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Business Officer Magazine
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Vantage Point

Spotlight on an institution in one of the constituent groups: small institutions, community colleges, comprehensive/doctoral institutions, or research universities

By Kimberly M. Hadley

SMALL INSTITUTIONS
Robust Recycling Effort Allows University to Just Say No to Landfill

In the face of continuing resource constraints, universities search for ways to reduce costs without decreasing academic quality or student accessibility. Part of the solution for John Brown University (JBU), Siloam Springs, Arkansas, has involved implementing a sustainability program to lower operational costs.

In July 2012, our institution became the first university in Arkansas to achieve zero-landfill status. Absolutely no trash from JBU ends up in a landfill. Since 2012, more than 210 tons of waste—45 percent of which is recycled—have been diverted from waste disposal sites.

With the environmental and economic benefits linked, the effort quickly allowed us to recover our $60,000 initial investment. Instead of spending $50,000 for yearly dumpster service, JBU now pays only $13,000 for compacted trash to be converted into electricity through pollution-free emissions incineration. In addition, during the past year, the university generated $17,000 in metal recycling revenue.

In July 2012, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, became the first university in Arkansas to achieve zero-landfill status.

In July 2012, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, became the first university in Arkansas to achieve zero-landfill status.

Multifaceted Methods

The process began when we purchased two compactors, one for cafeteria waste and one for regular trash. We then removed all campus dumpsters and replaced them with recycling bins provided for each dorm room, common area, office, and classroom. Many departments have gone paperless, and the university installed water-filling stations to encourage the use of refillable bottles. With each refill, a digital meter shows how much waste from disposable plastic bottles is eliminated.

Thanks to a partnership with the Salvation Army, packing up dorm rooms for summer has also changed. Rather than discarding clothes, furniture, or electronics, students donate or recycle unwanted items. University leaders found that engaging such community stakeholders, forming an effective collaboration with the local government, and considering other recycling services were all vital to accomplishing zero-landfill status.

"The city of Siloam Springs and other local companies and organizations take many types of recyclables for free. We have a local recycler that pays for metal," says Steve Brankle, JBU facilities services director. "I even found a hog farmer who can utilize our food waste."

Landfill Learning Curve

Educating students and the community on the specifics of recycling methods has played a key role in the university's overall sustainability program. "There are a lot of people on campus who want to participate, and simply providing the appropriate bin is all it takes," says Brankle. "However, many more will recycle but need to know how, so providing student leadership and education on the process is important."

Another insight: "All the options for sustainability opportunities are not equally applicable for each institution," says Steve Beers, vice president for student development, athletics, and facilities. "For example, purchasing wind energy is not a smart move for us right now, but going to zero landfill was within our reach."

Conservation Lowers Costs

The zero-landfill initiative is but one example of the sustainability projects found to make sound business sense. Small decisions, driven by a desire for economic and environmental sustainability, make a large impact. Despite continual growth in campus buildings and student enrollment, ongoing projects to renovate and conserve energy drive down heating, water, and waste costs to record lows.

For example, since the end of FY01, electricity rates have risen by 22.5 percent, but the success of the university's sustainability efforts has overcome the increase, actually reducing electricity cost per square foot by 11 percent.

"Sometimes doing the right thing really does cost less," says Beers. "But it takes someone to have a vision, develop an appropriate local strategy, and then take action. None of us can afford to keep doing the same thing just because that is how it has always been done."

SUBMITTED BY Kimberly M. Hadley, vice president for finance and administration, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas