14-Year-Old’s Simple Idea Could Save US Government $400 Million on Official Documents

Suvir Mirchandani, a 14-year-old student from Pittsburg, has figured out a way to do something that financial experts have been struggling with for decades – substantially reduce Government spending. And we’re not taking about a few dollars here and there, we’re talking millions. $400 million, to be precise. To save all that money, Suvir suggested that the US government simply switch fonts from Times New Roman to Garamond when printing official documents. Because each character is printed lighter and thinner in Garamond, it uses 25 percent less ink, saving a lot of money in the process.

Suvir came up with the brilliant idea while working on a science fair project at his school – Dorseyville Middle School. He was looking for a way to use computer science to promote environmental sustainability. After a lot of research, he decided to figure out if there was a way minimize the use of paper and ink. “Ink is two times more expensive than French perfume by volume,” the whiz-kid pointed out. So he collected random samples of teachers’ handouts at his school and studied the most commonly used letters: ‘e, t, a, o and r’.

The study included four different typefaces: Garamond, Century Gothic, Times New Roman and Comic Sans. Suvir measured how often the letters were used in each of these fonts. Then he used a commercial tool called APFill Ink Coverage Software to figure out how much ink was used for each letter. He printed out enlarged versions of the letters, cut them out on cardstock paper and weighed them to verify the data. He performed three trials per letter and graphed the ink usage for each font. The results of the analysis were astounding – he found out that Garamond’s thinner strokes could help his school district reduce ink consumption by 24 percent, saving about $21,000 a year.


Photo: CNN

Suvir’s teacher was impressed with his work and encouraged him to publish his findings. The Journal for Emerging Investigators (JEI), founded by Harvard grad students in 2011, accepted the paper. “We were so impressed. We really could see the real-world application in Suvir’s paper,” said Sarah Fankhauser, one of JEI’s founders. She also said that Suvir’s submission was a real standout among the 200 others they have received since 2011.

When JEI peer reviewers got to read the paper, they realized that the findings were clear, simple and well-thought out. They began to wonder how much potential savings is really out there, so Suvir applied the project to a larger scale – the federal government. This was by no means an easy task; he started with five sample pages from documents on the Government Printing Office (GPO) website. The result was the same this time around, but the figures were mind boggling. Suvir realized that the US (state and federal) governments’ annual printing expenditure of $1.8 billion could be reduced by a significant $400 million.


Photo: CNN video caption

So what is the government waiting for? It’s time to switch fonts and save money, right? Wrong. Gary Somerset, media and public relations manager at the GPO said Suvir’s work was remarkable, but he wouldn’t commit to introducing changes in the typefont. He instead focused on the GPO’s efforts to shift more content to the web. “In 1994, we were producing 20,000 copies a day of both the Federal Register and Congressional Record,” he said. “Twenty years later, we produce roughly 2,500 print copies a day.” He also pointed out that they use recycled paper for all their printing. I’m still not really sure what that has to do with young Suvir’s project, as using Garamond would cut costs even more.

But the kid does understand that things like these don’t change overnight. He had actually sent out a query for information to the GPO at the beginning of the study, but they never responded until he was done. “I recognize it’s difficult to change someone’s behavior,” he said. “That’s the most difficult part. I definitely would love to see some actual changes and I’d be happy to go as far as possible to make all that change possible. Consumers are still printing at home, they can make this change too.”


It’s not just the ink – using Garamond could save a lot of paper too. “It’s not part of the calculations that I determined, but that’s definitely a by-product of using a lighter font,” Suvir said. So the next time you are about to hit ‘print’ on your home or office computer, don’t forget to switch the font to Garamond first!

Source: CNN

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