Switching fonts could save the U.S. government millions
A middle-school student discovers that printing documents in a certain font can reduce ink consumption by an astonishing amount.
Tue, Apr 01, 2014 at 01:36 PM
Photo: Catie Leary
A 14-year-old from Pennsylvania has found a way for the U.S. government to save $136 million a year. All the government has to do is print all its documents in the font Garamond.
Suvir Mirchandani was trying to think of ways to reduce waste and save money at his middle school as part of a science fair project.
He found that most sustainability efforts are focused on paper, such as dual-sided printing and using recycled paper, but there was little focus on the ink.
"Ink is two times more expensive than French perfume by volume," Suvir told CNN, citing that Chanel No. 5 perfume costs $38 per ounce, while the equivalent amount of Hewlett-Packard printer ink can cost up to $75.
Suvir started looking for ways to reduce the amount of ink his school used, and he began his research by collecting samples of teachers’ handouts.
He concentrated on the most commonly used letters — e, t, a, o and r — and charted how often each was used in four different typefaces: Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans.
Using APFill Ink Coverage Software, Suvir then measured how much ink each letter used.
Next he enlarged the characters and printed them on cardstock paper to weigh them. He did three trials for each letter and then graphed the ink usage for each font.
After completely this analysis, Suvir found that using Garamond, which has thinner strokes, could reduce his school district’s ink consumption by 24 percent and save $21,000 annually.
Suvir submitted his findings to the Journal for Emerging Investigators, a publication founded by Harvard graduate students that publishes original research by middle and high school students.
The journal challenged him to apply his research to the federal government, so Suvir repeated his test on sample pages from documents on the Government Printing Office (GPO) website and received similar results.
The average federal employee prints 7,200 pages per year, and the U.S. government’s annual printing expenditure is $1.8 billion.
Using the General Services Administration’s estimated annual cost of ink — $467 million — Suvir determined that printing in Garamond only could save $136 million per year.
If all state governments did the same, an additional $234 million could be saved.
There is already a federal initiative in place to minimize ink usage. Eighteen months ago, the GSA implemented Printwise, a program that teaches government offices how to default computer settings to Times New Roman, Garamond or Century Gothic to minimize printing waste.
The GSA says the initiative could save the federal government $30 million annually.
Learn more about Suvir's work in the video below.
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