Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Paper Trail

An editor looks at pulp nonfiction

By Miriam Schulman

As editor of this publication, I use a lot of paper. I revise each submission to Issues in Ethics at least once. Then I copy my revision and hand it to our director of ethics programs for his comments. After incorporating his suggestions, I send the new version to the author, who usually has a few comments (hopefully printable) of his or her own, usually engendering a paper fax.

When those changes have been made, more paper is used as I fax the article to our copy editor, who faxes me her corrections. Once again, I enter the changes, then print the final manuscript, make a copy for our designer, and send the disk along to be laid out.

But the paper trail doesn't end there. The designer outputs galleys for me, which I photocopy for our copy editor, and both of us proof as many as three laid-out versions until we find no further errors. This is not to mention the galley copies that go to the director and sometimes back to the author. By my calculations, that's at least 12 paper copies of each article in these pages.

Of course, each of these iterations helps ensure that fewer mistakes will make their way into our final product. But recently, as I dragged the debris from an old issue to our recycling bag, I began thinking about my profligacy with this natural resource. In general, I have observed that, with copy machines and faxes, many of us who claim at least a passing interest in preserving the planet have become awfully cavalier about paper use.

Take the office mail. If, as I do, you work for a large organization, you may have an internal paper-mail system through which employees communicate. Until recently, I had two boxes in this system since I worked for two offices on campus. As a consequence, I received two copies of each flier or brochure.

Although I understand that sorting which mailings I should have received might not have been an effective use of human resources, the experience did attune me to the amount of inappropriate information that crossed my several desks-multiple times.

For a while, I kept a file to preserve some of the less pertinent items I—along with everyone else on campus—received, such as an invitation to a going-away party for an employee I'd never met. Leave aside the waste of time represented by sorting through such mail and consider only the waste of paper. Each flier that goes to all University personnel takes 1200 sheets.

I might salve my conscience by saying I do recycle-at least the stuff that's not printed on those catchy, nonrecyclable neons-but this is not a real solution. It takes resources, such as water and energy, to turn this waste back into paper, a costlier and lower-quality product than the original.

I should say here that I am hardly an ecologist. I remember once hearing a news report about a family of four whose entire garbage for a week could fit in a shoe box; this much of a recycler, I'm not.

But I have begun thinking about how I can reduce the amount of paper I generate. For Issues in Ethics, I have started to post drafts on a computer directory that is shared by all the people at the Ethics Center. That way, if the director or other staff members need to review articles, they can do so electronically. I also have been sending revisions to authors via e-mail. And speaking of e-mail, the Center is planning an effort to send as much of its on-campus publicity as possible through GroupWise, the University's networking software. To initiate this process, we will let everyone on campus know that we are setting up a listserv-the electronic equivalent of a subscription list.

By simply sending a one-line message to the listserv's e-mail address, those at Santa Clara join a distribution list that will allow them to receive our fliers and notices on line. We will also ask staff and faculty if they want to continue receiving a paper copy of Issues in Ethics, or if they would prefer to read the publication at our Web site, the Ethics Connection (

Hopefully, these steps will make a small dent in the Ethics Center's paper consumption. But I'm sure many of our readers have thought longer and harder about how to save trees than I have. If you have ideas about cleaning up the paper trail, please send me an e-mail. Or drop me a note-but only make one copy.