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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.

Modest Proposal #2 - Count pages
April 8, 2008 - 5:20pm

‘Tis Spring, and an old(er) man’s fancy turns to thoughts of ... possible policy changes for the coming academic year.

Colleges and universities which have signed the Presidents Climate Commitment are supposed to create an inventory of all the greenhouse gases they emit. The most common tool for the job is Clean Air/Cool Planet's campus carbon calculator. The calculator (really, a heavily structured spreadsheet with a lot of macros built in) addresses most of the sources of GHGs, but not all. One of the major sources it doesn't address (and that the PCC doesn't require schools account for) is the emissions which are embedded in each sheet of paper used. No school wants to estimate these emissions, because no school has good records on how much paper we use each year. But let's be honest, it's a lot!

A lot of paper means a lot of GHG emissions -- manufacturing a single five-pound ream of virgin paper creates some 18 pounds of CO2. And paper isn't like gasoline: if 100,000 people stop buying gasoline, world production won't be affected; if 100,000 people stop buying paper, less paper will (in time) be produced. It's true, recycled paper creates less CO2, but 30% recycled (a common percentage) still means 70% virgin, and 70% of 18 is still 12.6 pounds of CO2.

The next time I (or some other poor administrator) has to do a GHG inventory for Greenback, it really ought to include emissions created by paper consumed. But, before we can do that, we've got to start keeping track of paper purchased. It's a policy we need to push for.

Has your school already done this?


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