At the same time the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors adopted a university wide climate action commitment, it made its own small step toward sustainability with paperless meetings.

In November 2008, rector of the board, John Lawson, directed the university to implement a paperless method of sharing information by the June 2009 meeting.

“I felt like we not only needed to make a institutional statement about sustainability, we needed to take actions ourselves, as a board, to ratchet back the use of expendables for each meeting,” said Lawson.

“Believe it or not, preparing all these materials was a massive undertaking,” says Kim O’Rourke, secretary to the board. Preparing 35 three-ring binders for board and staff, each averages about 200 pages prepared by many different offices, and shipping to each board member cost the university about $11,800 each year. Assembling those books also required about $4,600 in staff time.

“So, conservatively, we spent about $16,400 each year preparing all the reports, resolutions, and materials to support the board meetings,’ says O’Rourke. The electronic process will also facilitate the inter-staff communication among the staff that writes the reports and resolutions, providing a single location for staff to share and edit materials.

With an up-front expenditure of about $26,000 for laptop computers, the university expects to get a payback in less than two years and make one small step to improve our carbon footprint. The laptop units stay in Blacksburg for board member’s use at committee and full board meetings. All materials are also projected for audience members saving the need to produce paper copies for those in the audience.

Lawson and O’Rourke also expect to see considerable improvement in operating efficiency. All staff and board members have access to the master electronic documents. There will be no more errata sheets or making changes to 35 books already distributed. Board members can review their materials from anywhere in the world as long as they have a computer and internet access. Even the public will be able to see the materials on the board of visitors’ website prior to the meetings.

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