked printers instead of desktop printers (which makes printing less convenient and, arguably, less likely to occur) and adapting a “think before you print” mentality.

Given that UW Oshkosh currently uses more than 30,000 reams of paper (or 75 tons) annually, Lizotte estimates the investment in the 100 percent recycled paper will save 1,100 trees per year.

“That is approximately the number of mature trees on our 130-acre campus,” Lizotte said.

And so, by taking what he describes as “the next logical step,” Morrissey proves that one person can make a big difference and that at UW Oshkosh, sustainability is everybody’s business.

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