UT-Austin spent an average of 81.1% less on paper from March to October in 2020 than during these months in 2018 and 2019, according to an analysis of UT paper purchases obtained by a records request.
The University spent over $1 million over the same months in 2018 and 2019. Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused many departments and classes to go online, UT spent a little over $195,000 on paper in 2020 from March to October.
Individual colleges, schools and units purchase the paper they need, Veronica Trevino, media manager for Financial and Administrative Services Communications, said in an email.
David Ochsner, director of public affairs for the College of Liberal Arts, said spending on paper has “decreased dramatically.” He said for fiscal year 2019-20, COLA spent $22,949 on paper, but from Sept. 1 to Nov. 20, COLA spent $547.
“Our budget office, they’re always looking for efficiencies and the most efficient way to do things,” Ochsner said. “We always learn from these experiences, and when this is all over and we’re back in our offices, there’s going to be some things that we’ve learned through this period that we can apply to the way we work.”
Alicia Dietrich, director of communications for the College of Fine Arts, said paper usage in the dean’s office dropped from 15 reams every 10 days — a single ream is 500 sheets of paper — to 20 reams total since the staff transitioned to remote work in March. These numbers do not include academic departments in the College of Fine Arts.
Paper usage worldwide has been linked to various environmental issues, including deforestation, pollution and excessive water usage. A single sheet of paper takes an average of three gallons of water to make, according to The Atlantic. A 2017 toxic release inventory by the Environmental Protection Agency based on data from 2015 said the “chemical manufacturing and paper sectors report more toxic chemical air emissions than are reported by electric utilities.”
Samara Zuckerbrod, education and outreach coordinator for the Campus Environmental Center, said it is better to rely on laptops rather than paper to help combat deforestation.
“We could learn a lot from this period and ask how much we actually need to use paper,” said Zuckerbrod, an English and sustainability sophomore. “Syllabi (are) one thing that I just think could easily be taken out of the paper rotation.”
Jim Walker, director of sustainability at the Office of Sustainability, said the office is always looking for ways to reduce consumption of products. He said although the idea of a paperless office has been floated for a while, people seem to still use the same amount of paper.
“Hopefully our reduction in paper usage and broadly across office environments of the country is … having a ripple effect,” Walker said. “Now, ripple effects affect some people differently than others, so we need to be conscious about how other industries may be impacted by our reduced consumption of material and how we can address that.”
Walker said he hopes the reduction in paper usage will continue as the University transitions back to in-person classes. He said it is up to individuals to change their behavior.
“Within the sustainability circles, there’s a lot of conversation around getting back to normal and what are the areas in which we maybe want to tweak what normal is,” Walker said.