How can universities get lean? and green?

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgLike many other public universities around the country, Mystery U has been hit hard by the economic hard times. Most of this year, we heard ominous rumblings that (at some point) there would be a budget reversion, i.e., we'd have to send some portion of our budget back to the state coffers. But all was pretty much business as usual until a few weeks ago when the axe fell. Instantaneously our whole university budget and we were under strict orders to conserve the precious resources we still know, things like copier paper. Because we have no money to buy any more.

I've been biting my tongue in budget discussions because I've been thinking and talking for a long time about how to make universities greener places. And I'd suggest that some of the things we can do to make things greener will also make our university more money-efficient. For example: At the beginning of the year, (when we still had money) I enlisted the IT guys in our department in a bid for a printer that prints double-sided. I argued that we would save money in the long run by lowering our paper costs and that we were sending the wrong message to our students by printing on only have of the available space. Unfortunately, my arguments were ignored and now we're facing a paper shortage with a week to go before exams.

Below the fold, I'll present a couple of ideas for making my university both leaner (budget-wise) and greener. I'd also like to hear your ideas and suggestions.

  • Invest in duplexing printers. Maybe you don't need to immediately replace all of the printers on campus, but allow all faculty access to at least one duplexing printers.
  • Set the default printer settings to double-sided.
  • Provide incentives for faculty to give quizzes, exams, and assignments via Blackboard or other web-based software.
  • Don't distribute flyers and glossy magazines to all faculty mailboxes. A few copies per department should suffice for those who are truly interested.
  • Reconsider the irrigation and landscaping strategies. Though the economics of water are truly distorted, irrigation does cost some money, and it makes no sense to water turf during a rainstorm or at noon on a sunny day.
  • In warm climates at least, paint rooftops white to reflect sunlight and reduce air conditioning costs.
  • Set building thermostats a few degrees warmer in the summer, cooler in the winter, and less intensively on weekends and at night.
  • Have night-time maintenance workers turn off hallway and other unneeded lights when they are finished working in an area.
  • Deploy campus security officers on foot or bike where possible to save money on gas and to reduce CO2 emissions.

My list above is focused on things that shouldn't cost a ridiculous amount of money to implement and could be done fairly quickly. If immediate savings were no object there are lots of projects I could envision, but with budget conditions like we're facing, I think those bigger projects are unrealistic any time soon.

What other changes should our universities be making in order to save a few $ and a few tons of CO2 or other environmental assets?

More like this

Even better than having the security folks shut off lights, install motion sensors in areas that are infrequently used. I don't think this is particularly pricey--I'm pretty sure that devices exist that can be wired into existing circuits. Set the timer to a reasonable length (otherwise, during exams, the lights might go out--that used to happen in my undergrad university), and the lights will go off automatically when no one is using the space.

Another option is to replace standard light switches with dial-type timers, so you have to turn the lights on with a dial, and when the time runs out, the lights go out. This can be annoying for people who are used to regular light switches, but it will at least keep the lights out when no one's using the room.

One thing my U used to do was to have large boxes in all the computer labs and printer areas for one-sided paper. I used to raid them for notebook paper. Profs and grad students could also use one-sided paper for lab worksheets or exam review sheets.

Encourage people to shut off their computer monitors when they leave for more than a few hours. Or make sure all of the computers are automatically set to hibernate or standby mode after a certain amount of time. If Mystery U is anything like the schools I've been to, a lot of faculty are using older computers and CRT monitors, which tend to be less energy efficient. So encouraging people to shut them down when they're not in use can save some serious money.

And I have to give a big "hear, hear" to the recommendation to reevaluate watering and landscaping. I used to get so annoyed when I'd see the sprinklers working in the rain! And I think encouraging the university to let the grass grow a little longer between cuttings could help, too. Most lawn mowers are notoriously horrendous in terms of mileage and pollution.

Your first and second points only work if you have the IT support to institute those changes. At my current work, for example, the default printer settings are duplex, because the network gurus are able to make it so.

Lights on timers and/or motion detectors also work better than human-reliant systems.

But the best way to save money would be to recycle some highly paid administrators...

Hear, hear! I only wish that people would shut off lights at night more. I know one lab down the hall always leaves at least one light on "for safety". It's a LAB. In a BUILDING. on a permanently lighted hallway. With security guards and card access. Sigh.

And I would kill for a double-sided printer.

I can kind of see the resistance to duplexing printers, because a machine that duplexes can be trickier to use and maintain. Most people who aren't using a copier or printer /all the time/ will be hopelessly confused when it comes to clearing paper jams, and those happen a lot more on a duplexing machine. BUT, there are some alternatives that don't put people out at all.

1) Network your office computers to your copy machines, which almost always do duplexing, and if you need to print double sided, do it that way.

2) Make sure that your print services people accept electronic files, and can print directly to either a duplex printer or copy machine.

I do not have access to a double sided printer. But, if I need to print out a document that is double sided, I email it to print services and they make the copies for me. I just have to go pick them up.

The other thing is it's important for your support staff to be on board with using less paper. That makes a big difference. We make a lot of copies for faculty, and after a few years we now have them trained to ask for double sided copies unless it HAS to be single sided for some reason.

Set building thermostats a few degrees warmer in the summer, cooler in the winter, and less intensively on weekends and at night.

Changing the temperature takes more energy than maintaining it, so it is not cost efficient to run variable programs during the day/week. However, a permanent change of even a degree towards outside temperature will lower the energy bill. I never understood why thermostats are set for freezing in the summer and sauna in the winter...

Great ideas Science Woman!

I am pretty shocked that duplex printers are so rare. it seems like a total PITA to print everything single sided. I would hate journal articles on SS, they take up WAY too much space that way. Duplex printers are NOT hard to figure out, any person who has gotten through high school should have the skills to ckeck or uncheck the "duplex" box on printing preferences.

I hadn't realized how "lucky" I am int be in a building with dupplex printers and lights with motion sensors. It is a little too cold in here though

I bought a duplex printer for my home office. It was cheap ($125ish if I recall correctly) and the quality is fine for what I need it for. I have been very pleased with it.

1) Building vestibules, especially at entrances to lobbies with high ceilings. Or revolving doors. Single doors in high traffic areas let heat out in the winter and heat in in the summer, placing greater loads on conditioning systems. Vestibules that require people to to through 2 sets of doors, especially vestibules with a little heater or cooler in the wall, help maintain a constant temperature in the rest of the building. And 4-paneled revolving doors are always closed to the outside at any given point in their rotation.

2) Increased digital paperwork. Having to open a .pdf of a form, fill it out, print it, then fax it across campus creates at least 3 copies of the same thing, which is redundant.

Does anyone have experience with duplex printers in high volume usage?

Our library is facing high paper costs and they're trying to come up with a solution. Due to some of the quirks of my institution, it's not feasible to set up the printing system some schools have (a student gets an alloted # of pages per semester and can pay for additional printing needs).

Since more professors are putting their assignments on Blackboard in lieu of paper copies, the students are heading to the library to print them.

I'm on a committee that was trying to come up with a solution to reduce costs, and a duplex printer was mentioned, but it was thought that such a system would jam more frequently with high usage. Can anyone recommend a good duplex printer for high demand settings?

By Female Enginee… (not verified) on 23 Apr 2009 #permalink