The Mobius Loop, the familiar three-arrowed symbol for recyclability, is an indisputable international icon. While widespread use of the symbol might help ingrain “green” issues into everyday life, concerns remain about the ways human activities affect the environment.
Despite the challenges, maintenance and engineering managers are not exempt from these concerns. Theodore Weidner, associate vice chancellor for facilities and campus services at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMA), says there are challenges to the “green” movement.
“We’re getting there but it is an education process for us,” he says.
Additionally, federal and state agencies have stepped up efforts to enforce regulatory compliance. Most institutional and commercial facilities recognize the benefits of “going green” and require adherence to additional internal policies. Often, managers must meet these combined mandates while using efficient and cost-effective techniques; the intersection of these requirements brings new challenges to maintenance management.
Despite the challenges, facilities can reap significant benefits from green practices. By their very nature, many green efforts require the careful allotment of budget and manpower resources while working with nearly every major department in the organization. This collaboration requires other departments to support the efforts of maintenance and engineering management. Weidner lists this support as one of the most requisite aspects of green management.
“While almost everyone on campus believes that recycling is the right thing to do, too many people have something else on their minds,” he says. “So they toss items in the nearest trash bin instead of recycling them. This means that education about [environmental issues] is the most important, as well as the most difficult, thing we do.”
April Haight, manager of campus recycling and energy conservation program at Morehead (Ky.) State University (MSU), agrees.
“Getting more people to participate can be difficult,” she says. “The biggest obstacles are changing attitudes about environmental improvement and working against existing myths, namely that being ‘green’ is an expensive process.”
Haight also says that challenges for the university can be logistical.
“One of our problems is storing recyclables before contractors come to take them,” she says, adding that the university can not conveniently store tractor trailers full of recyclable material on campus.
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is the mantra used by organizations aiming to reduce operations costs. Indeed, cost increases are a commonly misunderstood myth of green initiatives.
The formula is relatively simple: Waste reduction equals money saved. Generally, reducing waste — whether via recycling, surplus resale, composting, energy-saving measures, or other means — reduces disposal costs and sometimes generates money.
In MSU’s case, the Kentucky legislature requires minimum volumes of recycled content in waste streams for aluminum, high-grade paper and cardboard. MSU’s volume of recycled materials meets and exceeds the minimums established by the 1992 law, in part because the university learned that increasing recycled content in its total waste stream decreases disposal costs.
The University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR) learned a similar lesson. As part of the university’s environmental management plan, UMR conducted a solid-waste audit and reduced its total waste disposal costs by 10 percent as of October.
Amy Gillman, UMR’s environmental management system coordinator, says the university also uses a chemical redistribution program that saves the university more than $25,000 annually. The system takes unused laboratory chemicals, cleaning agents and other hazardous materials and redistributes them to other departments.
At UMA, Weidner says the university began composting of food wastes, animal bedding and landscape waste. He says the system has reduced costs for the university in three ways: the compost is used on campus to reduce landscaping costs; the food waste significantly reduced overall waste, which translated to cost-savings; and the university is raising money from the project by selling the compost to the local community.
“In America, we’re good at recycling,” says Tim Sell, business manager and purchasing agent for University of Wisconsin-Madison’s (UW-Madison) Surplus With A Purpose (SWAP) program. “But what we don’t do well is reduce or reuse our consumption.”
The SWAP program was established in the mid-1990s to divert reusable computers and office furniture from the waste stream. SWAP grew in the ensuing years and now accepts items from various departments throughout the University of Wisconsin system. It then redistributes the surplus to university departments, state agencies and the general public.
“Filing cabinets cost $400 through traditional purchasing channels, but at SWAP, four- and five-drawer cabinets cost $65,” he says. While file cabinet purchases might not relate directly to maintenance and operations cost savings, some of Sell’s lessons do.
“Surplus exists everywhere, and the key to managing it is to learn that almost everything — except perhaps biohazardous materials — is an asset,” he says.
For example, Sell says SWAP recycles the plastic shrink-wrap that bundles pallets.
“We used to cut that stuff off and throw it away,” he says. “But it expands after you compress it, and it wouldn’t take long to fill up a Dumpster because we’d pitch it and it’d fill up the Dumpster.” Instead of spending $70 for Dumpster removal, Sell bought a bailing machine and now sells bales of the plastic to recyclers for 4 to 5 cents per pound.
“Under the right conditions, that plastic is more valuable than scrap metal,” he says.
The SWAP program has resold surplus items that range from computers and live horses to front-end loaders and cleaning agents. Sell says it operates on a consignment basis, so departments that donate materials get money back after the sale.
UMA conducts a similar program, which initially redistributed refurbished office equipment on campus. But the program has grown. Now some items are donated to appropriate non-profit organizations.
"”We end up being an economic engine in the local community for more reasons than our original mission,” Weidner says.
Many universities have instituted recycled paper-purchasing policies favoring chlorine-free paper or stock with 30 percent recycled content. The net effect has been to drive down the costs of recycled paper, increase its availability and create a supply-and-demand scenario in which recycled paper costs less than virgin paper. This lesson is one from which managers can learn.
Environmentally friendly supplies are not always less expensive than traditional products. Purchasing cooperatives can help reduce the costs for green goods, particularly for smaller institutions. MSU is part of a purchasing cooperative with seven other state schools in Kentucky. By using collective purchasing power, managers can often drive the supply-and-demand ratio to lower the costs of green products.
Facilities also can create internal demand. For example, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), also part of a state-wide purchasing collective, has a paper-purchasing policy that favors recycled stock. It is so effective that 97 percent of the university now uses recycled-content paper, and departments must check a box on the ordering form to obtain virgin paper stock.
Barb Kviz, CMU’s environmental coordinator, says university custodians use a new cleaning agent that is ecologically sound, less expensive than traditional agents and equally effective.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state natural resource departments and legislative bodies are toughening environmental standards. For more on this topic, see “EPA on Campus,” in the October 2002 issue of Maintenance Solutions.
Facing ever-increasing compliance measures is one of the principal reasons that UMR adopted its environmental management program, Gillman says.
“Compliance can be difficult because universities often operate like small municipalities and have until now gone relatively unnoticed by the EPA,” she says. “Our first and most important work is to identify applicable regulations.”
Weidner agrees, but with one concession.
“Regulations are often focused on recycling and improving the environment in a cost-effective but action-effective way,” he says. “The challenges are not in the regulations but in getting people to really understand the reason and follow the regulations.”
Weidner cautions that managers cannot simply pass the enforcement used by regulatory agencies to their employees.
“The employer must work hard to empower and encourage employees to follow the regulations and — when they encounter a problem, most often cost-related — to push the issue up to management for a clear resolution,” he says. “My experience is that the demeanor of management relative to the regulations is the most important characteristic to get employees to institute regulations and good practices.”
Ultimately, however, most managers and environmental coordinators say that going “green” entails understanding the way facility maintenance and operations affects both the campus environment and the environment at large.
“Some administrators don’t see any reason to change,” says MSU’s Haight. “They need to understand that this world is interconnected; they need to realize that some of our parking lots drain directly into a local creek, which is the source of the university’s drinking water.”