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A Greener Attitude

Our new survey results show environmental awareness is driving purchase decisions for facilities construction and products and services
University Business, Sep 2006

When University Business put together the "Going Green While Saving Green" special section in our June issue, we were in the process of conducting a related survey of higher education facilities with E&I Cooperative Purchasing, a higher ed buying cooperative. The purpose was to explore various environmental and sustainability issues related to the procurement of higher education facilities products and services. The study, titled "Institutions of Higher Education: A Study of Facilities and Environmental Considerations," focused on campus facilities planners and managers; college presidents; and finance, business, purchasing, and academics managers at 470 colleges and universities.

Now the 65-page executive summary of that survey can be downloaded from or

As social factors are driving more environmentally responsible solutions on campus, top management has become directly involved in green/sustainability decisions. That trend is supported in the study results. Overall, 84 percent of respondents indicated that their schools take sustainability issues into consideration when deciding on facility construction/renovation, as well as on purchases of new products, equipment, systems, and services ranging from janitorial to office products and furnishings.

With recent increases in energy costs, they are willing to invest more in energy-efficient products and construction that will pay off quickly in energy cost-savings-enabling them to "go green" while saving "green." This rising green tide is creating demand for many other green/sustainable products and services. The report also examines the use of environmentally friendly vendors when outsourcing various campus services; driving factors to green approaches are also examined.

"This study reveals that planning, building, and purchasing by colleges and universities are more heavily influenced by green and sustainable considerations than ever before," notes Tom Fitzgerald, CEO of E&I Cooperative Purchasing.

With energy costs soaring and an increased awareness of environmental issues, institutions have major opportunities to introduce both environmentally sound and energy-saving technologies and approaches.

Many schools have already committed to embracing these principles, and there is a strong trend toward doing so. Therefore, with the commitment and the investments already in place, expect to see significant growth in greener universities and colleges.

There is a distinct trend among colleges and universities toward environmental sensitivity. Regardless of whether that trend is driven by altruistic reasons, cost savings, or governmental pressures, or whether it's prompted by students and management, the result is a major shift to green:

Compared with three or four years ago, two-thirds of universities and colleges are placing greater emphasis on green approaches.

One of three now has or will likely have offices of sustainability.

Nine of 10 take sustainability into account in deciding upon new products and equipment.

Three-quarters are switching to environmentally friendly janitorial products equipment.

Nine of 10 will use green criteria the next time they evaluate consumable products.

Three-quarters will consider LEED certification in future construction or renovation projects.

And nine of 10 will use green criteria the next time they evaluate building products and furnishings.

As leaders in adopting socially conscious initiatives, it is clear that colleges and universities have embraced the issue of environmental responsibility. Therefore, implementing such initiatives will likely become a requirement for institutions desiring to be in the mainstream of higher education.

College and university construction projects have continued to grow in recent years, with 2005 being the single most expensive year on record ($14.5 billion spent on construction and renovation projects). The institutions studied are heavily engaged in both new building construction (59% with current projects) and building modernization/renovation (63% with current projects).

Moreover, 88% were involved, or plan to be involved, with new building construction (spanning the 18 months prior to the survey to 24 months in the future). Half the institutions now spend $4.3 million or more annually on these new building initiatives.

When it comes to the modernization and renovation of existing buildings, the numbers are even higher. Ninety-four percent of the institutions were involved with or plan to be involved with building modernization or renovation. At institutions currently modernizing or renovating, the typical institution expects to spend an average of just over $12 million in relation to all construction and renovation projects combined (the median is $4,312,000).

The survey indicates that outsourcing is proving to be yet another method of saving green. A growing number of higher ed institutions see the value and practicality of turning over various facilities operations to outside specialty firms.

Nine of 10 institutions outsource facility operation activities. Primary among them are food/dining services (66%), cleaning/maintenance/custodial services (34%), groundskeeping services (25%), and security services (23%).

Not only are respondents to this survey involved in the decision process affecting facilities, but most are also leaders in moving their campuses forward to adopt new approaches and technologies.

Most are involved from beginning to end in the selection of suppliers and products, their decisions impact a large number of different types of buildings, and they have management responsibilities for groups that decide upon facilities.

The survey sought to determine what types of managers are involved with specifying or purchasing decisions related to operations, renovations, and construction.

For more than half of survey respondents, the list of responsible parties includes facilities and plant management (88%), executive management (83%), financial management (67%), business management (61%), purchasing management (58%), academic management (57%), and planning management (49%).

Clearly, decision-making is a multi-disciplinary function at most institutions, and leadership roles are spread across a range of different functions.

Facility and plant management is heavily involved, but so are financial and business managers, purchasing and planning managers, and academic managers.

Therefore, the process of planning and implementing changes to facilities is seen as a multidisciplinary activity that involves the needs, opinions, and perspectives of the spectrum of campus management.

Martin Akel is a N.J.-based market analyst.


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