Office of Administrative Services at Purdue University Calumet

Up in the Air
University Business, Nov 2011
Purdue University Calumet
Program Category: 

Sometimes the way to improved efficiency lies in a spreadsheet. Sometimes it lies in a piece of software.

And sometimes it lies in a restroom.

Building Services administrators at Purdue University Calumet (Ind.) were wrestling with how they could best realign staff amidst fiscal belt tightening, as well as how to keep the campus looking tidy. After calculating that cleaning staff spent between three and four hours a day (more than a thousand hours a year) filling, removing, and disposing of paper towels in restrooms and public areas, they sought a less labor-intensive solution.

“Restrooms are our top priority, of course,” says Karen Sullivan, associate director of facilities operations. “When you look at cleaning them, we’ll go and clean a restroom, and five minutes later, after classes have let out, you’ll go back in and there are paper towels all over the place. We looked at where we could be more efficient in terms of labor hours and the cleanliness of our bathrooms.”

Having seen them demonstrated by a vendor, Building Services last year purchased and installed 122 Dyson Air Dry units at a total cost of nearly $150,000. Eliminating the need to buy and dispose of paper towels is saving the university nearly $32,000 per year in supplies, and the reduction of more than 1,000 person-hours annually devoted to paper-towel clean-up has freed up $10,000 per year. So thanks to the use of hand dryers, Purdue Calumet is banking more than $40,000 a year.

Converting from paper towels to hand dryers resulted in both fiscal and environmental gains.

The university is realizing gains from health and environmental standpoints, as well. Air dryers reduce the transfer of bacteria from hands by up to 40 percent, and according to one study, the money spent to dry one pair of hands is equivalent to that needed to purchase up to 75 paper towels. And in addition to reducing paper use on the front end, Purdue Calumet has greatly reduced its landfill footprint.

“We save landfill space not throwing things away, and we’re saving energy usage,” says Paul Pratt, associate director of facilities engineering. “It saved some dollars in our budget. It may be small to a certain extent, but everything adds up.”

Indeed it does. All in all, the university has lowered its anticipated ROI for the hand dryers from 8.5 years to 4.6 years.

Both Pratt and Sullivan say that their institution’s experience with dryers has sensitized them to the clutter that even a small number of stray paper towels can create. At highway rest stops and airports, they note, facilities with dryers appear much cleaner. Sullivan doesn’t think it’s a coincidence. Her institution’s shifting of Building Services staff from paper cleanup to other areas has produced a similarly tidier effect.

“We’ve been able to clean more often,” she says. “Our Building Services staff does windows. We clean classrooms. We clean lounges. [Using air dryers] gives us more labor hours to be more visible and more efficient in other areas of cleaning, which makes the campus more appealing.” The restrooms are still being cleaned, of course. “We’re just not picking up paper towels or pulling trash as often,” she explains.