College should ‘invest green’ instead of ‘think green’

Recently, the University of Wisconsin Green Bay (UWGB) received some attention after they announced their plan to save money by switching the default email font from Arial to Century Gothic.

…we have decided to change the default font for Outlook across campus to Century Gothic. Of course, you may change back to a different default font if you wish, but we hope you will “think green” as you make your choice.

There are a lot of questions here and number one is, “Who still prints email?” Perhaps removing the ‘Print’ button from the default toolbar in Outlook would make more sense. I think that changing users’ behavior, while more difficult, will result in a larger savings because users carry the conservation strategies they’ve learned into other areas of their life. I think it would be better if UWGB spent some time encouraging users to look before they print. (Or they could ban those half page signatures that some people put at the bottom of every email message they send that includes all 14 ways to contact them, a cutesy logo and their three favorite Lombardi quotes.)

Another problem with this simple font change is the increased space the new font takes up. The study UWGB cited ranks 10pt Century Gothic higher than a 11pt Arial font.

Century Gothic is longer

UWGB is choosing a smaller font over a larger font while the smaller font still takes up more space and therefore more paper. A page of text printed in Arial will often take up two pages when printed out in Century Gothic.

UWGB might be excited to ‘think green’ but are they actually doing anything? How will they even know if this move is worth it? I didn’t see their plan to measure the results (intended or unintended) from this experiment.

The font change did get them some press but it also supported the idea that conservation and sustainable living is easy. That it can be achieved with a click of a mouse. Typical efficiency changes are not like this. They require a larger cost up front with the hopes of a long-term pay-off. Even the simple act of changing an incandescent light bulb to a compact florescent lamp requires the initial investment for the new bulbs and a lesson about how to properly handle breakage and dispose of them.

Along with teaching users to print less, perhaps UWGB should replace those ink jet printers with more efficient laser printers or convert all their printers so they print on both sides of the paper by default. Measures that ‘invest green’ and ‘teach green’ are more effective long-term approaches.

P.S. I can’t stand how the question mark looks in Century Gothic