This story was originally published by the School of Pharmacy.
When COVID-19 struck, Waterloo Pharmacy’s Undergraduate Affairs team dramatically shifted how they offer admissions interviews. The interviews, typically conducted in person with hundreds of interviewers and prospective students, were moved entirely online.
The transition was a success in many ways and brought with it lessons the team will take forward in future years. But one unexpected silver lining stood out.
“We realized that this new process led to substantial sustainability gains,” says Kaitlin Bynkoski, Director of Admissions and Undergraduate Affairs.
Where the team would previously print and compile extensive paper forms for each candidate, they now had digital records that were easy to store, review and access. Seeing the environmental benefits of avoiding unnecessary printing, the team has been inspired to transition to using technology in the place of paper-based documentation whenever possible.
“We finally have the technology to create a paperless office - at this point it's a matter of embracing these tools, and providing training and encouragement for new business practices, all within the confines of the University’s information management principles.” Bynkoski says. “My team is aiming to become paperless across all our processes, saving money and time while also improving the security of documents and increasing satisfaction in our clients and efficiency in our workflows.”
Starting in 2020, the Undergraduate Affairs group leveraged existing digital tools like Waterloo Portal to reduce paper-based sign-in or schedules for events like orientation. In recruitment efforts, they are emailing brochures in place of offering paper copies wherever possible. Where standard administrative documents like academic progression reports and course syllabi were previously stored in hard and digital copy, Bynkoski’s team has refined their processes to use only digital versions.
Their efforts are in stride with other sustainability steps taken at both Waterloo Pharmacy and the University of Waterloo. Over the last five years, the University has implemented several electronic record system platforms to minimize and, in some cases, eliminate the requirement for individualized and hard-copy record keeping practices.
“My role involves supporting student development through providing guidance for their academics, wellness and finances. It seems only natural to support students through role-modeling sustainability best practices as well,” Bynkoski says. “Although I thought sustainable practices might cost more and be less efficient, I’ve found the opposite to be true. We’ve seen substantial time savings through increased access to materials across our team and have reduced printing related costs.”
The transition to paperless processes is one step in Waterloo Pharmacy’s ongoing sustainability journey. The School is an active participant in the University of Waterloo Green Office program and is certified at the Bronze level.
“With the pandemic, the Pharmacy Green Team has shifted focus," says Gail Bender, chair of the team. "We’ve managed to create momentum around various initiatives such as waste and energy use in the home. We continue to work toward creating a culture of sustainability within the department. The paperless initiative set by our Undergraduate Affairs group will hopefully serve as a template for the rest of us to follow. Indeed, embracing existing tools – like Microsoft Teams, which decreases the need for commuting between our campus and UW’s main campus – leads to sustainability gains that we hope to carry forward after the pandemic.”