Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

January 23, 2014

Bulk mailings go electronic

greenStarting Feb. 1, Pitt’s Read Green paperless mass mailing service will become the default delivery method for University mailings.

The service, instituted on an opt-in basis in 2011 (see May 12, 2011, University Times), sends an email version of the mailing, either in the body of the message (in the case of short, text-only messages) or as a link to a .pdf version.

In a Jan. 10 message to faculty and staff, Provost Patricia E. Beeson and Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran announced the change, citing speed, sustainability and savings over paper.

The change is not mandatory, but employees who prefer to receive bulk mailings on paper will need to indicate their preference by opting out via the Read Green link on their profile page at

Matt D. Sloan, senior manager of Mailing and Warehouse Services, estimated that the change will save the University 3 million sheets of paper each year.

Some bulk mail, such as the personalized Human Resources benefits packages employees receive each year, will continue to be delivered on paper.

“We won’t be 100 percent paper-free, but we’re trying,” Sloan said.


Jinx Walton, Pitt’s chief information officer, estimated that about half of the University faculty and staff already use Read Green. More than 8,000 University users subscribe, but that number includes research associates, student employees and emeritus faculty in addition to faculty and staff, she said.

Walton had no estimate of the number of Pitt employees who don’t work at computers. She noted that similar concerns arose when the University was contemplating the change to self-service timecards in 2010 (see Oct. 1, 2009, University Times). “During that process, it was discovered that almost everyone had access to some device to do their timesheets even if they didn’t have a work computer personally,” she told the University Times. “It is also true that people can read the messages on their mobile devices and tablets too.”

Pitt-Greensburg and the Swanson School of Engineering already have adopted Read Green as their default.

Dave Robinson, director of computing and telecommunications at Pitt-Greensburg, said the UPG campus “made a conscious commitment to be green.” The opening of Frank A. Cassell Hall in fall 2012 (for which LEED silver certification is in process) “provided a focus on the commitment the campus wanted to make toward green initiatives,” of which paper reduction was one, he said.

He proposed defaulting to Read Green and, in consultation with Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD), implemented the change last February. “There is no disadvantage,” he said.

Similarly, the Swanson school enrolled its faculty and staff in Read Green en masse last June after consulting with CSSD on ways the school could support Pitt’s green operations efforts.

Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, said faculty and staff were surveyed before the engineering school made the switch. Of nearly 100 responses, none was negative, she said. Instead, the prevailing attitude was “of course we should be doing this.”

She said Read Green has been particularly useful to faculty and staff who are traveling. “They don’t have to wait until they’re back on campus to know what’s going on.”

Not surprisingly, CSSD’s Read Green participation is 99.5 percent — the highest University-wide. CSSD statistics show that 99 percent of users at UPG and 98 percent in the Swanson school participate in Read Green.

Read Green already is the majority choice in a handful of other Pitt areas: 88 percent in Institutional Advancement; 75 percent in the College of General Studies and the Executive Vice Chancellor’s areas. Read Green participation is between 50 and 75 percent in the Provost area, University Library System, Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences and the Office of General Counsel, Walton told the University Times.

“Default is very powerful,” said Alexandros Labrinidis, faculty in computer science and co-chair of the University Senate computer usage committee, who predicted few people will opt for paper after the Feb. 1 change.

“I’m happy everyone gets to be switched over,” he said, noting that Read Green was first proposed in the computer usage committee in 2010 — around the time when the campus was moving toward eliminating the (now defunct) Audix “broadcast message” voicemails (see May 13, 2010, University Times).

Early fears included the risk of opening the floodgates to spam — which is not the case because the electronic bulk messages are vetted in the same way as paper bulk mail, Labrinidis said.

In addition, because Read Green messages are sent as a link, rather than as a large attachment, “people’s mail boxes should not fill up,” he said.

“I’m happy to see the committee’s idea make it to CSSD and Mailing Services, then be adopted by the administration and now adopted for default,” he said.

The mere availability of Read Green already has had an effect on paper use in Mailing Services. Sloan said the number of bulk-mailing pieces processed in hard copy was more than 1.014 million in fiscal year 2011. That fell to 905,750 in FY12 and dropped to 674,906 in FY13. Hard copies are on track to drop even further: In the first half of FY14, the number was 268,402, Sloan told the University Times.

While the amount of paper is decreasing, the number of mailings is not expected to decline, he said.

Nor will mailings be free, despite the reduction in paper. Pricing, which varies based on the mailing and the audience, still is being finalized, Sloan said.

Senders still will need to fill out a mailing request form (at www.pts.pitt/edu/mailserv/ ) specifying to whom the mailing will be sent — not all bulk mailings go to the entire University community — and departments still must okay the mailings, Sloan said.

As for mailroom employees, “staff responsibilities will be shifted toward the Read Green program.  We will work with the departments sending out the mailings to make sure the information reaches the appropriate audience, for instance, and will guide departments on providing a clear title and summary for their mailing so recipients can quickly identify the subject matter and their interest in the information,” he said.

Labrinidis emphasized the need for senders to be succinct and descriptive in the titles they place on their mailings.

“If the message is labeled clearly, readers can save time by moving on from messages they’re not interested in,” he said, pointing out that the waste associated with bulk mail goes beyond paper: It takes human effort to place a piece of paper in a mailbox, and it takes time for the recipient to retrieve and deal with the mail.

Both sending and receiving are much quicker with electronic messages, he noted.

“The only negative is ensuring the messages get proper attention,” he said. “There was concern that people might miss something important if it’s buried in a ton of email. But which is better? A ton of email or a ton of physical mail?”

—Kimberly K. Barlow