Marginal Revolution?

by on February 17, 2008 at 11:55 am in Economics | Permalink

A project founded by Los Angeles-based actress and writer Tamara
Krinsky advocates a simple change that anyone can believe in: By
altering the printing margin preference for Microsoft Word documents
from the standard 1.25 inches to 0.75 inch, Americans can save a whole
lot of paper — and trees, and money.

Plus you don’t have to kill your dog.

Nathan Whitehead February 17, 2008 at 12:23 pm

No! This is a false savings. Wide margins make the text width smaller, which increases legibility. Compare nicely typeset books with slapped together business reports. Human attention is scarce, paper is cheap. If something is worth printing, it is worth printing with good margins. A better way to save paper is to not print documents that will not be read.

James Grimmelmann February 17, 2008 at 12:27 pm

Go further! Change your margins to .75″, single-space, and use a a 9-point font. Set your word processor to 2-column mode. Then send everything to the printer double-sided.

This isn’t only a matter of saving paper. A standard 1.25″ margin with a 12-point font has too many characters per line to be efficiently readable. Increasing the margins to .75″ makes readability even worse. I fear a backlash. But if you treat the design problem as a whole, you can get crisply readable lines while saving whole reams of paper.

Tommy February 17, 2008 at 1:11 pm

As a college student facing minimum page lengths for papers, I wholeheartedly oppose this movement.

Andy February 17, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Paper costs very little (I bought 5000 sheets for < $20), so I’m not too concerned about saving a few cents here and there while making my writing less legible.

Papernomics February 17, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Not only does the cost of my inconvenience reading with such narrow margins dwarf the ‘paper-cost savings’ pointed to (which is itself minuscule), it’s simply sloppy economics to argue that using less paper will ‘save trees.’ The trees that will be ‘saved’ are not the ones anyone cares about ‘saving’–ancient redwoods, etc. They are trees grown specifically for the purpose of harvesting wood for paper. The demand for these trees is positively related to the demand for the paper they’re used to produce. Less demand for paper, fewer such trees and no saved redwoods.

jonm February 17, 2008 at 2:18 pm

People, can’t we all just use TeX?

Julia G February 17, 2008 at 2:59 pm

But what about leaving margin space for hole punching?

Even if you yourself don’t intend to punch holes in your document, someone down the road may end up with a copy of it and want to put it in a binder. Reduced margins would make that impossible.

bartman February 17, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Printing in 9-point type? Damn you and your twenty-something eyes.

Things change when you hit your forties.

tom s. February 17, 2008 at 4:26 pm

what bartman said

Peter February 17, 2008 at 6:44 pm

But what about leaving margin space for hole punching?

Or readers who might want to hand-write comments in the margins.

David Wright February 17, 2008 at 7:06 pm

This is a non-solution to a non-problem. No one is cutting down irreplacable old-growth forests to make paper. Paper is made using large plantations of fast-growing trees planted expressly for that purpose. It is a cash crop, like wheat or bananas, and you needn’t feel bad about using any ammount it any more than you would about consuming those foodstuffs. The cost of producing it is fully internalized, so if you are able willing to pay the extra $0.01 for a more readable hard copy, go for it and don’t take any crap from people who want you to feel bad about it. (And if you really are too poor or stingy to cough up the extra $0.01, perhaps you might consider doing without a hard copy.)

geoffrey February 17, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Next, I propose saving wheat by eating less bread..

An idea just as silly..

less paper used = less demand for paper = less trees in the world (not more)

bartman February 18, 2008 at 12:32 am

David Zetland:

My doctoral thesis was submitted elecronically – I have yet to print a full-length copy. Most of the reviewing was done electronically too. Where I went to school, this is now the default way of submitting.

MostlyAPragmatist February 18, 2008 at 5:41 am

Frank Howland–

Kling despises environmentalists as anti-industrial Luddites. I don’t think he wants them to kill their dogs as much as he’d like to come over and do it for them. It’s a useful post since it reveals some pretty strong biases you can use to interpret his other writings.

Marko February 18, 2008 at 8:10 am

Get a printer that prints double sided.

ZBicyclist February 18, 2008 at 10:40 am

Interesting graphic showing per capita paper consumption versus GDP.

Looking at similar GDP per capita, the US uses considerably more paper than Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and France. We’re outdone by Finland — maybe they steal paper from the office to heat their saunas ;)

bb8343 February 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm

I think this is a great idea. As a college student, I’m constantly printing off Word documents for my classes, so running out of paper is a major issue for me. I hate having to buy more paper, and even though it’s not extremely expensive, it would be nice to not have to buy it so often. I do however see a few drawbacks. Smaller margins would make documents somewhat more difficult to read, but I think having smaller margins with the standard 12 point font versus having a smaller font with 1.25 inch margins would definitely be better. Giving up just a marginal bit of space in order to save a few sheets of paper is something I’m definitely in support. I think it’s making better use of limited resources.

I actually already do this in a lot of instances. When I’m low on paper, I’ll alter my margins in order to fit the most I can on each page. Also, when I’m printing out PowerPoint presentations for certain classes I’ll try to fit as many slides on each page as I possibly can. Sometimes I even go as far as taking advantage of the option to print two pages on a single printed page. Reusing paper by printing on the blank back sides is something else I like to do to save paper. (If only I knew of some way to save ink!)

I’m not the only one who appreciates saving paper either. My business law teacher doesn’t have any paper exchange in her class. Any hand outs we need are posted online and we submit everything via the internet. A lot of professors are going this direction.

The idea of reducing margins in order to save paper made me think of additional little ways we can make better use of our limited resources. We can do this by encouraging people to use cloth napkins instead of paper towels. In a similar fashion, it would beneficial to encourage people to use regular plates instead of paper plates. Reusable products are a great alternative to throwing away paper products. They reduce paper use, save people money, and cut back on waste, which I think is a major issue.

jorod February 18, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Let’s put a tax on the margins.

John Dewey February 18, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Michael Giesbrecht and David Wright,

Thank you for sensible comments on Alex’s claim that reducing paper usage will save trees. Surely such a brilliant economist as Professor Tabarrok must have been teasing us with such a statement.

A stable or increasing demand for paper and lumber is the only thing that will induce landowners across the southern U.S. to replant timberland and to convert pasture. If the anti-paper crowd were really successful, the next generation would have far fewer trees around to absorb CO2.

Floccina February 19, 2008 at 10:39 am

Doesn’t using more paper reduce atmospheric co2? Most of it sits in land fills not breaking down.

Matt February 19, 2008 at 11:44 pm

I love the idea of changing the margin. I think saving paper and money is key. Too bad on my micosoft office i don’t have the .75 margin. It would also help out competition in paper companies. Also, i just hate running out of paper when i need to print an essay off, so I’m all for it.

aion kina March 18, 2009 at 2:29 am
jim May 14, 2009 at 10:16 pm

it is not bad

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