In a single year, Princeton students use 10.6 million sheets of paper at University printers and copiers  — enough to cover nearly half of the 380-acre campus, and that’s not even counting the 42 million sheets used annually by the rest of the campus community. In an effort to encourage a culture of sustainability, the Undergraduate Student Government hopes to cut student printing by about 20 percent this year. 

The USG’s Printing Initiative has been working with the Office of Information Technology (OIT), reviewing proposals to set a quota for the number of pages that a student could print. “The idea is to reduce the sheer number of pages printed each year,” explained Julia Kaplan ’11, the USG’s sustainability work-group leader. “But another one of our goals was to make people more cognizant of their printing behavior.” 

After consulting student groups, the Office of Sustainability, and behavioral psychologists in the psychology department, the USG has expanded the initiative to include a Sustainability Pledge, whereby students would promise to reduce their paper consumption, in addition to recycling in the dorm rooms, turning lights off, and not wasting food on dining hall trays. The USG also has worked with OIT to ensure that all campus printers are set to print double-sided as a default, and that students have the option to print two pages per side of a single sheet. 

“Most students want to be environmentally responsible,” said psychology professor Daniel Oppenheimer, who consulted with USG members on their initiative. “So [we must] facilitate their ability to act in ways consistent with that goal.”

The difficulty in doing so, Kaplan said, is that most of the printing by students is necessary for classes or for extracurricular activities. “I have classes where there aren’t any books,” she noted, explaining that instead, she must print out readings from course Web sites. “Student groups also have to use fliers a lot, because there’s no other way to effectively publicize to the student body.” 

Some students say they already are rethinking their printing practices. Jessica Hsu ’10, for instance, said that she frequently takes notes on her laptop and studies from PowerPoint slides on her screen without printing them. 

“There really is a lot of interest in sustainability on campus,” Kaplan added. “We’re just trying to channel interests that students already have to bring about a culture change.”