Could a teenager's science fair project save the U.S. government hundreds of millions of dollars?
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press.
It started as a simple science fair project by a kid at a Pittsburgh-area middle school, CNN reported. Before long, 14-year-old Suvir Mirchandani garnered national attention with an easy way for the federal government to save around $136 million a year.
Madeleine Stix at CNN wrote how Suvir tried to come up with a way to save money on printing costs at his school. Using less paper and double-sided printing had already been done, but reducing the amount of expensive ink had not. "Collecting random samples of teachers' handouts, Suvir concentrated on the most commonly used characters (e, t, a, o and r)," Suvir wrote. "First, he charted how often each character was used in four different typefaces: Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans. Then he measured how much ink was used for each letter, using a commercial tool called APFill® Ink Coverage Software."
As a Deseret News article explained in 2012, different fonts use different amounts of ink. Garamond or Century Gothic use less than Arial, for instance. Suvir likewise discovered how Garamond would use less ink than the more commonly used Times New Roman.
Suvir later applied this knowledge to the printing done by the United States government in an article in the "Journal of Emerging Investigators." "The analysis predicts that the government's annual savings by switching to Garamond are likely to be about $234 million with worst-case savings of $62 million and best-case savings of $394 million," the article said. "Indirect benefits arising from a less detrimental impact on the environment due to lower ink production and disposal volumes are not included in these estimates."
Saving $62 million to $394 million is a lot of ink.
Naturally, the skeptics quickly jumped on the teen's idea.
David Graham at The Atlantic, although congratulatory on Suvir's method and industry, said the savings would not reach the levels touted.
First, Graham said, it would be optimistic to think a "uniform standard" for fonts could be implemented on a federal and state level (which would be required to reach the highest savings in Suvir's estimates). The Government Printing Office also only spends $750,000 a year on ink, making the millions of dollars in savings unlikely.
Thomas Phinney, at his "Phinney on Fonts" blog, said the reason why Garamond saves ink is because it is smaller. The lowercase letters are 15 percent smaller than similar fonts, for example. "So, you could just as easily save ink by setting the same font at a smaller point size," Phinney wrote.
Fonts could be made even smaller and thinner to save even more ink. But, like the smaller Garamond, the documents would then be harder to read, Phinney suggests.
But this doesn't mean there isn't merit in the idea. The GPO said, according to The Washington Post, that it "will carefully review its applicability."
One less than optimistic person, with the screen name "BobNJersey", commented on a CBS account of Suvir's idea: "A special advisory panel will have to be convened which will be followed by an in depth study of the issue after which a 1,240 page report will be issued printed in Times New Roman font at which time bids will be taken to execute a beta program to test out the proposed solutions in select markets. A full rollout will follow. Cost $432 million."