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Case studies on how small ideas bloomed into noticeable savings

University Business, November 2017

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Cost cut

Refurbishing rather than replacing classroom tablet armchairs

Savings


Link to main story: Colleges tackle budget pruning


$370,000 on 1,000 chairs

Trigger

Needed to replace after four decades of use had battered the chairs  

Nitty gritty

  • New chairs costing $450 each had smaller tablet sizes and weren’t as sturdy.
  • Maryland state institutions are required to work with Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE), a prison industry, for certain purchases, including classroom furniture restoration.
  • For $82 per chair, MCE disassembled and cleaned each chair, adding a newly built tablet of the original size.
  • The stainless steel desk frames are polished and receive new feet; seats and tops are replaced with new hard plastic and laminate-covered compressed wood, respectively. 

Perspective

“This let us use our limited budget to refurbish several hundred more chairs.” —Lynne Schaefer, vice president for administration and finance

Lawrence University (Wisconsin)

Cost cut

Switching from a subscription to a pay-per-article model on some scientific journals in the library

Savings

$60,000 per year

Trigger

2012-13 fiscal year budget cuts meant the library had to find ways to spend less.

Nitty gritty

  • The academic department decides which journals it needs full access to, and which can switch to a “pay-per-view” model.
  • A 2008 pilot program in the physics department, which uses scientific journals the most, identified challenges that the library staff fixed when it expanded the program to the biology department in 2012.
  • Access is controlled by faculty, who pay for single articles with a credit card number coded to the department for easier budget tracking.
  • One of the most expensive, the Journal of Cellular Physiology, costs $14,869 per year for electronic access—which calculates to $484 per use versus $33.25 per article. Since switching to that option, only two articles have been purchased.

Perspective

“We originally thought we’d spend about $5,000 annually on single-article purchases, but it’s actually been about $300.”  —Peter Gilbert, library director

University of Puget Sound (Washington)

Cost cut

Weighing leftover food and recording the weight, the reason it’s being disposed of (overproduction, trim waste, expired, overcooked, etc), and how it’s being disposed

Savings

$19,900 (10,600 pounds of food) in first year

Trigger

Executive chef noticed the volume of food being wasted.

Nitty gritty

  • Food service staff learned about the concept from a consultant at a conference, but thought the process of weighing and documenting waste would be too time-consuming.
  • The department considered doing it for a year before trying it and realized it took less effort than anticipated.
  • Consulting firm costs were covered in the first year; the firm’s ongoing involvement includes providing software plus consulting services.
  • The process involves nearly everyone on the food service staff, from food prep to cleanup, who record the information on a tablet.

Perspective

“We were under the misguided conception that we would know if we were wasting food, but that’s nearly impossible in such a large operation.”  —Terry Halvorson, dining and conference services director

Lawrence University (Wisconsin)

Cost cut

Changing how the institution buys natural gas to lock in rates

Savings

$12,000 to $15,000 (estimated) per year

Trigger

After having success with an older main boiler, the university extended its risk-management plan to newer buildings with independent systems in a climate where heating is a significant operating cost.

Nitty gritty

  • The university is purchasing natural gas on a three-year contract at a locked-in rate from a national source, but it’s delivered by the local power company. The guaranteed rate protects the institution from natural gas price fluctuations.
  • The university has been doing this for 15 years with its older central boiler that serves other campus buildings.
  • Savings are estimated on an analysis of historical data and projected future costs.
  • The strategy is better-suited to older campuses in cold climates.

Perspective

“I don’t know what natural gas prices will be in three years, but I’m guaranteeing costs so I can budget properly. We’re locking in at a rate that we believe is historically reasonable.”  —Daniel Meyer, facilities director

Bentley University (Massachusetts)

Cost cut

In-person and online office supply swap

Savings

Dollar value not calculated; 110 product postings on intranet annually

Trigger

Suggestion from the Faculty and Staff Eco Rep program

Nitty gritty

  • In August, staffers are encouraged to display unused supplies at an in-person “Office Swap.”
  • Any department can shop for new supplies, not just those donating materials.
  • The program expanded to include an ongoing online swap—think Craigslist for office supplies—via the university’s intranet.
  • No money changes hands.

Perspective

“We tried to eliminate the in-person component after we moved it online, but we got so many requests for the August event that we brought it back this year.” —Amanda King, director of sustainability

William & Mary (Virginia)

Cost cut

Installing two water bottle filling stations for families visiting for summer college tours

Savings

Cut bottled water consumption in the admissions office and student center in half, saving $1,500 annually

Trigger

Admissions counselor wanted to reduce plastic bottle waste and save money.

Nitty gritty

  • The cost of installing a water bottle filling station in the admissions and student center was covered by a grant from the college’s Green Fee Fund. (Green Fees are paid on a per-semester basis by all students who must pay tuition.)
  • The college uses its college-visit communications for students and parents to encourage BYO water bottles, which can be refilled at the stations.  
  • The tactic also helps communicate to prospective students and families that the college cares about sustainability.
  • The water bottle filling station concept has since taken off on campus with 29 stations now installed.

Perspective

“Green Fee grant applications must demonstrate that the proposed idea will save money and reduce energy consumption, and both must be measureable.” —Henry Broaddus, vice president for strategic initiatives

University of Nevada, Reno

Cost cut

Putting maintenance personnel on tablet-accessible digital work order system

Savings

$60,000 in administrative labor annually

Trigger

Budget cuts and an effort to do more with less

Nitty gritty

  • Technicians using iPads are no longer driving back to the office to get new work orders.
  • Technology eliminates the need for a dedicated administrative employee to input project time on paper time sheets and do other related tasks.  
  • Quicker response times and more efficient workflows increase campus customer satisfaction.
  • Creating a centralized warehouse system—managed by those who were previously doing data entry—nearly eliminates the need for technicians to leave campus to buy a part, which improves productivity.

Perspective

“So far in 2017, we’ve already completed more work orders than we ever have by quite a wide margin.” —Michael Averett, senior director, facilities maintenance services

Loyola Marymount University (California)

Cost cut

Replacing departmental Amazon Prime accounts with a single free Amazon Business account

Savings

Approximately $10,000 in shipping costs and Prime membership fees annually

Trigger

Amazon’s corporate office noticed the shipping volume ordered by customers with Loyola Marymount email and shipping addresses, and a representative contacted the university with the idea.

Nitty gritty

  • Free Amazon Business accounts offer more discounted products, but free two-day shipping is available only on orders totaling $49 or more.
  • Departmental users are assigned their own login and password under master accounts, which allows the university to track departmental usage.
  • Prime purchasing history migrates over to Business Account.
  • Implementation is easy because users already know how to use Amazon.

Perspective

“With a master business account, we can now run annual reports to see what’s being spent without going through an exhaustive analysis of the accounts payable vendor files.” —Raymond Dennis, associate vice president of auxiliary management business services  


Sandra Beckwith is a writer based in western New York.

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