Thanks to a management application, KEN CHAN at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business reduced redundant printing and wasted paper.
Aug 14 2008

The Fine Print

Universities trim printing waste by understanding the details of their operations.

Earlier this year, the University of Oklahoma in Norman realized it had a printing problem. It was ordering about 50 boxes, or 500 reams, of printer paper per week.

With a ream of paper averaging between $3 and $5 in price, OU had more than a $1,500-a-week habit. The university realized a lot of that paper was wasted; from students, staff and faculty who forgot they had printed something and never picked it up, to copies made useless by printer jams or streaking.

“When you are an individual, it’s hard to see the impact that excessive printing has,” says Nicholas Key, IT program coordinator at OU. “But when you have 30,000 students, 45 computer labs and more than 2 million pages being printed each month, you can really see the waste.”

Hundreds of millions of pages are printed each year in computer labs, classrooms and libraries at universities around the country — much of that total the result of redundant or unnecessary print jobs.

But it is possible to regain control of printing operations, Key says.

OU implemented a program to ferret out inefficient systems and printers, and the strategy has dramatically reduced paper consumption and costs. Under its plan, printing volume this past academic year declined to less than 125,000 pages per week, and the cost per page dropped 50 percent, says Key.

But there are additional steps that can help improve printing, reduce costs and create a more manageable print operation. To get the most return on your printer and print supply investments, consider these best practices from OU, George Mason University and Stanford University.

Deploy a Print Billing System

At OU, the IT shop implemented a two-pronged attack on excessive printing. First, it identified systems and printers prone to streaking and paper jams and replaced them. It bought Canon imageRunner and LBP printers, providing students with multiple options for their printing needs.

Basic documents such as Word files and web pages can be directed to low-cost volume printers, while more elaborate print jobs, such as presentations and art projects, can be sent to high-end color printers. The university also deployed a print billing system, giving students the ability to review and confirm print jobs before they are added to the queue, as well as track current and archived print jobs from anywhere on campus. When they hit “print,” students are prompted to check print settings (double-sided pages are the default setting, saving even more paper), choose the appropriate printer by model and by location, and confirm billing.

From the same interface, students can view their current account balance and the date, number of pages, charged amount, lab, printer, document name and print attributes of current and past jobs. If there are billing discrepancies, they can fill out web-based forms to request refunds.

Standardize Printing Solutions, Centralize Printing Services

After years of allowing each department to make its own policies and purchasing decisions and provide its own support, George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., found itself going through 13.5 million pages a year, at more than 15 cents per page, say university officials.

Under GMU’s new system, all printing on campus goes through the main IT group, allowing the school to purchase equipment, paper and supplies in bulk while standardizing its hardware on a Hewlett-Packard platform. IT has deployed more than 50 HP printers at 12 labs across three campuses that a dedicated team supports 24 hours a day.

“Centralizing purchasing and support was key to making printing more efficient,” says Sam Kasmai, technical manager of the GMU Print Services Department. “It also helped that we standardized equipment with HP printers, which streamlined training for support staff and gave us a single number to call for additional support.”

The more efficient printing solution allowed George Mason to reduce the average cost per page from 15 cents to less than 5 cents. However, students continued to print more than a million pages a month, and unnecessary print jobs accounted for much of this.

To cut down the volume, the university deployed a pay-as-you-print system, giving students a financial incentive to cut down on printing. Each student is given a balance of $10 at the beginning of each semester that they can use in any of the school’s computer labs. Billing is tracked through an intuitive interface that allows students to review and confirm print jobs before sending them to the queue, choose the appropriate printer and view past billing transactions.

Before the solution was implemented, the IT department met with student and faculty groups, making sure that controlling printing was in everyone’s best interest, despite the potential for additional costs to students. After the community agreed, IT rolled out the program in phases.

Confirm Printing Requests


The drop in printing this past year at the University of Oklahoma, which previously printed more than 250,000 pages per week for 30,000 students

A similar solution was implemented by the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., in computer labs reserved for graduate business and doctoral students. After the announcement of a campuswide initiative to reduce the school’s environmental impact, which included turning off monitors during off-hours and a drive to recycle used paper, the school implemented new printing policies to reduce the number of printed documents left unclaimed each night in the labs.

Each of the labs’ 13 printers is attached to a card reader, requiring students to swipe their student IDs and confirm each job before printing. This allows students to choose the appropriate printer for each job and print and pick up multiple documents all at once.

According to Ken Chan, an IT desktop support technician, this extra layer of confirmation has reduced redundant printing because students know documents are printed appropriately the first time they are sent to the queue. They are less likely to get lost in the paper tray, and smaller jobs can be rerouted automatically around larger documents.

Use a Management Application

The Graduate School of Business relies on a management application that provides seamless load balancing and transparent reporting. In the future, Chan says the school may implement pay-for-print services similar to OU’s and GMU’s, but for now administrators are happy with the reduction in excessive printing.

Chan says that he used to clear out hundreds of unclaimed pages from the labs each night, but now he clears out hundreds of pages each quarter.

Deploy a Release-Station Program

As the schools see new printing systems and procedures reining in costs and increasing productivity, they’re looking to push even more changes in the future. OU, for instance, is currently planning and evaluating a release-station program, according to Key.

The program would allow students to hold print jobs in the queue for several hours and release them to any printer in the network, allowing more efficient use of printers. For example, a student can send a document to the print queue from a library, go to class and then release and pick up the print job hours later at another lab closer to his or her dorm room.

“On busy days we have 30 students printing hundreds of pages at the same printer all at the same time, and that can create quite a bottleneck,” says Key. “There is a lot of potential for waste. The release stations will let people choose the appropriate printer and time to print documents,” he says.

OU’s Green Option

The University of Oklahoma’s new print billing system has an ecological conscience.

Students can use the system to see the environmental impact of their printing practices. It provides details on the percentage of a tree that is used to produce the paper for each print job. It also notes the energy consumed by the printer and the carbon output for that electricity.

Forest Friends

GMU, OU save a small woodland with printing efficiencies

Cost savings are not the only benefits universities achieve from making their printing services more efficient. Cutting down on excessive printing also uses fewer trees and helps reduce each campus’ environmental footprint.

George Mason University

2007 – printed 13.5 million pages (1,620 trees)
2008 – printed 2.5 million pages (300 trees)

Oklahoma University*

2007 – printed 9 million pages (1,440 trees)
2008 – printed 4.25 million pages (510 trees)

*Figures do not include summer session; Calculations based on information from 8,333 pieces of printer paper equals one tree