Opinion: NYU should go paperless

The return of in-person classes has brought the return of printed syllabi. NYU should take action to go paperless.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

To reduce the school’s carbon footprint, NYU should go paperless by default. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Alexandra Cohen, Staff Writer

As my class ended, I went to throw away my freshly printed syllabus in front of my professor. I didn’t want to be disrespectful — I just knew that I could access the syllabus from my iPad or computer, which would lower both the risk of losing it and my environmental impact. 

Plagued by guilt, I didn’t throw the paper away — not yet. I waited until I was on another floor and out of the professor’s sight before placing it in the section of the trash can labeled “paper,” though my actions didn’t mean anything. The paper still existed and I had to take the longer route back to my dorm, all to avoid offending a professor who probably wasn’t paying attention to my recycling habits.

Still, NYU can and should exist as a completely paperless campus. COVID-19 proved that it was possible to submit assignments, communicate with professors and access a syllabus without using a single sheet of paper. We must learn from trying times when our computers and tablets were the only lifeline to our education. We can leave behind the draining hours on Zoom, but take with us the reduced environmental impact that we now know is possible. 

By returning to in-person classes, NYU has created an exorbitant amount of waste from masks and grab-and-go dining — things that we’ve deemed necessary for public health. Saving our planet is just as much of a public health crisis as COVID-19. Though I admit there is no quick fix both on campus and on Earth, NYU can begin to do its part. A paperless NYU would not only reduce the university’s carbon footprint, but also decrease clutter and streamline academic processes. All the university has to do is stop printing anything and everything that can exist in an online format.

NYU going paperless will be an adjustment. Some students learn better with physical readings and assignments. I imagine the transition will eventually make paper-free learning the default, while those who benefit from paper can opt out. Some students lack consistent access to a computer or tablet, a reality NYU must eventually be forced to confront. NYU will need to expand this access for all students, something that shouldn’t be difficult at an institution with a $5.8 billion endowment

At a paperless NYU, students will not only be able to contribute to a greener campus and greener world, but also create a more equal playing field for digital networking, research, internships and more. The pandemic took geography out of the equation and made interactions that were once unthinkable not only possible, but normal.

NYU Langone went paperless in 2015 — and they’re saving lives (and trees) every day. Meanwhile, our uptown neighbor, Columbia University, has implemented an opt-in program where employees can choose to have communications and documents delivered electronically. This system scaled back booklet printing by 96%, demonstrating that these programs can effectively reduce carbon footprints, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and in the amount of trees used. If Columbia can implement this program with success, imagine the impact our university of almost 30,000 undergraduate students will have on our planet. 

The world has progressed to a point where paper is no longer necessary for education, business operations or even medicine. NYU should implement its medical center’s paperless approach because printing tens of thousands of syllabi during the first week is not a sustainable start to the semester.

Contact Alexandra Cohen at [email protected].