Smiling man by multifunction printer.

John Younk - ONEcard Printers

Ten years ago, John Younk made a decision to switch to paper with recycled content. In the decade since, that decision has saved over 1,900 trees.

From his office in Lister Centre, Younk has his hands on everything technology-related in residences, parking and conference services. As Associate Director of Operations for the University of Alberta’s Ancillary Services, he is also responsible for the ONEcard printers found in all of the University of Alberta’s libraries and computer labs.

Every year, ONEcard printers go through approximately 5.4 million sheets paper, a staggering amount, which prompted the change to a more environmentally-friendly alternative.

“We were the single biggest user of paper on campus—I think we still are,” explained Younk. Following an inquiry from Students’ Union service ECOS (the predecessor to Sustain SU), Younk launched a test pilot and eventually switched all ONEcard printers over to using 30 per cent recycled-content paper.

The impacts of the switch have been significant. According to the Office of Sustainability’s PaperCut calculator, in ten years the university’s greenhouse gas emissions have been cut by almost 400 tonnes and the switch has saved approximately 14.5 million liters of water, equivalent to almost six Olympic-sized swimming pools. In addition, producing recycled paper keeps landfills less full and saves trees in Canadian forests.

Student uses computer and picks up from printer

Innovative times

Switching to recycled paper isn’t the only way that Younk has been contributing to sustainability on campus.  

Since joining the University of Alberta fifteen years ago, advances in technology have kept his job interesting. He has pushed innovative technological improvements to service delivery.

“When I came in, we removed all of the desktop printers we had set up in the labs and went to a larger platform machine. Multifunction devices are far more efficient than desktop devices: less costly to run and better for the environment,” said Younk.

Now, as computing technologies have become more mobile and energy-efficient, Younk thinks it is time for printing to follow suit. “The current way we deliver printing I would say is not relevant anymore,” said Younk.

Today’s smartphones, tablets and netbooks are low-power, high-performance devices. Combined with efficient cloud platforms like Google Docs, the lure of convenience is driving most consumers away from power-hungry desktop computers towards a greener mode of computing.

In Spring 2014, Younk will begin to roll out a new system which will allow mobile devices and laptops access to a campus-wide printer queue. “Students will simply go to the nearest pick-up location, a multifunction printer that’s treated more like a vending machine. There won’t be any computer to be seen,” said Younk.

“By making our printing service accessible, we’re encouraging a change of behaviour. We’re taking away the excuse for you to actually own a desktop printer,” said Younk. A more surprising change will be the addition of scan-to-email functionality. Younk expects this will eliminate virtually all photocopying. Students will simply share readings and handouts by email. This service will be completely free.

Younk, on the other hand, will lose a valuable revenue stream from photocopying. The decision Younk made ten years ago, to switch to recycled paper, has likewise taken a bite out of his budget. But Younk is more than willing to find room for environmentally-friendly initiatives.

“Why are we here? Are we here to make money? No. We’re here to enhance the student experience. We’ll do everything we can to make things better,” said Younk.

Man shows his mobile phone / ID card holster. Man picks up print-out.

Personal commitment

Younk is committed to the university’s mission of building a sustainable future and he is happy that the institution’s values line up so well with his own.

“I’ve always tried to keep my impact on the environment as small as possible. With the exception of the first year that I worked here, I ride my bike to work every day. I think about the tonnes of carbon I have not put into the atmosphere by doing that,” said Younk.

“I’m fully committed to supporting the university’s vision. Anything we do, I believe should lower our impact on the environment,” said Younk.