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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Editorial: Marginal benefit

    Most students know the power of Microsoft Word’s margins well. In a pinch, creative margin management can make most too-short papers meet a professor’s length requirements. But messing with margins can have other benefits: cutting them down is good for the environment and even better for your bank account.

    Sunday, The Washington Post reported on “”Change the Margins,”” a project founded by writer Tamara Krinsky with one simple goal: to encourage word-processor users to change their default page margins to three-quarters of an inch. It’s a simple idea that could have a big effect.

    Microsoft’s word processing software dominates the consumer world, with most market research firms estimating its market share at over 90 percent. That means that its default margins – a full 1.25 inches for most users – are the de facto standard for most digital documents.

    Cutting those margins down can save a lot of paper. According to Krinsky’s calculations, based on a study by the Penn State Green Destiny Council and information from Conservatree, a nonprofit group encouraging paper recycling, using .75-inch margins on one ton of printed documents “”saves 19 reams of paper, which saves 1.14 trees.””

    Sounds great for the environment, but unfortunately, the impact probably isn’t as big as the calculations suggest. Most trees that end up as office paper are grown to be cut down and mashed into pulp. Decreasing consumer demand for paper could actually decrease the number of new trees planted rather than save old-growth forests or giant redwoods. Paper production, however, is especially water and energy intensive, and cutting down on printed pages would certainly reduce water waste and carbon emissions.

    More important, saving paper means saving money. The UA runs through tons of office paper every year. Although there are no firm figures on the number of pages printed, Facilities Management keeps track of the amount of paper recycled on campus. Last time paper recycling was audited, back in 2003, they found that about 207 tons of office paper was recycled each year. Of course, total usage is likely much higher, since not all paper is recycled and the campus population has steadily increased over the last five years.

    If the UA changed the default margins on university computers, and students did so at home, total paper savings could be significant. When Penn State considered a possible margin change as part of a campus sustainability survey, it found that wider words could save about $123,000 per year. Although our campus population is significantly smaller, there’s no doubt that the UA could save some money, too. Moving our margins is a prudent idea as we face a fiscal future that requires creative thinking.

    Of course, printed materials are meant to be read, and wide margins can wreak havoc on readability. Common standards, like the Modern Language Association’s style guidelines, are meant to make reading hundreds of papers clear and simple, not to encourage green printing.

    Those guidelines can still be used, but this change is all about the margin: By changing defaults, those users who aren’t bothered by wider margins save paper, without limiting the ability of others to change them back.

    We hope the UA will consider the marginal benefits of this simple proposal. Even if they don’t, you can do it yourself – it’s as easy as clicking “”page setup”” in Microsoft Word. So minimize your margins – and your impact on the Earth.

    Editorials are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Sarah Devlin, Allison Hornick, Christina Jelly, Melissa Krueger, Evan Lisull and Connor Mendenhall.

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