skip to content



Here at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, like many other research departments, the vast majority of staff and students (predicted at 80-90% of total members in April 2021) are still working from home. While these working patterns can carry additional environmental costs – extra home heating for example – there are also potential environmental benefits.

With only a few key staff working within our facilities we thought this would be a good opportunity to examine some of our stationery and printing expenses to see how much the change in our working conditions have affected them. It will probably come as no surprise to see that we found substantial savings, both financially and environmentally!

Unit stationery expenses

Pre-working restrictions (November 2019 to March 2020)

Expenditure                        £1354.90

During working restrictions (April 2020 to August 2020)

Expenditure                        £113.59

Financial savings             £1241.31

Unit printing expenses (one printer of three main printers sampled at our IMS site)

Pre-working restrictions (November 2019 to January 2020):

Black & White                    18,845 pages 

Colour                                3,980 pages

Total                                  22,825 pages

Total cost                         £104.51

During working restrictions (November 2020 – January 2021)        

Black & White                   1,252 pages     

Colour                               1,170 pages

Total                                  2,422 pages

Total cost                         £22.80

Financial savings:            £81.71

Environmental savings: 20,403 fewer sheets of paper.

20,403 sheets of paper is just over 40 reams, based on 500 pages per ream, which equates (very approximately1) to a saving of 2.4 mature trees or 52kg of CO2! That’s not even taking into account the environmental costs of ink usage, cartridge and toner recycling, or considering our reduction in printing rates at other sites!

Naturally staff will have used their own stationery and been doing some printing while working from home, though anecdotally staff have reported printing less while at home.2 As staff return to the Unit, costs will inevitably increase again but the pandemic experience serves as a useful example of the benefits of alternative ways of working. Now, we will hopefully think twice about whether we really need to print that document and whether we can continue to print as little as we did while working from home.  

Returning to our buildings

As we return to our sites, the Green Impact Group (GIG) at the MRC Epidemiology Unit are looking forward to working with our finance, business and senior management teams to manage our use of paper and printing services to minimise environmental and financial costs. Actions we’ll take include continuing to source FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and EU Ecolabel Certified paper, trialling ‘paperless’ meetings, and encouraging staff to print less and read more electronic material online as opposed to printing. Members of our Unit have already been promoting the use of electronic notebooks and we will look to promote this in our new quarterly Green impact newsletter, which will be circulated to all staff and students.

In taking these actions we will look to build on the fantastic work of our IT department who implemented a centralised printing system in 2017 that replaced old inefficient individual printers with a more energy-efficient, secure process. Such work resulted in an Excellence Award through the University of Cambridge Green Impact Group, setting a high standard that our Department will strive to maintain.


Written by Colin Farr and Deborah Gardner-Wood on behalf of the Green Impact Group, MRC Epidemiology Unit

1 Our calculation of the number of mature trees saved is based on information from the Urban Forestry Network and Conserveatree.

2 According to a recent informal survey of team staff.