U of T Sustainability Office and Centre for Environment students work to reduce paper use on campus

Friday, January 11, 2008 11:58:22 AM

Campus News

Photo: Vig Krishnamurthy (left) and student Helen Lui sort and weigh paper as part of the new “ReSource” program to help understand and manage paper consumption at the University of Toronto. (Courtesy Caz Zyvatkauskas, The Bulletin)

By Vig Krishnamurthy

Paper is something very closely associated with the University: it is not only the mainstay of what we produce, but also that of what we consume. In 2005 alone, the University of Toronto purchased more than 1 billion sheets of office paper with a price tag of approximately $6,000,000. Is there a way that the University can cut down paper use and not more trees? ReSource, created in 2006 by independent study students at the Centre for Environment in partnership with the University of Toronto Sustainability Office, is working to manage this massive consumption of resources and help move the University toward achieving the triad of environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

ReSource emphasizes rigorous research to better understand how paper is being used and how paper use can be managed. Although there is a vast literature on the environmental impacts of paper, existing research is largely directed at either the “cradle” or “grave” ends of the product lifecycle. ReSource is addressing this research gap by examining ways to reduce energy and material use associated with paper that rely on actually reducing the amount of paper we consume. In addition, ReSource is considering more ecologically sound paper purchasing practices. This research is being made possible with generous funding from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and University of Toronto Environment Resource Network (UTERN).

Last year student researchers conducted a detailed baseline monitoring study to identify what and where potential exists for increased paper reuse and efficiency on campus. This study identified a potential to cut office paper use nearly in half by double-siding more diligently (31%) and not printing e-mails or webpages (15%). Survey results from a parallel research project on behaviours and attitudes found that inconvenience and the lack of knowledge and social norms supporting conservation (rather than inadequate equipment) are the key barriers blocking paper reduction.

This year, ReSource will implement a pilot program in three office sites to try and realize these reduction potentials by introducing more efficient printing hardware, print management software and a comprehensive behaviour change campaign. The pilot will use metering equipment to quantify paper savings and surveys to assess changes in attitudes and socially accepted behaviours related to paper use. ReSource is also engaging three students under the supervision of Dr. Beth Savan through the ENV299Y Research Opportunity Program. Two of the three students are conducting inventory projects looking at paper purchasing in alumni magazines and offices, and the third is examining the technological barriers to paper reduction. In addition, two students from the ENV440Y Professional Experience Course are earning work experience credits for their contributions to ReSource at the Sustainability Office.

Vig Krishnamurthy is the ReSource and Transportation Specialist at the U of T Sustainability Office. For more information, please visit www.sustainability.utoronto.ca or email Vig at vig.krishnamurthy@utoronto.ca.