My NacuboWhy Join: Benefits of Membership

E-mail:   Password:   

 Remember Me? | Forgot password? | Need an online account?

Business Officer Magazine

Business Intel

A roundup of short news articles and useful resources for business officers

Water Conservation as Competitive Advantage

When Chatham University, Pittsburgh, developed the Falk School of Sustainability on its new 388-acre Eden Hall Campus (about 30 minutes north of the city's center), university leaders focused on clear goals for achieving sustainability. Accordingly, the new campus would be as self-sustaining as possible, by achieving zero carbon emissions and producing more energy than it consumed.

Historically, the Pittsburgh region has dealt with a number of critical flooding and waterway pollution issues. Consequently, the university also committed to manage all storm and wastewater on the Eden Hall Campus, so that no water would enter the public water treatment system. Meanwhile, campus leaders would model these different approaches to assist with the overall water issues in the region.

Eden Hall Campus is expected to process some 6,000 gallons of wastewater per day, with a biological wastewater treatment system that includes a primary treatment tank to isolate solids, and a constructed wetland with sand filters to further treat and polish the sanitary effluent. The resulting treated water is then able to be reused for flushing toilets; irrigating shrubs, flowers, and lawns; and for other approved reuse applications.

In addition, the campus has an extensive network of rain gardens, retention tanks, and irrigation systems to control stormwater runoff, including an outdoor amphitheater that uses the profile of the land to create an attractive entertainment venue, while serving simultaneously as a functional rain garden.

Apart from institutional goals to exemplify best practices in sustainability, competitive advantage plays into the picture.

  • Prospective students are now analyzing the environmental performance of schools, increasingly making their choices based on the institution's environmental footprint.
  • Many students, parents, and donors are highly aware of environmental issues and understand the importance of water conservation, particularly in drier parts of the country.
  • Water consumption and the amount of wastewater sent for processing is easy to measure, so institutions can clearly and verifiably state the volume of reduction achieved.

fast fact

Colleges are continuing to move away from assessing student learning outcomes through standardized tests. Only 38 percent of institutions use standardized national tests for general knowledge—down from 50 percent in 2008.

A 2016 report on Trends in Learning Outcomes, a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities can review other potential opportunities and risks simply by taking a closer look at what they may take for granted: their water supply.

Water Worries

Future challenges for the water supply are already in view.

  • Water shortages in the western U.S.—particularly in California and Nevada—are already severe. In addition, changing weather patterns appear to be extending the drought periods in historically dry parts of the country and causing shortages in areas that now have adequate water supplies.
  • Agriculture, cities, and industry all make demands for water, with those amounts often equaling more than what is available.
  • It is likely that new regulations on water use may affect availability and increase costs, even in areas that traditionally have ample access to water.

Water Reuse: A Dual Impact

One of the best ways to start shrinking your campus's water footprint is through the reuse of water. The practice has a double impact: (1) reducing the amount of water the institution consumes, and (2) lessening the amount of water released for treatment, generally by a local wastewater treatment facility.

This can involve a range of techniques, many of which Chatham is implementing.

Rainwater harvesting. Capturing rainwater, which currently may be directed into the storm sewer system or onto the lawns around each campus building, is one relatively low-cost and quick way to start water recycling. Often, simply modifying the downspouts to collect water into barrels or piping it to a central holding tank can make the water available for other uses. These include water for landscape irrigation (regulations may restrict what water is used for irrigating crops intended for human consumption); toilet flushing; and, after additional treatment, for makeup water in HVAC systems. Distributed rain gardens can also be used as an aesthetically appealing alternative to larger, centralized retention ponds.

Graywater capture. An increasing number of buildings are designed with two water systems. One carries public water treated to potable standards for uses such as drinking, cooking, showers and bathing, and dishwashing; but these form only a small percentage of a building's water use (roughly five percent).

For the bulk of the building's water requirements, a second plumbing system collects graywater (from laundry, showers, bathroom sinks, dishwashing, and other sources) that is treated for reuse in activities for which potable water is not required-flushing toilets and urinals, watering landscaping and indoor plants, and heating and cooling systems.

Wastewater treatment systems. It is increasingly practical and cost-effective to install on-site systems that can treat wastewater to the standards required for reuse. Effective design of treatment facilities depends on a wide range of factors, including the amount of space available and the planned end use of the water. A campus such as Chatham University, with enough wide-open space, might install a subsurface wetland system that can cost-effectively remove many of the impurities in the water-perhaps as "polishing" or final treatment of wastewater already processed by more traditional methods.

It is currently impractical from an operational and permitting standpoint, as well as from a cost perspective, to consider water-recycling systems that can treat wastewater for potable uses.

Sewer mining. One surprising potential avenue for campuses that want to impact their overall water use and conservation is through treatment of "blackwater" from their sanitary sewers. Technology is now available to cost-effectively and safely treat this flow, so that it meets the requirements for use as makeup water in HVAC equipment. This can have a major impact on the overall water use of the campus in that makeup water can be a building's largest single draw on the public water supply.

Start With New Builds and Renovations

Since water-conservation and recycling systems can be costly to retrofit to existing buildings, Chatham's leadership focused on incorporating water-wise systems into new buildings and planning the systems from the start. Renovation projects also can be an opportunity to install water-saving and water-recycling measures.

Water conservation and reuse measures can be an effective way for a university or college campus to demonstrate good stewardship to its stakeholders, including students and potential students, their parents, staff, faculty, donors and other supporters, and the general public. At Chatham University, such steps are proving cost-effective, particularly as water continues to become a more-expensive and higher-profile commodity.

SUBMITTED BY Walter Fowler, senior vice president of finance and operations at Chatham University, Pittsburgh; and Michael W. Takacs, principal, Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc., Pittsburgh.

^ Top


College-educated Millennials Flock to Cleveland

In an in-depth look at millennial graduates, Cleveland State University reveals that its home city is eighth in the nation in the growth rate of college-educated millennial residents aged 25 to 34. The report, The Fifth Migration, refers to the re-urbanization of the Cleveland metro area sparked in part by the Great Recession. The study cites tremendous growth in the Rust Belt cities, due in part to their more modest cost of living. "Our explosive millennial population growth is changing the face and trajectory of Cleveland," notes Lillian Kuri, of the Cleveland Foundation, which commissioned the study. "We need to understand its impact on the city ... and rapidly harness the local and regional resources to sustain this momentum."

Expanding Access to Loan Counseling

Education policy can do a better job of preparing students to navigate the federal loan system, notes Effective Counseling, Empowered Borrowers. The final installment in a series of reports from the firm TG, in collaboration with the NASFAA (National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators), identifies several improvements: Congress could allow schools to require additional counseling; Congress could grant the Department of Education the flexibility to make online counseling simpler and more personalized; and initial online counseling could accompany the new early FAFSA filing.

^ Top

Funds Support Students, Campuses

Results of the 2015 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments (NCSE) show a significant increase in endowment dollars used to support student financial aid and other campus-related programs.

Survey participants increasing endowment spending grew from 74 percent in FY14 to 78 percent in FY15 (see figure).

To read more about endowment performance in FY15, see "Cool Down."

Funds Support Students, Campuses
^ Top
By The Numbers
^ Top