Students “doing hardest thing first” face opposition in Colorado Springs

by Franke James

 illustration by Franke James

“Do the hardest thing first.”

That’s the bold advice I gave students at the University of Colorado (UCCS). But doing the hardest thing first is proving to be a challenge in Colorado Springs. And it’s igniting some passionate opposition. All of which is the perfect opportunity for a creative discussion on how to overcome obstacles and make change happen. (And if you have good ideas to share, please post them in the comments.)

University of Colorado poster and photo of the Garden of the Gods by Franke James

Goal: Get student body to adopt green measures

On March 2nd, I presented “Nurture your inner-Alice-in-Wonderland for a Sustainable World” as the 2010 Legacy Lecture at the University of Colorado. I drew on real-life stories to illustrate how I’ve made change happen — and students could too. But the pivotal story in retrospect was Paradise Unpaved. It’s my personal story about overcoming opposition from City Hall and winning the right to build a green driveway. Pivotal because their green initiative is shaping up to be a political battle.

Carole Huber is the green champion who invited me down to UCCS to speak. She teaches Geography & Environmental Studies at UCCS. Her “Changing Place” sustainability class had a unique opportunity — to propose new green measures that the student body could vote on and which could be adopted campus-wide. Sounds great! But what measures should they aim for? Something that would be quick and easy? Or something ambitious, that might not succeed, but would really have an impact if it did! When I arrived, the students were undecided as to which issues they’d tackle. Within two weeks of my talk I got this feedback from Carole…

“Franke’s engaging UCCS presentation accomplished just what I had hoped: it inspired my class to decide to do the hardest thing first. As one student explained, ‘Before Franke’s visit I thought the class should select a student initiative that we were certain would pass. After talking with Franke, I decided the class should pursue the hardest project, even if it meant we risked failure.’”

I read the students words over a few times, “After talking with Franke, I decided the class should pursue the hardest project, even if it meant we risked failure.” < — No pressure there. Considering the conservative tenor in Colorado Springs, (they are the town that just grabbed headlines over a property tax revolt and opted to cut services like streetlights, trash pick-up, mowing public grass, fixing potholes, etc) doing almost anything green ranks as the “hardest thing.”

No Slam-dunk

So what was the “hardest thing” the students chose to do? They focused on two issues: 1) Phasing out the sale of bottled water on campus; and 2) Student Newspaper to Go Paperless by 2015. Both initiatives will be voted on May 10th by the student body. But the one that might appear to be a slam-dunk, is actually turning into a battle.

Battle lines drawn:

scribe screen shotOn April 5th, the Managing Editor of the student newspaper, Tim Canon, wrote, “Drastically unwise: Why a paperless Scribe is a bad idea.” Tim presents the classic business case that the student newspaper’s advertising revenue will disappear if they go paperless, therefore jobs would be lost and the student newspaper would suffer. Tim wrote, “though their ends may be good (really, we have no qualms with sustainability), their means are unjustified and unbearably drastic (we were, in fact, creating a gradual Web-based plan long before this group even registered for Huber’s class).”

Five years to transition from paper to digital is unbearably drastic? Five years sounds like a leisurely stroll for a ninety-year old (except they’d probably die before they reached their goal). When I got wind of this development (Twitter is so useful), I wondered how the “us versus them” mentality that is so evident in Tim’s article could have been avoided.

I also thought about how I approached opposition to our green driveway; the compromises I made in the design to satisfy the city; the support I got from people like Lloyd Alter at Treehugger, who thought it was a good idea — and encouraged me. And how I eventually secured a pilot permit from Toronto City Hall for the first green driveway in our area.

City official drawing from Paradise Unpaved by Franke James

How did I do it? Did I have influence, special access or money? Nope. I’ve outlined a few political tactics which I used, and which are within everyone’s grasp. (You’ve probably used some of them yourself, but never thought of them as political skills.)

The Other Person’s Shoes Test

Shoes from Franke James Dear Office-Politics game bookThe first political skill to use is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes — and it’s not as “touchy-feely” as it might appear. It’s a technique that lawyers use regularly. In order to defend a client’s interests, the lawyer must understand the problem from the opposing point of view. Even if you don’t agree in the slightest, it can give you valuable insight into how the other side will react. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.

Could anyone have anticipated Tim’s angry response? I think it was predictable. You only have to think about how you would feel if someone threatened your livelihood, and tried to impose change without your input. It’s just human nature to react defensively. Tim’s article states clearly what he’s fearful of losing: 1. Advertising 2. Jobs 3. Editorial independence.

However Tim is also using an all-too-common communications tactic. Exaggeration. He has presented the worst-case scenario to his readers, and omitted a key fact. The proposal to go paperless was to happen over the next five years. That’s a long transition time to adjust to the digital reality. (I’ll expand more on this below.)

Knowing what Tim’s concerns are gives the students a great script to work with. They need to counter his arguments that going paperless will result in lost revenue, jobs, and independence — and point to the many opportunities it presents.

The Power Test

Power test from Franke James Dear Office-Politics game bookMaking change happen is often about power. In this situation all the stakeholders (the “green” students, the University Administration, the Scribe newspaper, and the Student body) have varying degrees of power. My understanding is that now that the motion has been added to the ballot for voting, the Student body holds the most power. They can approve or defeat the motion.

The green students’ urgent challenge is to leverage their ‘powers of persuasion’ to convince as many students as possible to vote for the paperless motion. Just like in a political campaign, the green students have to work to get out the vote. However, the Scribe has a big advantage — they can publish their views in print, online and via Twitter.

The green students are using Facebook (where UCCS students are very active) to boost support. They could also leverage Twitter more, plus events (on or off campus) to raise awareness and get out the vote. Coverage on environmental blogs (see my shortlist at the end for campus specific ones) could be within their reach as well. Overall, this presents an opportunity for the green UCCS students to create a grass-roots ad campaign which separates fact from fiction — and tells everyone why the paperless scribe is in UCCS’ best interests and should go ahead.

The Best Interests Test

Company's best interests from Franke James Dear Office-Politics game bookAre Tim Canon and the Scribe, acting in the best interests of the university and the students by writing that the paperless motion will be “killing the student news”? I’m sure if you asked Tim, he would say “absolutely”… and he likely believes it too. He feels he’s protecting student jobs. But the world is rapidly changing and the news industry is undergoing massive change. Whatever career students are aiming for, expertise in the digital realm is not just an asset: they are critical skills every student must have.

I was curious what experts from the news industry would say about “paper versus paperless,” so I contacted Mathew Ingram a senior writer at (and previously the long-standing communities editor at the Globe and Mail). He had this to say:

Photo by J. Adam Huggins and Aaron Rodericks, courtesy of TEDxTO, quote by Mathew Ingram,  I think any publication, or any student, would be wise to devote themselves to online at this point. Not that print isnt worthwhile, but it isnt what is growing and it isnt where the creativity and energy is right now, and thats what journalism needs the most

I also contacted Robb Montgomery, who trains staff at major newspapers in more than 20 countries. Robb really understands the challenge of newsrooms moving from paper to digital, because his new media workshops help journalists and media professionals make the leap!

photo from Robb Montgomery

“It’s an interesting issue. Tim, the managing editor, makes the traditional business case to keep publishing a print edition. Advertising rates preserve the editorial independence. That’s a critical issue in a university setting where keeping the paper in the control of its student editors is a difference-maker.

At the same time it would make great sense for small publishers to begin to offer print readers a mobile version of the paper and take full advantage of what mobile interaction brings. Frictionless transaction processing, social media sharing and the great opportunity to create a news edition that more fully involves contributions from readers and creative opportunities for advertisers and sponsors.

Online (Web editions of newspapers) have not been a big money maker for small publishers. But after spending one week using an iPad, I can assure you that the mobile/tablet experience is an entirely different engagement.

The time is now for print publishers to tackle this new opportunity and actually begin to mark the roadmap that will transition their business to a digital-first model.Robb Montgomery

Are newspapers going digital for environmental or technological reasons?

quote from Thomas Friedman, modified carrot illustration istockphoto/kemie

Are newspapers going digital for environmental or technological reasons? It’s a win either way. It could easily be both.

Could UCCS be the first to do an iPad app? And attract world wide PR?

When I first heard of the paperless initiative proposed by Carole Huber’s students, my creative marketing brain clicked into gear. I thought, “Wow! UCCS should do an iPad app! That way they could really come out strong as innovators. And if they could be the first they’d have fantastic bragging rights as technological and environmental leaders, thereby attracting publicity and the brightest students. ”

So, I Googled ipad app, college newspaper and discovered this amazing video and press release from a college in Texas, dated April 6th, one day after the Scribe’s article dammed the paperless idea…

ACU’s student newspaper, The Optimist, has become the first student newspaper to publish on Apple’s new iPad tablet device.

APRIL 6, 2010 ABILENE, TX — Success! ACU student journalists, programmers and designers have pulled off the seemingly impossible: Abilene Christian University’s student newspaper, The Optimist, has become the first student newspaper to publish on Apple’s new iPad tablet device. Read the full release

So, UCCS can’t be the first student newspaper to do an iPad app, but if the Scribe embraced the shift to paperless, it could be a great training ground for students to jump into today’s most vibrant and creative news world. It could position UCCS as technological leaders, and environmental leaders. And it would better prepare ALL students for the digital competition they’ll face in finding jobs in any industry. Sounds like a winner to me. Getting communities to be greener may be more about helping them see the financial opportunity or the PR buzz — than the environmental benefits.

Green consciences in Colorado Springs face many obstacles

During my visit I was struck by the many UCCS students in my workshop who created deeply-felt artwork on what was bothering their green consciences — everything from gas guzzlers, to vegetarianism to toxic chemicals and this one below…

While every area has challenges unique to them — Colorado Springs has some that would tax even the most ardent environmentalist. For example, recycling in Toronto is so easy for me I take it for granted. We have curbside pickup which makes it a no-brainer. Also, we’re charged extra for garbage, but nothing for recycling. Whereas, in Colorado Springs, you have to drive your recycling to a variety of depots — depending on the material — or pay a hauler to pick it up. The United States has a long way to go in tackling the recycling issue. They only have 8,500 curbside pickup programs in the whole country.

It’s the campuses around the world where we’re really going to see environmental activism blossom.

UCCS students decided to ‘do the hardest things first.’ But they aren’t alone… Here are just three examples of what is happening on college campuses:

The Campus Climate Challenge unites 42 organizations and over 630 local groups in 56 states and provinces. By banding together they have worked to pass hundreds of local and regional climate policies. “The Challenge leverages the power of young people to organize on college campuses and high schools across Canada and the U.S. to win 100% Clean Energy policies at their schools. The Challenge is growing a generation-wide movement to stop global warming, by reducing the pollution from our high schools and colleges down to zero, and leading our society to a clean energy future.”

Bill McKibben, founder of and author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet is launching The Great Power Race: “college and university campuses will compete to see who can come up with the most creative, climate solutions. We hope friendly competition will help governments see that they have a lot to gain by diving into clean energy–and a lot to lose by missing this opportunity.”

National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology is a comprehensive site which includes education about the issues and tools for action. One in-depth report to check out is: Generation E: Students Leading for a Sustainable, Clean Energy Future. The “E” stands for many things, including Ecology, Economy, Energy and Equity—which are among the interconnected concerns and values of sustainability that define and unite the current generation like no other issue of our time. “35 ways students are creating a sustainable future at U.S. colleges and universities – cutting carbon emissions, saving resources and equipping the coming generation for a green energy economy.


Help get the word out about the UCCS Changing Place mission by 1) tweeting this article 2) spreading the word on Facebook and 3) sharing it with environmental activists and news organizations.



Franke James, MFA
Author, Bothered by My Green Conscience (2009)
Author/Inventor: Dear Office-Politics, the game everyone plays (2009)
Winner of Axiom Business Book Award 2010 in HR
Students “doing hardest thing 1st” face opposition in Colorado Springs © 2010 Franke James
Photographs, illustrations and writing by Franke James, MFA except as noted:
Photo of Mathew Ingram by J. Adam Huggins and Aaron Rodericks, courtesy of TEDxTO
Photo of Robb Montgomery: supplied by Robb
Green Conscience collage: “Recycling in Colorado Springs” by UCCS student
Modified by Franke James: Power, Shoes, Best Interests, Carrot © istockphoto
Optimist Video: Abilene Christian University

And the Final Verdict was…

Passed: Paperless Scribe
176 yes
104 no

Failed: Take Back the Tap
138 yes
147 no

66 Responses: 11 Comments and 55 Tweets

  • Ali Suleiman says:


    @Suleymani @frankejames takes on UCCS students making positive environmental changes, MUST READ: (always great visual essays!)

  • Tracy says:

    I love this challenge to students: do the hardest thing first. I wonder, though, about the environmental angle on e-media. Yes, it saves trees. But when we consider the entire system required for electronic production and delivery, I’m not sure the environmental equation is as simple as we might like to think. There’s the extraction of materials, the production of hardware on both the production and receiving end (which requires energy and produces waste); the transportation of equipment to points of purchase, the packaging, the energy required to run the systems (from server farms to individual computers); and then there’s the environmental cost of continually upgrading systems and equipment. On average, we’re replacing computers at the rate of every 2-3 years. So that’s a lot of obsolete equipment piling up at a pretty astronomical rate–some gets recycled, but most doesn’t. At all stages of production (extraction, manufacturing, transportation, disposal), there’s a trail of toxic waste and atmospheric gases. So I’d love it if someone with more skills than mine (maybe a good task for students) to figure out what’s more environmentally sound: the system that produces newspapers or the one that produces e-news.

  • Franke James says:


    To answer your question directly, several studies (one by Green Biz) are out saying the benefit of digital is not as clear as we may think — when you take into account the life cycle of the computer industry.

    That said, digital devices are something we all use multiple times a day — whereas the newspaper gets read once (or maybe not even read) and thrown out.

    Essential vs. Disposable Luxury

    Which would you choose to get rid of if you had to make a choice? Your laptop or your newspaper? For me, it’s no question. The newspaper on newsprint is a disposable luxury. It’s unnecessary.

    I also wonder whether the studies are funded by the pulp and paper or printing industry… They have a lot to lose. And what I’m seeing in our design client’s behavior is that many are dropping print. It makes sense — the savings in printing costs by going paperless are substantial. We have clients who have discontinued printing annual sales brochures and justified it by hopping on the green bandwagon. One client’s savings have been upwards of fifty thousands dollars.

    See my recent post on the dilemma of piles of newspapers….

    Kicking my 30-year habit

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! Much appreciate it and the opportunity for discussion.


  • Peter Kobel says:


    @TheEcoist New blog post by @frankejames on brouhaha over UC-Colorado Springs students’ efforts 2 green campus newspaper.


    @pathways Great post from @frankejames (& quote from @mathewi): Students making positive environmental change face opposition

  • Doug says:


    When routine and revenue are set as precedence over available technology enhancements there’s only one thing that ever happens; Regret.

    Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.~ JOHN F. KENNEDY

    Great Effort!!

  • LaDonna Coy says:

    Clay Shirky has said, when we change the way we communicate we change society. I figure we either work with these new methods bringing the best of both the past and future to action or dig in our heels, sigh. From my perspective newspapers really aren’t about the “paper” but about the NEWS, the paper is simply how the “news” is delivered. How many ways can the news be delivered to include as many people as possible in ways that engage and influence?

    I’d love to see UCCS students/faculty engage with and build on the work of ACU students and faculty to continue to evolve a greener path for news. Phasing out and phasing in will be key (and you have five years) but I believe students with this kind of commitment can do it and do it in a way that honors the past while creating the future. Five years will pass whether anything changes for the better or not – why not do something that makes a difference? Kudos for taking on the hardest thing first and I’ll be eagerly following your story.

  • Franke James says:

    Do you think the printing companies are afraid of the paperless trend? Read this from Treehugger

    “TreeHuggers have been bashing printers for years, putting those “Think before you print” messages on the bottom of our emails. John Williams of Domtar, a big paper company, says they are “just bull” and is starting a marketing campaign- “Put it On Paper!” to promote printing, particularly among young people. He told the Canadian Club:

    “Young people really are not printers. When was the last time your children demanded a printer? They want the electronic device. We’ve got to do some work about having them believe and feel that printing isn’t a sort of environmental negative.”

    @lloydalter Stupidest. Marketing. Ever. Paper Company Starts Campaign To Promote Printing of Email

  • Franke James says:

    “White Pages May Go Way of Rotary-Dialed Phone”

    “The digital age may claim another victim.

    The residential White Pages, those inches-thick tomes of fine-print telephone listings that may be most useful as doorstops, could stop landing with a thud on doorsteps across New York later this year.

    Verizon, the dominant local phone company in the state, asked regulators on Friday to allow it to end the annual delivery of millions of White Pages to all of its customers in New York. The company estimates that it would save nearly 5,000 tons of paper by ending the automatic distribution of the books.”

    Excerpt from NYT article: May 7, 2010

  • University of Colorado at BOULDER sees need to go digital in graduate program:

    A Digital Boot Camp to Groom Talent for Agencies

    “It’s shocking: even now, in 2010, it’s very challenging to find great talent,” Ms. Egan said. You can find people, she said, but “you know that they’re going to need a lot of mentoring and a lot of hand-holding, and it’s an enormous investment.”

    “Digital has been growing exponentially for 15 years now,” Ms. Egan said. “Where’s the education that supports that?”

    “One answer is in a new program at the University of Colorado, Boulder, called Boulder Digital Works, where Ms. Egan is a board member.

    “The university had had a strong undergraduate program in advertising, and it is one of the top majors, said David Slayden, executive director of Boulder Digital Works. When he thought about creating a graduate program, though, he wanted to take a technology-focused approach….”

    Read more:

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