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Reducing waste, conserving resources themes of BU Management Conference
Pushing paper and printing e-mails are part of Boston University’s past, administrators said yesterday at the 2009 Boston University Management Conference. Reducing waste, eliminating inefficiencies, and changing our day-to-day use of resources — both environmental and administrative — are the priorities for 2009 and beyond, and University President Robert A. Brown is inviting the entire community to be a part of the conversation.
“The mailbox is still open,” he said. “Anyone who believes they can find an improvement in the system can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and it will find its way to the right people.”
Brown was referring to a request for suggestions about how to reduce a projected budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year, but the call for participation and dialogue was a common theme of the conference, which focused on two major University initiatives: the plan for greater environmental sustainability on campus and the planning and implementation of BUworks, a revamping of the University’s budgeting, payroll, procurement, and human resources systems. Both Gary Nicksa, the vice president for operations, who presented on sustainability, and Peter Smokowski, the associate vice president for administration, who spoke about BUworks, emphasized the need for individual action and participation.
“What is sustainability? In my opinion, it’s a lifestyle change,” Nicksa said. “It’s a new vocabulary we are all learning.”
Joseph Mercurio, the University’s executive vice president, opened the conference with some statistics about University turnover in the past five years: 68 percent of the deans and provosts are new, as are 67 percent of the trustees, 41 percent of the faculty, and nearly half of the employees. The numbers, Mercurio said, show BU to be “a university in transition,” with “a lot of people who view things with a fresh set of eyes.”
As a result, Brown said, it’s important to make sure the community has a solid awareness of the challenges and developments ahead, which include the effort to streamline operations in response to the budget gap. As expected, he said, the incoming freshman class exhibits greater financial need: 65 percent of applicants indicated they would apply for aid, up from 61 percent last year, and the average need level is up 5 percent, to approximately $25,000 per student. Brown also said that the working groups created to spot redundancies in seven service areas are on schedule to make recommendations next month.
Other important developments include the University Council’s vote earlier this month to support an Open Access resolution, which would make scholarly work of the faculty and staff available online to anyone, for free, as long as the authors are credited and the scholarship is not used for profit. Brown also updated the group on the progress of the new honors program that will be available to every undergraduate in all of BU’s schools and colleges. The Faculty Assembly is debating how to structure the core general education requirements. He added that the name New College is still a placeholder, quipping that the establishment of a New College would then require the founding of a “Next College.”
The president emphasized the effect that individual employees can have on the overall success of the University, noting that a single smile at the members of a tour group can have a profound impact on a prospective student’s or parent’s view of BU.
“When you come in contact with the tour, smile,” Brown advised. “They pay our salaries.”
Nicksa outlined the past, present, and future of environmental awareness efforts at BU: the first recycling bins were placed on campus in 1988, a universal waste program for disposing of furniture, computers, and miscellaneous items was established in 2000, and residence hall recycling programs came to campus in 2002.
The current academic year, however, has brought major changes to campus through a series of new initiatives designed to make BU sustainable well into the future. In addition to hiring a director of sustainability, the University is participating in the Recyclemania challenge, where schools and colleges across the country compete for 10 weeks for the highest percentage of total waste recycled. In 2008, BU was recycling 9 percent of its total waste; four weeks into Recyclemania, the University is recycling 14.5 percent. MIT is slightly ahead at 18.5 percent, and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy is leading the state at 59 percent.
Other recent changes include retrofitted lighting at Mugar Memorial Library, which is activated by motion sensors in the stacks, a new geothermal heating and cooling system at 882 through 888 Commonwealth Ave., and new composting and recycling programs at Dining Services. The administration is also collaborating with environmental awareness student groups across campus to determine best practices. The University’s grade from the Sustainable Endowment Institute jumped from a C last year to a B- this year.
Nicksa said the cost of recycling remains the greatest challenge to the sustainability effort — recycling a ton of waste material costs twice as much as throwing it away. As a result, the strategy going forward emphasizes waste reduction, he said, not simply recycling.
“It’s not about taking that one page of paper you printed the e-mail on and putting it in the recycling bin — it’s about not printing it at all,” Nicksa said.
Reducing electricity consumption — which accounts for 55 percent of BU’s energy expenses — is also a top priority, he said, and should start with employees turning lights off when they leave a room for more than 10 minutes and turning computer and laptop monitors off when not in use for 30 minutes. According to Nicksa, the University currently consumes the electricity of 14,800 single family homes, which translates to a cost of $1,254 per student each year for electricity; for all utilities, including electricity, gas, oil, steam, and water and sewer, the cost is $2,280 per student.
The sustainability initiatives are funded through a $1 million revolving loan fund from the University, which will be repaid through the cost savings expected from new energy-efficient systems.
Nicksa urged employees to become more familiar with the language of home energy resources, comparing the amount of kilowatt hours and pounds of steam used to light and heat a building to the amount of gasoline required to run a car. He also welcomed questions and ideas at BeGreen@bu.edu.
“We’re all going to learn to talk about this,” he said. “Over the next two to three years, this is going to be our conversation.”
Smokowski, in reporting on the progress of BUworks, compared the University’s existing administrative systems to a crowded train yard of coal locomotives, and the new systems to a modern high-speed rail system. “It will offer a simple, integrated solution in real time, providing integrated data that’s available to everyone,” he said.
The plans for new budgeting, payroll, procurement, and human resources systems include administrative information housed in a single location and updated in real time, budgeting and resource allocation done within departments in real time, and eventual elimination of some shadow budgeting systems that must be reconciled with a centralized system. Other plans include a shift from a manual to an automated payroll input system, a budget process that is supported by more online updates and approvals, and a procurement system that allows for one-stop shopping for multiple vendors.
After a selection process that included an RFP evaluation, live system demonstrations, and site visits, the BUworks team is currently deciding between two vendors for the new software system; Smokowski said that he will disclose project costs when the vendor has been selected.
Implementing the new systems will be difficult, Smokowski warned, and will take place in two phases of 18 months each. Finance and procurement changes are scheduled to begin in January 2010 and finish in July of the following year; human resources and payroll changes should begin in July 2010 and finish in the first quarter of 2012.
Smokowski thanked the participants for their contributions and asked for continued patience and collaboration as the process continues.
“Moving forward, this project will require continued hard work and participation by many BU employees,” he said. “If we continue to share our expertise, collaborate, and manage and mitigate the risks, we will be successful.”
Brown asked two faculty members to talk about their areas of research. Mark Williams, an executive-in-residence at the School of Management, a former risk management advisor for Deutsche Bank and Standard and Poor’s, and a former Federal Reserve examiner, spoke on Risk Management in Changing Times, and Karen Warkentin, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of biology, reported on Embryonic Antipredator Defenses and how certain frog species hatch early to escape from predators.
Jessica Ullian can be reached at email@example.com Comments