What If I Just Forced Everyone To Go Paperless?

Empty binders are expected at the University of Ottawa if we go paperless

Very recently, my director has been talking to me about stretch goals. If you haven't heard of a stretch goal, it is essentially a goal that cannot be reached by incremental change. He tells me this story:

"The emperor of Japan wanted the trains to go faster to move people around quicker. At the time, the trains were able to average about 60 mph and were limited to that speed because of the numerous mountains in the region... when a train goes around a corner at high speeds it tends to flip over.

So the emperor asks for the trains to go quicker and his engineers and people in the Ministry of Transportation work on the problem and come up with a solution. Essentially they figured they could slant the tracks and help prevent the trains from flying off the track at higher speeds. They go back and tell the emperor that they can now get the trains to average 75 mph, which isn't too bad.

But the emperor isn't exactly pleased. He says to his people that they don't understand, he doesn't want to go an average 75 mph, he wants them to go 150 mph. The engineers tell the emperor that this isn't possible and the emperor tells them 'that's because you are trying to go around the mountain, I want you to go through the mountains.'

So everyone starts studying how to tunnel through mountains, they create some tunnels, and now their trains can go 300 mph."

The point of the story is that if the engineers kept trying to make small changes, they would never get trains that could average 150 mph, let alone 300 mph. Let's think about it another way...

The Kyoto Protocol was basically doomed to fail, Why? No stretch goals.
Kyoto wanted a 6% reduction in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. If you think about it, this goal is way too low. If you are only asking for a 6% reduction then people are just going to do something like drive 6% less, or occasionally use ethanol instead of regular gasoline.

Now think about the new Paris Accord... and 80% reduction in GHG emissions. Now I told you to reduce your emissions by 80%, you would probably think to yourself that you wouldn't be able to drive at all, or that you would have to buy an electric car, or something more dramatic. It's only when you stretch yourself to the limits of what is possible that you can achieve things you didn't think were possible at all.

So let's get back to the title of this blog. If something requires dramatic solutions, could a dramatic change to the landscape make that happen?
In a previous post, I spoke about how my office was working to cut our paper consumption by 25%. Personally I think this is a pretty worth-while goal and the hope is that after we get 25%, maybe we can get to 50% and then maybe more. The problem is that this could take a bunch of time and every incremental change will be met with a tonne of resistance.
"You want more? We just cut 25%!!!"

So what about a radical change to the landscape? What if I just took away everyone's printers one evening, would everything collapse? Would every one in my office adjust or would they lose their minds?
Is this the right way to spark change or does this just play into everyone's paradigm about how environmentalists are just extremists that are willing to sacrifice everything for the planet. On the other hand, paper is not really a necessity and it is entirely possible that getting rid of our printers will actually make my office more productive.

Well, all these questions were moot because who would ever give me permission to experiment with something so disruptive? Soooooooo, it turns out that my boss kind of just did. ☺

So here is the plan, between now and the new year, I will be eliminating printers from my office until there are until a couple of central printers left. We will go from 25 printers to 4 and if the transition is smooth enough, we will share our findings with the rest of the campus in the hopes that all of uOttawa could go paperless.

~jON - campus sustainability manager