Here I am, studying for exams, with reams of printed notes sitting before me on my desk, stacked high and crooked. Not only is it depressing that I need to work my way intellectually through the notes (so much to study, so many details to imprint in memory), but that’s a lot of paper. That’s a lot of trees. And that’s only for one class.
I know from experience that there have been pushes recently to decrease the amount of paper used by students and staff for lectures and assignments. In most of my EEB (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) courses, professors have been requesting that assignments be submitted either with double-sided printing or electronically, involving no printing at all. One course offered bonus marks for using recycled paper, or printing on both sides of the page. Other classes have specifically stipulated in handouts that assignments were to be submitted only as document attachments via email.
What I didn’t know is that there is a force at work behind these new submissions criteria, and that this force takes the shape and name of UTBEAT. The U of T Biology Environmental Action Team is an environmental action organization run by students and staff working to reduce the ecological footprint of the Cell & Systems Biology and EEB departments, as well as the Faculty of Forestry, by encouraging the adoption of environmentally friendly policies at the department level. You might be familiar with the organization from the stickers posted around campus. I learned about it from the girls’ bathroom in Ramsay Wright. There is, apparently, a lot to be learned from U of T’s bathrooms.
Not only is UTBEAT pushing for a reduction in the amount of paper used by students, it has a plethora of other projects on the go, including
The website provides information on where and how to get assignments printed double-sided, along with how to submit work (theses, in particular) electronically. It provides ideas on how everyone can make a difference in basic, unobtrusive ways: turning lights out when you leave a room, not leaving the tap dripping (or informing caretaking when there’s a leaky faucet in the bathroom), taking the stairs to get to the second floor, and recycling paper rather than tossing it in the trash.
If you want to get involved in a more active way than just reducing the amount of paper and disposable dishes you use, there are other options, too, like volunteering for the group, or offering your own ideas on improving environmental standards on campus. To submit ideas, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the UTBEAT mailing list and get regular announcements and news, including info on upcoming meetings and minutes from previous ones. If you work in a lab as a work-study student or volunteer, you can also partake in a month-long competition set up by UTBEAT between the denizens of Ramsay Wright and the Earth Sciences Centre, running in January and February, to see who can turn off their lights most when they aren’t needed.
Knowing that there is a group working to implement changes at the departmental level, and one that has obviously had some success in having ideas put into practice, is fairly uplifting. It can be hard to believe that our own minute individual actions — whether we’re recycling paper or biking to school — make a difference. But seeing environmentally friendly policies instituted by whole classes gives you an idea of how thirty, sixty, or sometimes a thousand individuals can make a difference when each one makes a really small change in their individual habits.
And if these changes are being instituted by one or two departments, it’s possible that the rest will, with some work, soon follow suit.