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Printing footprint @ Stellenbosch University

Further to Le Roux’s post – which indicates an average annual printing volume of 16 million pages on our network printers – I ran the numbers through HP’s carbon calculator (in this post). The results are … sort of scary….

16 million pages printed by 15000 users (each user is printing about 1060 pages per year) on 650 medium and 50 large workgroup printers yield the following results per year:

  • 91 865 kWh energy used in printing (about 0.2% of the university’s total electricity consumption)
  • 196 294 kg of CO2 emissions from electricity generation and paper manufacture
  • 79 335 kg of paper
  • R812 630 in energy and paper costs

The calculator shows very effectively how simple interventions can reduce the carbon footprint and save energy, paper and costs:

  • turning off the printers at the end of the day saves 61% electricity, 24% carbon emissions and 5% of costs (this assumes a normal 8-hour working day, I assume, which is not the case in computer labs)
  • enable printing on both sides of a sheet by default and multiple pages per sheet saves 15% emissions, 25% paper, 23% costs
  • “pull” printing i.e. print only when the user is at the printer to collect, saves 6% emissions, 10% paper and 9% costs
  • all of the above saves 61% electricity, 44% emissions, 33% paper and 35% costs

Not insignificant….

I have been following a thread on SUSTAIN, EDUCAUSE’s Sustainable IT listserv that recommends the use of “Smart strips” or “smart” multiplugs (in SA parlance) to power down peripherals when computers are powered down, so even printers directly connected to desktops and laptops can be automatically controlled.

What the calculator is silent on is the number of (plantation) trees and water required to manufacture such volumes of paper. Working with 400 reams per ton of paper, and 24 trees per ton and 72 kilolitres of waste water produced per ton, we get:

  • 1800 trees
  • 5400 kilolitres waste water produced
  • 825 000 kWh energy used to manufacture the paper

In a country such as water-stressed South Africa where biodiverse, indigenous vegetation is under threat, the prospect of more paper plantations and bigger and more paper mills is a concern. And as one of the more carbon-intensive economies on the planet, our contribution to climate change should be of even more concern.

Less printing is good.

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