On Being Paperless

By Greg Newby

I developed these personal guidelines while on the faculty of UNC. They have served me well, and you are invited to follow them or develop your own guidelines. Why? Here's a quote from the Worldwide Pulp, Paper and Converting Industry: "Every year, Americans use more than 90 million short tons of paper and paperboard. That's an average of 700 pounds of paper products per person each year. Every year in America, more than 2 billion books, 350 million magazines, and 24 billion newspapers are published." Deforestation is a major environmental issue, and paper production is only part of the problem: reducing animal consumption (cattle grazing), urban sprawl and timber construction, and massive agriculture is part of the solution.

"Paperless" means without paper. Alternatively, it means with less paper. There are many times in academic environments where paper is required, but many more where paper is optional. These guidelines are intended to help us to reduce paper use when possible, and to eliminate it when reasonable.

Guidelines for paper non-use: Situations in which paper is never needed.

  1. Classroom assignments. All class assignments are to be submitted electronically. Usually, this means writing an online Web page, but sometimes it involves sending a file attachment to the professor. I will not print Web pages or file attachments, but will read them online and give feedback electronically.
  2. Electronic feedback. All grading information is sent to students by email.
  3. Syllabus information. The syllabus is online, and will be updated regularly. Students will not receive a paper copy, and are urged to consult the online syllabus regularly for updates and links to notes and assignments.
  4. Master's and Doctoral thesis drafts. Drafts will be read electronically, and comments returned electronically. In early stages, word processor formats might be best (so changes can be inserted). At later phases, PDF or other non-changable formats are better, so the final page layout may be seen.
  5. Memos and committee work. No paper copy will be made of committee output, memos or other activity unless specifically requested or required.

Guidelines for paper reduction: Situations in which paper might not be avoidable, but can be addressed.

  1. Recycling. Any paper received will be recycled immediately unless future use is guaranteed.
  2. Books. Books purchased will be for immediate and complete reading. Books without anticipated future use will be donated. Whenever possible, electronic resources will be used instead of books. (The exception is "ebooks," which, as sold by current mass media purveyors, have no guarantee of continued access. This may be suitable for entertainment books, but isn't for reference books.)
  3. Magazines and journals. Subscriptions will be scrutinized regularly and minimized. Content that is of primary interest but available electronically will not be received in print form.
  4. Readings. Journal articles, Web pages and other online content judged to be important for long-term use (e.g., frequent reference for research) may be printed. All other content will be stored on hard disk or CD, or simply bookmarked.

Guidelines to reduce paper generated on your behalf.

  1. Reduce junk mail. Follow The Direct Marketing Association's instructions for getting on the Telephone Preference Service and Mail Preference Service. This will help remove you from many mailing lists and telephone calling lists. They recently added an email preference service, to help avoid spammers' messages. Paper junk mail uses lots of energy to get to you. If you don't want it (and who really does), take steps to minimize it.
  2. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag). Paper and plastic sacs at supermarkets are weak and small. Invest in some reusable bags made of canvas, rope or another product. They'll fit more, and you won't find your groceries dropping through holes in the bag on your way into the house!
  3. Don't pick up that paper! Do you really want a newspaper subscription? A brochure? A freebie local circular? Daily, you're faced with many opportunities to "just say no" to using paper for only a few minutes (or worse, not even reading it!) before it's destined for the recycle bin or landfill.
  4. Updated May 8, 2004