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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Fooling with fonts
April 1, 2010 - 4:18pm

No, this information does not originate with the Finnish linguist Sloof Lirpa. It originates at, among other places, the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay, which is somewhat south of Finland and arguably less amusing. (I'm sure that opinions differ on that last bit, but hey . . .)

So, with the obligatory rituals out of the way, let's jump right to the meat of the matter: the font that your employees, students and faculty use to print out their text documents can significantly affect the amount of printer ink/toner required. As much as 30% can be saved with no decrease in convenience or legibility. And 30% is a reduction not to be laughed at (even today).

First, there's the cost factor. Printer toner is extremely expensive -- up to $10,000 per gallon. (Not that most schools buy toner by the gallon, you understand. Just that toner cartridges hold wildly variable amounts of the black stuff, so some standard unit of volume is necessary.) Add up the total cost of toner cartridges across your campus, not just for networked and desk-side printers, but also for copy machines which replicate printer output. The annual expenditure will surprise you.

But there's also the GHG implication. If one white paper (and I have no ties to its authors) is to be believed, each toner cartridge used is responsible for the emission of over 10 pounds of CO2 equivalent. Multiply 10 pounds by the number of toner cartridges your campus purchases in a year, and realize that you could be reducing emissions by as much as 30% of that.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that I don't truly buy into the $10K number, nor the 10 pound one. Each of those occurs in a context of "as much as", so a meaningful average is doubtless somewhat less. Perhaps only half as much.

Still, the savings (both financial and emissive) can be considerable, and the effort to achieve them is trivial. Just get your IT support staff to set the default fonts for printing emails or Office documents to an ink-saving font like Century Gothic or Garamond. (There's also something called EcoFont which might save even more ink, but its printouts remind me of "draft quality" on an old dot-matrix printer, so I don't recommend them.) Here at Greenback (not to be confused with Green Bay), those defaults are easily set in "policies" which affect large numbers of computer users and are reapplied each time a machine powers up.

Not all printing will become less ink-consumptive. Hard copies of PDFs or web pages will still use just as much ink as they ever did. And pictures (whether black-and-white or color, and regardless of the sort of document in which they appear) will be entirely unaffected. But still, we're talking a lot of text across a lot of computers. And 30% of a lot is still quite a bit, whether we're talking money or emissions.

And that's no joke.


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