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Universities and Sustainability

Paper is a key part of a university. However, the amount of paper needed within our universities is ever growing and our industrial scale consumption of paper is having a detrimental effect on our forests. While the development of modern agriculture is seen as the leading offender when it comes to deforestation, the manufacturing of paper contributes enough to the issue, to thinking about how our reliance on it in everyday life.

Sustainability has emerged as a top priority on UK campuses; currently, institutions work with organisations such as the international FEE EcoCampuses and the UK-based People and Planet to improve sustainability at university. Two such organisations initiating the inevitable move towards sustainable are.

The benefits forests bring us in are numerous. Information from the UN states that forests store carbon, which lessens the effects of climate change. Trees can improve air quality within cities, lower noise pollution and aid in creating food.
There are many different approaches to raise awareness and knowledge of forests in our students. For example, literature lecturers might base their teaching on the environmental ethics of Henry David Thoreau; psychology professors could participate in research on the effect of trees on mental health; biologists might teach the essential parts of the biodiversity in our old growth forests.

How do we achieve that viable sustainability on our campus?
One of the ways we might approach sustainability could be to investigate the publishing services we use. Universities have traditionally taught from paper textbooks and relied upon photocopied course resources. In response to the impending climate crisis, publishing organisations are researching how and with what materials they should be using to publish their books. Adopting non-toxic ink has been one step taken, another is the use of technologies that preserve energy, and printing on recycled paper. However, technology has been developed enough that will now significantly reduce our reliance on products made of paper on our campuses. Furthermore, eBooks can eliminate many of the environmental waste of traditional publishing practices.

Epublishers Weekly has reported that utilizing eBooks within education can lead to a number of different environmental benefits. These benefits include the reduction in paper consumption; elimination of packaging materials; reduced fuel consumption in transporting paper books; and diminished energy expenditure, costs and pollution involved in the disposal of paper books. To help illustrate these effects, we show some numbers: one Sunday issue of The New York Times consumes 75,000 trees. So, if everyone were to start using digital sources instead of paper, nearly four million trees would be saved each year.


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