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Teen to government: Change your typeface, save millions

Middle-school student says the federal government could cut printing costs with one decision

Madeleine Stix | 3/31/2014, 6:20 a.m.
An e. You can write it with one fluid swoop of a pen or one tap of the keyboard. The ...
Middle-school student says the federal government could cut printing costs with one decision. Suvir Mirchandani analyzed ink use for school project, then expanded his research. CNN

— For the answer, JEI challenged Suvir to apply his project to a larger scale: the federal government.

With an annual printing expenditure of $1.8 billion, the government was a much more challenging task than his school science project.

Suvir repeated his tests on five sample pages from documents on the Government Printing Office website and got similar results -- change the font, save money.

Will government printers embrace a change?

Using the General Services Administration's estimated annual cost of ink -- $467 million -- Suvir concluded that if the federal government used Garamond exclusively it could save nearly 30% -- or $136 million per year. An additional $234 million could be saved annually if state governments also jumped on board, he reported.

Gary Somerset, media and public relations manager at the Government Printing Office, describes Suvir's work as "remarkable." But he was noncommittal on whether the GPO would introduce changes to typeface, saying the GPO's efforts to become more environmentally sustainable were focused on shifting content to the Web.

"In 1994, we were producing 20,000 copies a day of both the Federal Register and Congressional Record. Twenty years later, we produce roughly 2,500 print copies a day," he said.

On top of this, the Congressional Register is printed on recycled paper, which GPO has been doing for five or six years, Somerset says.

One federal initiative that focuses on minimizing ink-usage is called "Printwise." Organized by the General Services Administration, it teaches government offices how to default their computer settings to Times New Roman, Garamond and Century Gothic to minimize printing waste. According to GSA's press secretary Dan Cruz, they hope this type of initiative could save the federal government up to $30 million annually.

Suvir appreciates the government's efforts, but he sees his project as a means of making an even bigger impact nationwide.

"Consumers are still printing at home, they can make this change too," he says.

Holding out hope

At 14, Suvir understands how difficult such a project might be to implement -- "I recognize it's difficult to change someone's behavior. That's the most difficult part."

But he holds out hope: "I definitely would love to see some actual changes and I'd be happy to go as far as possible to make that change possible."

With decades ahead to lend a hand, Suvir and other young men and women like him may even be able to untangle some of the knotty political and technical issues that beset Washington, corporate suites and the world at large.