On Being Paperless
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
- 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.
- Electronic feedback. All grading information is sent to students
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Recycling. Any paper received will be recycled immediately
unless future use is guaranteed.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
Updated May 8, 2004