MADELEINE BRAND, host:
All right. More green, gray or green. Reporter Nate DiMeo has found about one environmental solution that is very, very small. It's an inch and a quarter, actually.
NATE DiMEO: So the other night I was at a dinner party here in Hollywood and as it seems to happen a lot at those sorts of things these days, the conversation turned to the environment. I was talking up my idea of a secular Sabbath; every Friday at sundown, you turn off the lights and appliances, leave the car in the driveway and have your walking distance friends over for a carbon and religion neutral dinner - done, Earth saved. But this woman named Tamara...
Ms. TAMARA KRINSKY (Writer): Hey, how are you, Nate?
DiMEO: That's Tamara Krinsky. She had an idea that was so simple and elegant that it made my carbon-free Fridays idea seemed sort of lame.
Ms. KRINSKY: I've always been a little fanatical about paper.
DiMEO: Tamara is a new media producer, a writer, and sometimes TV host, and an actor, all very fulfilling but not necessarily all that lucrative.
Ms. KRINSKY: Let's just say that spending a lot of money all the time on paper isn't your highest priority, but at the same time, it's something that you need. So always throughout my life I've constantly been saving scrap paper and printing stuff out, double siding it, all of that. And at some point I started changing the margins on everything that I was printing out just to use up less paper because it was cheaper.
DIMEO: And so one day, she's doing one of her freelance writing projects.
Ms. KRINSKY: Printing out a rough draft of an article and I found myself changing the margins, like I always do, and as I did it I suddenly went - wait a minute. And it was literally like a light bulb had gone off in my head.
DIMEO: One of those twisty, energy-saving light bulbs.
Ms. KRINSKY: I said, I do this - what if everybody did this?
DIMEO: And a movement, or at least a Web site hoping to spur a movement, was born. She's putting up changethemargins.com. The idea is you narrow the margins on your office documents. It saves paper/the earth.
Mr. ALLEN HERSHKOWITZ (Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council): People don't realize how big of an ecological footprint the paper industry has.
DIMEO: Allen Hershkowitz is with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Mr. HERSHKOWITZ: The paper industry is the third largest industrial generator of global warming pollution. The paper industry is the number one industrial cause of global deforestation, which has huge biodiversity impacts. The paper industry is the number one consumer of freshwater on the planet. More than 11 percent of all the water used in the industrialized world goes just to make paper. And the impact...
DIMEO: Ok, got it - paper is bad. But really, how much paper and - let's face it - how much money would we save by simply going from a standard margin that's one and a quarter inches on each side, to three quarters of an inch.
Dr. Joshua Pearce of Clarion University in Pennsylvania has done the math. A few years ago, he was on a team of grad students looking for ways to make a building on the Penn State campus more green.
So he did all sorts of analyses and what not, of things like air-conditioning systems and lighting, whatever. But they stumbled on a tiny change that would make a big difference if the whole campus got onboard.
Dr. JOSHUA PEARCE (Physics Department, Clarion University): And we were really astounded to find that the economic savings from just changing the margin settings would save the university of over $120,000 a year.
DIMEO: He says even a conservative estimate of paper savings means that any campus or company that narrowed their margins would use 4.75 percent less paper. And so, he extrapolated.
Dr. PEARCE: So on 2004, the U.S. used about eight million tons of office paper. That's approximately 3.2 billion reams. And so if the entire nation were to make this change over, we could say about 380,000 tons of paper - this is equivalent to 152 million reams - and even if we got the excellent Penn State price of $2.72 per ream, this is four hundred, possible, million dollars saved just from changing the margin settings on our office documents.
DIMEO: That's a little less than a Rhode Island's worth of trees every year or a little more than half of Delaware, as you prefer.
Ms. KRINSKY: Duh, all right. Change margins, we save paper. It seems like something that's actually doable.
DIMEO: And so Tamara Krinsky and her Change the Margins Web site is spreading the message of the idea's doability. She's encouraging people to narrow the margins on their documents. She's got a petition going that urges Microsoft to change its default settings on its Word program. And she says she's not afraid of some sort of showdown with burly representatives of the lumber lobby.
Ms. KRINSKY: The paper producers, they want us to buy more paper and use more paper. But we are the turning point where companies have to change, become more inventive and adapt for this new environmental economy that we really need to move forward with. And if this is one thing we could make them do that, then I say forge ahead now and I'll take the risk.
DIMEO: Even if some guy comes back with one of those, like, giant double saws?
Ms. KRINSKY: I don't know. See, I'm one of those cute, like, red and black flannel...
DIMEO: For NPR News, I'm Nate DiMeo.