It doesn't look invisible. And the noise it makes as it comes down the school driveway every week isn't invisible. But it might as well be invisible - your mind tunes out things you see every day. Which means that school managers have got used to the paper delivery lorry turning up every week, and the tens of thousands of sheets of paper being delivered weekly for the school copiers and printers.
In the UK I did some research that showed an average high school was using over one million sheets of paper a year - with some up to two million. And since arriving in Australia, I have been deluged with so many sheets of paper from my children's school, that I reckon the numbers are going to be even higher here.
For context, one million sheets of paper is almost twice the height of the Sydney Opera House - which you really would notice if it all came down the school driveway on one day!
Obviously, using that volume of paper is a huge expense - and in many cases, schools are spending as much on paper, copying and printer toner as they are on their main ICT budget. So if there's a way of reducing paper usage, it would deliver a real cash saving as well as an environmental benefit. As an added thought, even just shifting the mix of where things are printed can save money, as printing on classroom inkjets or laser printers can cost up to 6x more than printing on large, shared, multi-function devices around the school. In my research I also came across a school that had as many printers as they had staff - with some staff having more than one each!
There are plenty of things that can be done to save money on this:
There are plenty of things that you can do - but first you have to build the momentum for change. Which means that you've got to make sure the lorry isn't invisible any more. And how do you do that? The easiest way is to find out how much paper you are using at your school (half an hour with the admin team and a quick scan of the last few invoices from your stationery provider), and then you've got a story to share with your principal about the invisible lorry.
The biggest challenge we face in reducing our paper usage is trying to make sure the lorry isn't invisible to parents.
We went paperless for many of our letters last year, but many parents complain that they prefer paper versions and don't make the time to read the electronic copies. Parents expect communication to be convenient to them above all else, and while we may think that electronic versions are more convenient, many parents do not agree. As a result of these parent refuseniks, we are now seeing a significant dip in reply slip return and a corresponding increase in parents asking why they "hadn't been told" about things that were in the newsletters they never got around to reading.
Ultimately, they are even more blind to the cost than staff, despite the seemingly obvious fact that the money saved is reinvested directly in their child's education. Perhaps we should start asking TNT to deliver our paper order to a different parent each week and ask them to bring it in?
We have reduced most of our paper based parental communication. We suggested to parents that they could have a printed version but as this was now considered an additional cost to the school we would have to charge them for the paper, printing and administration.
Parents decided that a paperless version would be the preferred option and we now have email addresses for all but four or five sets of parents across the school.