March 29, 2014

This middle school student has a simple, brilliant way for the government to save money. Encouraged by his teachers to work through his hypothesis to the end, he calculates that the government could save $400 million simply by changing the font they use to print government documents.


It all started as a science fair project. As a neophyte sixth-grader at Dorseyville Middle School, Suvir noticed he was getting a lot more handouts than he did in elementary school.

Interested in applying computer science to promote environmental sustainability, Suvir decided he was going to figure out if there was a better way to minimize the constant flurry of paper and ink.

Reducing paper use through recycling and dual-sided printing had been talked about before as a way to save money and conserve resources, but there was less attention paid to the ink for which the paper served as a canvas for history and algebra handouts.

"Ink is two times more expensive than French perfume by volume," Suvir says with a chuckle.


Collecting random samples of teachers' handouts, Suvir concentrated on the most commonly used characters (e, t, a, o and r).

First, he charted how often each character was used in four different typefaces: Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans. Then he measured how much ink was used for each letter, using a commercial tool called APFill® Ink Coverage Software.

Next he enlarged the letters, printed them and cut them out on cardstock paper to weigh them to verify his findings. He did three trials for each letter, graphing the ink usage for each font.

From this analysis, Suvir figured out that by using Garamond with its thinner strokes, his school district could reduce its ink consumption by 24%, and in turn save as much as $21,000 annually.

Read the rest, but when he carried his analysis through to federal government printing, he arrived at a savings of $400 million, simply by changing the font they use to print all those government documents.

Imagine the huge Congressional debate over this, with lobbyists for ink and toner cartridges rushing to grab the ear of friendly lawmakers to plead their case against Garamond while blithely chopping the social safety net in the name of a balanced budget.

I would be remiss if I failed to point out that this stroke of genius emanated from a student in a public school in a public school district, where public school teachers encouraged Suvir to test and expand his hypothesis. And they said public schools are failing.

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