Advancing the Cause of Sustainability
According to data from a recent study of private colleges and universities, the average cost to recruit one student for these institutions is now about $3,350 dollars. Roughly 15% of that budget is money devoted to print collateral and direct mail.
Given the number of colleges in the U.S. and the number of students attending these colleges, and given the fact that it costs less to recruit students at some schools than it does at others, I have estimated, all-be-it unscientifically, that American colleges and universities spend about $3 billion a year on printing to recruit students. Some studies, more methodical than mine, estimate twice that amount. The only higher data point in the recruiting budget is employee salaries and benefits.
Printed materials utilized for recruiting make up just a portion of college and university printing budgets. At Messiah College, my top five customers are Admissions, Annual Giving, Marketing, Events and Alumni. Each one of these departments has a story to tell to its constituents, and often that story is told with print.
We provide posters, marquees, brochures, schedules, programs, appeal letters, stationery, post cards and invitations. For students arriving on campus we print course materials such as exams, syllabi, journals, lab manuals and course packs. After students graduate, they receive newsletters, alumni magazines and updates on college events and giving opportunities. None of this even accounts for the millions and millions of prints made on local printers and multifunctional devices. Make no mistake, print is very much a core function of the day-to-day business of higher education.
Armed with this information, I was excited to attend the AASHE 2017 conference in San Antonio, Texas, in October. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education is billed as the “gold standard event” for university professionals who care about environmental stewardship. With print and mail playing such an integral part in our daily work, I was certain this would also be a hot topic at an event that drew in more than 2,000 people from all aspects of campus life.
I could not have been more wrong.
A Lone Crusader
Counting me (I was there on behalf of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association, speaking to the advantages of the in-plant business model) there was a total of one person at this conference representing our industry. That’s right, only me.
The vendor hall consisted of one company selling recyclable mattresses, one company selling an environmentally friendly graduation gown (yes, apparently there is such a thing), two or three companies with ideas about dining, some information on solar power and about six or seven companies selling trash cans and recycling bins. Given all we are hearing about global warming and the priority of conducting business responsibly, I was surprised to see that an event considered the gold standard offered nothing to address best practices for print and mail.
What the AASHE conference lacked in vendor support, they made up for in content. The keynote speakers were inspiring and the numerous educational sessions were informative and thought provoking. It was apparent throughout the conference that the AASHE team worked very hard to provide a forum for quality networking and idea sharing.
One of the award-winning presenters, Danielle Chun, held a session that I found particularly interesting. Miss Chun led institutional change as a senior in college by developing a food recovery program. Her work led to a partnership between her campus dining department and a local homeless shelter. But that in itself was not why she was recognized with an AASHE Sustainability Award. Danielle didn’t just develop a food recovery program; she researched what drove organizations to implement food recovery programs in the first place. Her research clearly showed that organizations that insourced their support services were most likely to see success in their sustainability initiatives. When I asked her about this she said pointed to the example of her own experience.
“I simply went to the director of dining and told him what I had in mind,” she said. “He didn’t even hesitate. He said ‘Yes! How can I help?’ And with that we were off and running.
“If our campus had an outsourced business model for dining,” she continued, “there is no way we could have made this happen. There would have been too much red tape. The outside vendors do not have the vested interest in institution priorities that in-house employees have.”
Aside from keynote presentations, educational sessions and a vendor fair, the AASHE conference does offer one other unique opportunity to attendees. They call it STARS: the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. Basically, STARS is a self-assessment tool that institutions can use to gauge how they are doing when it comes to conducting business in an environmentally responsible manner. After the assessment is completed, users are designated as “Platinum,” “Gold,” “Silver” or “Bronze” depending on their respective responses. In certain circles, these levels of recognition are quite prestigious and the STARS program is a unique and effective tool to advance the cause. Messiah College, where I work, scored a bronze level for 2017.
From the AASHE website, the STARS tool is described as a “self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance across all aspects of their organization.” I guess what they mean by this is “all aspects other than print and mail.” The 300-page administrative manual breaks down the assessment process into four categories:
- Planning and Administration
The extent to which print and mail are assessed is limited to just a few questions about the recycled content of paper.
If you are like me, you are probably asking yourself how departments such as print and mail, which are obviously critical to university business, have such a seemingly limited environmental impact. How else could one explain their absence from such an in-depth assessment tool?
A Work in Progress
Fortunately, The STARS website also provides the following information: “The current version of STARS incorporates feedback, suggestions and lessons learned since the launch of STARS 1.0 in January 2010. While STARS is the most thoroughly vetted and extensively tested international sustainability framework for colleges and universities, it is by no means perfect. The current version of STARS is intended to stimulate, not end, the conversation about how to measure and benchmark sustainability in higher education. AASHE welcomes your feedback and participation in continuing to refine and shape the system. To learn more view our Technical Development Policy or submit your inquiries about STARS to email@example.com.”
And so I was very happy to meet in San Antonio with several representatives from the STARS steering committee and offer some of that welcome feedback.
I explained to them how important communication is in the day-to-day business of a college. I reminded them that every attempt to communicate has an environmental impact. I pointed to where I felt their assessment tool was lacking, and then I offered my opinion that the in-plant business model is the print and mail model most capable of supporting the cause of sustainability.
I told them that our organizations lose much of their ability to track and manage their environmental impact when they outsource their communication efforts. They also lose a valuable partner in their work. I provided statistics as well as copies of a few recent reports I found online. Then, I gave examples of how my in-plant at Messiah College has successfully partnered with our sustainability office.
In-plants Advance the Cause
The facts could not be clearer. In-plants provide many opportunities to advance the cause of sustainability. Not only do we reduce the strain on infrastructure, we improve efficiency and reduce costs (a recent study of in-plants conducted by Ricoh found annual cost savings ranging from $200,000 to $2.5 million). In-plants are committed to responsibly balancing the need for high-quality, affordable printing with environmental concerns. As employees of institutions that value the work of sustainability, we are:
- Supporting the environmental initiatives of other departments.
- Encouraging the use of FSC-certified and recycled papers.
- Winning sustainability awards and achieving environmental certifications.
- Routinely including environmental statistics in our staff meetings and our annual reports.
- Serving as role models.
- Encouraging decision makers and budget approvers to recognize that environmental responsibility is just as important as fiscal responsibility.
- Promoting sustainability initiatives through social media.
- Partnering with paper manufacturers and vendors who consistently demonstrate a passion for environmental stewardship.
- Promoting education. Attending conferences. Becoming the experts. Demonstrating to parent institutions that we have an intelligent understanding of environmentalism and best practices.
A Dysfunctional Partnership
On the other hand, outsourcing creates a dysfunctional partnership with companies that have no vested interest in a university’s sustainability initiatives. It generates added processes and additional documentation, which in turn increase an institution’s environmental footprint. Outsourcing produces higher occurrences of redos and overages, the need for additional handling of files, proofs, shipping and delivery, additional efforts to ensure data security and visual identity, and a decreased opportunity to integrate workflow. It also fabricates a false sense that print collateral does not need to be accounted for when calculating an organization’s environmental footprint since the work is being produced off-site.
After I made my case, the steering committee thanked me and I thanked them for their time. Then I followed up a few days later with an email. I again stated in my letter that in-plants are a key resource for a constituency that often struggles to find resources to support their work. I asked them specifically to include the preference for in-plants in the STARS assessment tool, and I am happy to report that I received a favorable response. Here is a portion of the email I received:
“It was great to meet you and learn about IPMA. I have made some notes about how STARS could potentially recognize in-house printing services. You actually had some great suggestions. I will move this forward to our technical advisor group. I suspect these changes will be made for 2018.”
As president of IPMA, I am hoping this is the first of many successes as IPMA works to achieve its objectives. If you have new ideas to help IPMA in our work or wish to contribute to the work we are already doing, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related story: Messiah College Offsets Printing With Planting
Dwayne Magee is now in his 17th year as director of Messiah University Press and Postal Services. His department was recipient of the 2018 IPMA Organizational Impact Award, the 2015 IPMA Innovation Award, the 2017 ACUP Green Service Award, and the 2015 ACUP Collaborative Service Award. Prior to joining Messiah, he worked for 17 years at Alphagraphics as an assistant manager and ISO coordinator. He is president of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He is currently an English major (part-time) with a concentration in writing at the college where he works. Outside of work, Dwayne enjoys exploring spiritual, environmental and social concerns through creative writing and the arts. He can often be found speaking on the topic of diversity in bookstores, public libraries and elementary schools, where he makes use of his award-winning children’s book “A Blue-Footed Booby Named Solly McBoo.” His travel writing and fictional essays have made appearances in various publications including the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology and the Goose River Anthology published by Goose River Press. Dwayne is the father of two boys and he resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife Sue and their two dogs. Contact him at: DMagee@Messiah.edu