How easy is it being green?

by Matt Saltzman on October 13th, 2009

When I started coming to ORSA/TIMS meetings (lo, these many years
ago), the programs were printed on 5×8-inch stock.  This year’s
program, with four times the area per page, is thicker than in those
days–almost as big as my laptop and probably weighing almost as

This year, I decided to participate in INFORMS’s Go Green initiative
and forgo my printed program.  The advantages were clear: the printed
program is bulky and heavy and inconvenient to carry around.  It’s not
searchable.  When I get home, it takes up space on my increasingly
crowded bookshelves.  And not taking it contributes (even just a
little bit) to preserving our environment.  (Seen on a T-shirt: Save
the earth–it’s the only planet with chocolate.)

There are disadvantages, though.  The electronic substitute is a
collection of PDFs that are downloadable from the conference Web
pages.  Even if you’re sitting down, scanning PDFs on a computer
screen in an attempt to emulate the way one usually scans the paper
program is not all that pleasant or effective.  PDFs are searchable,
but 8×11-inch aspect page images are not laid out well for a laptop
monitor.  Browsing the program while standing around during coffee
break or while sitting in the back in a session is very inconvenient
on a laptop.

I considered putting the PDFs on my iPhone.  That’s relatively easy in
the comfort of my home wireless LAN, but I didn’t get to it before I
left, and it’s not so easy (at least with the app I use) when out in
the wild.  Also, while the format is readable on the iPhone, the
window on the page is only big enough to display the information about
a single session.  It’s very hard to get the “big picture” of even a
single page, much less across all the tracks in a session.  The
two-column format makes it impossible to scroll quickly, and scrolling
to the last period of a full day of sessions takes a lot of screen
stroking.  (And in some parts of the Hilton, there’s no signal from
AT&T.  Ouch!)

I can imagine an app (that runs locally on the device, in case there’s
no network connection available).  It displays the program as lists of
sessions, or as lists of sessions with sublists of talk titles and
authors’ names.  It allows the reader to expand a session tab to see
full information including abstracts.  Sessions are selected
individually or filtered by track or cluster or time slot, and
selected sessions can be displayed in isolation (sort of like the
current online program’s itinerary feature).  It might even integrate with
your online calendar, so you’d get alerts for selected sessions.  It’s
portable across platforms, running on Windows, OS X, and Linux laptops
and on various smart phones.  And it’s fully searchable.

Now, that electronic program would be a compelling replacement for the
paper program.

[Mike, thanks for the bag photo.  Unfortunately, I couldn't upload it.]

From Conference Blog Post

  1. RFH permalink

    Going green is a good idea, but not printing the program does notr make a significant contribution. Better would have been to print separate little booklets for each day and let people order just the days they are intersted in and when they have time to attend. then more savings would have been possible.

    And the meeting would have been MUCH “greener”, if Hilton and Conference Center would have been obliged to provide REASONABLE temperature in the rooms. it is freezing cond in most rooms which is an awful waste of energy!!!!


  2. I have the same suggestion: printing separate booklets. Developing some iphone/blackberry apps would also help. The apps should allow easy searches for topics and authors, and links to the detailed information. I would be totally going green if so. :)

  3. Selcen Phelps permalink

    I continue to support the “Go Green” initiative in theory. In practice, I ended up printing 30 pages of abstracts for my chosen itinerary and borrowing others’ programs twice when I ran into a speaker I hadn’t noticed in my initial search of the program. The answer definitely lies in your idea of an application that is more mobile, more hyper-linked, and more search-friendly. Hope we get there in upcoming meetings.

  4. Matthew Saltzman permalink

    Actually, 30 pages of printout is still comparatively green. And leaving a few printed copies of the program in strategic hallways and lobbies would make life easier for those without their own paper programs who feel a sudden need to look something up.

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