Guest Post: Technology and Sustainability in Higher Ed

SustainabilitySustainability initiatives: every university seems to have one. In many ways, higher education leads the way in sustainability practices from reducing energy use to creating eco-friendly commuting alternatives. But there is one area that hasn’t received as much attention: paper.

Higher education uses a lot of paper. Clark University, for example, used 1,238 cases of paper in 2006 alone (source). According to Conservatree, that’s 743 trees that year alone. How many trees is UC Berkeley or Clemson using? How much ink and precious metals do universities consume because they need ink, printers, copiers, and storage facilities for paper?

Recycling and reusing paper is a great start in reducing paper consumption, but it’s time to move away from paper. We already have the technology at our fingertips. Mobile and mobile apps are an important tool to harness in the move away from paper both behind the scenes and in the classroom.

One place that mobile apps can reduce impact is with inspections. Not the sexiest of topics, but running a university means a lot of inspections. You have the daily maintenance of the grounds, kitchens, dorms, and gyms just to name a few. How many of those inspections still occur on paper? How many of them require copies, and storage? I bet that most inspections are still done on paper, need copies and require at least a few years of storage.

Another way universities can use mobile apps is right in the classroom. Professors can embrace mobile apps as a way to record attendance, even participation. It may not be as much paper, but every sheet of paper counts. Even better, professors can easily look through these submissions in the cloud when it comes time for grading. Between classes, mentoring, and doing research on their next books, faster grading is something every professor can get behind.

In both cases, mobile apps bypass the entire paper process. Fill it out on a smartphone or tablet, your submission goes straight to the cloud where you can access it any time. No paper, no ink, not even a physical storage place. Your footprint just went from an 8 ½ by 11 to byte sized.

That sounds great, you say, but the critical student will still complain. What about the precious metals and environmental impact of having to invest in yet more tech. Many mobile apps don’t require investment in specific devices. Many work across phone platforms including iPhone, Android, even Blackberry. With a BYOD policy, you can harness the tech your employees already use, and limit your environmental impact even further (the savings are sweet too.)

Mobile apps, especially for data collection, is not the only way for universities to reduce paper use. Encouraging papers and tests to occur not on paper but on computers and devices is another cultural shift we will have to make. However, using mobile apps is a great start to the larger move away from paper.

Post by Katie Simpson. Katie is a writer and content strategist for Canvas, a SaaS company helping organizations of all shapes and sizes collect data more efficiently with mobile apps. Find out more at