Students in Experimental College class want Tufts to go ‘paperless’

Tufts’ latest environmental campaign, led by students in the Experimental College (ExCollege) class Environmental Action: Shifting from Saying to Doing, is trying to change campus culture in regard to paper waste.

While members of the class last semester focused on the issue of trays in the dining halls, this semester, students have turned their attention to paper usage at Tufts.

Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus in 2008 bought 221,844 lbs of paper, 70 percent of which was virgin paper — paper made without any recycled content — according to Project Coordinator of the Office of Sustainability and an instructor for the course Tina Woolston.

“That amount of paper translates to about 2,662 trees or nearly three football fields of green space,” Woolston said.

The class is working with on-campus environmental groups such as Tufts Recycles!, Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE) and the Office of Sustainability in an effort to reduce Tufts’ paper use, according to freshman Danielle Jenkins, who is a student in the class.

“We are encouraging professors to accept papers electronically and use fewer handouts,” Jenkins said. “[We] are working to change the default printer settings in Tisch and Eaton to double-sided as well as to reduce the amount of virgin paper that Tufts uses.”

The goal is to transform the norm from being environmentally unfriendly to being more sustainable, according to Dallase Scott, a graduate student in the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning program who co-teaches the class.

“People usually act out of convenience and do not realize their choices are made through what is already the default,” Scott said. “In our society, the default is not environmentally friendly. It takes a small group of people to work to change the default to greener policies.”

Scott added that while conserving paper is a good exercise, the larger goal is to create a culture at Tufts in which people expect sustainable practices.

Students in the class have been meeting with the administration, library staff, faculty members, campus environmental groups and students in order to discover the best ways to reduce Tufts’ paper trail, according to Jenkins.

“In order to change the infrastructure, we need to do research,” Jenkins said. “We have looked at similar efforts at Harvard and [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and have tried to model our campaign after them.”

Both Jenkins and Scott claimed that support for the movement was relatively strong.

One of the major components of the campaign is encouraging professors to use less paper. Both the Community Health Program and the Environmental Studies Program have agreed to participate in a trial that would require faculty to accept papers online, according to Woolston.

She added that the switch from Blackboard Academic Suite to a better online educational platform — which is in the works — might make it easier to reduce paper usage through improved editing and file-sharing functions.

The campaign also centers on making the default setting for all printers on campus double-sided printing, although this has run into a few technical difficulties.

Woolston explained that there are currently two different contracts for multifunction printers on campus. One is for printers in staff and faculty offices and the other for printers that charge money, such as those in Tisch Library and Eaton Computer Lab. As of last year, staff and faculty printers were set to a double-sided default while all other printers remained with a single-sided default.

The real challenge, however, lies in inspiring the campus to be proactive about saving paper. According to Scott, this means increasing manpower at the Office of Sustainability and increasing funding for student projects directed at environmental change.

“The administration has done a great job in creating green buildings, composting and recycling, but what we really need is a larger staff to get students involved and create change,” Scott said.

Jenkins said that the effort to reduce paper use at Tufts is not only a practical step to make the university more sustainable but is also instrumental in instilling green habits in students.

Rather than merely discussing environmental policy, students in the ExCollege class study behavioral approaches to change and their own individual impact on the environment with the goal of empowering their peers to adopt greener practices.

“A lot of the time, people follow by example and don’t recycle because they don’t feel obligated to,” Jenkins said. “We need a good example that people can follow to become greener citizens.”

Students in the class keep weekly blogs to reflect on the personal challenges they face in the paper-reduction campaign, as well as to practice effective activism and communication, according to Scott.

“By getting students to look at their personal action and teaching them not only information, but how to communicate with peers and administrators and how to be proactive, we motivate them to be examples in their community,” Scott said. “Environmental issues can seem daunting, and the only way to create change is to empower people.”

Scott cited her time teaching environmental classes in the Peace Corps as instrumental in helping her realize the importance of changing the infrastructure of an institution in order to cement green policies.

“I was able to see the change in my students and saw it spread to the entire community,” Scott said. “Change is possible if you give people enough personal power. Campaigns are great, but you need to make these initiatives a part of the campus so it will be sustainable in the future.”