"To Print or Not To Print"

Ordinarily, there is no debate.  The college has an important publication and needs to inform a large group of interested stakeholders, students, faculty, UC administration and alumni, about CEAS performance.  College staff assemble the facts, write the stories of achievement, layout the publication, gather addresses to reach the audience, and coordinate the printing, quality and distribution of the CEAS Annual Report.  It’s been this way for years.

However, The College of Engineering and Applied Science is committed to sustainable development.   Sustainable development was defined by the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development as “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Gonzalez and Dean

Dr. Michael Gonzalez and Dean Carlo Montemagno with Dr. Paul Anastas (center)

Given publication of the college’s recent breakthrough research in low power displays and inexpensive paper substrates for electronic display screens like those of e-readers and Kindles, it seems natural that Dean Carlo Montemagno would explore electronic versus paper options with Dr. Michael Gonzalez, chief of the Systems Analysis Branch within the Sustainable Technology Division of the US Environmental Protection Agency right here in Cincinnati.   Their conversation led to a joint project centered on a life cycle assessment of the CEAS Annual Report.

Sustainability, as indicated in a recent presentation to CEAS students and faculty by Dr. Paul Anastas who heads EPA Research and Development and is widely known as the “father of green chemistry,” requires clear decisions based on economics and available technology as well as environmental impacts during operation and disposal.  By considering a product’s life from “cradle to grave,” complete life cycle evaluations provide the facts and guidance for solid decisions on future efforts.

Dr. Gonzalez and his team specialize in conducting life cycle assessments, or LCAs, which involve gathering data for analysis, applying the appropriate computer models, evaluating the results, and then considering alternative scenarios.  For the college, economic drivers for a published CEAS Annual Report are development time to create the report, paper, printing and postage but there are many other indirect costs that need to be considered like ink, energy for presses, fuel for delivery vehicles, and disposal costs. 


Figure 1: LCA Processes diagrams for print distribution and electronic distribution.

Once the processes for the printed CEAS Annual Report and an electronically distributed version were charted (refer to figure 1) and data assembled, the team utilized the online environmental input-output life cycle assessment (EIO-LCA) tool in modeling both the traditional print and an electronic distribution of the report.  College and UC Printing staff provided data on preparation, production, distribution and management time commitments and expenses.  These were then combined with industry norms and consumption estimates within the EIO-LCA model to project performance…  The results were dramatic!

After adjusting for inflation (the EIO-LCA tool is based on 2002 industry data tables), all parties involved (CEAS, UC Printing and the US Postal Service) realized a savings of more than $41,000 on just the annual report.  Based on a 34 page full color report sent to 34,000 people, the environmental impact is every bit as dramatic due to not using paper, inks, and physical distribution of printed copies.  Among the savings are:

·         33,000 pounds less greenhouse gases,

·         72,000 less KWh of energy,

·         230,000 less gallons of water,

·         79% less toxic pollution to humans

·         73% less toxic pollution to the ecosystem occurred.

Clearly, electronic distribution for what has historically been the province of print media is not only a more cost effective but more environmentally friendly and sustainable approach to publishing the college’s message and performance data.  However, is the audience ready for an electronic only distribution?

The answer appears to be a “qualified yes.”  However, if just 7.5% of those receiving the electronic version decided to print a copy at home most of the environmental benefits listed above disappear. Savings realized by the college are more than offset by printing expenses borne now by the college’s alumni and friends should just 25% print the report. 

The “qualified yes” gets more positive every day.  The CEAS Annual Report was distributed electronically and concurrently made available on the college’s web site three months ago.  Since then, the college has received a number of compliments on the publication from its alumni and even though offered, no requests for a print copy have been received. 

Input from several of those receiving the report is that they liked the electronic format and bookmarked the location on the CEAS web site for ongoing reference.  Others indicated that they printed “selected pages” that bore directly on their degrees or other areas of interest.  So it would appear that the “actuality” is indeed close to the assumptions underpinning the life cycle evaluation performed by the EPA team. 

“Qualification of the yes” is only due to the fact that the physical alumni mailing list is more than twice the size of the electronic list and some people prefer a print copy.  Technology is driving the electronic alternative, however.  As e-readers and Kindles become more ubiquitous electronic publications are more desired and CEAS is in the forefront of this new wave of the electronic revolution.

CEAS research leads the world in creating new alternatives for low-power displays and inexpensive substrates, like paper, upon which to display images in any setting from a dark room to bright sunlight.  These low- power approaches add even more to the sustainable gains highlighted above.  So the answer to the question of whether to “Print or Not to Print” will soon be a slam dunk – go all electronic…  Over the next few years, most of the college’s publications will be done electronically as CEAS phases out its use of paper and moves toward full electronic distribution.

EPA Team

EPA Project Team with an e-reader and the report: (L-R) Dr. Troy Hawkins, Dr. Wesley Ingwersen, Dr. Michael Gonzalez, and Dr. Mary Ann Curran

The LCA provided the facts.  The economics are compelling.  The environmental impacts drive home the absolute need for sustainability.  Technology is moving rapidly to make electronic distribution the “new norm.”  Now, how does the college address its next major publication?

“We’re creating a new high quality magazine featuring the college’s programs and research achievements.  This will be provided to our alumni, industry partners, and potential students,” states Dean Carlo Montemagno.  “We are using our joint project and its analyses to guide its distribution.

“Release will be made electronically to everyone on our electronic mail list and we’re planning to expand that list through a post card promotion prior to distribution of the magazine.  We are looking to reduce printing and mailing by more than one-half our usual volume and we will continue to improve to the point where our print content is fully deliverable in a sustainable mode.”

There is indeed no debate – CEAS intends to lead in electronic distribution.

Photographs and figures provided by EPA and UC Photographic Services