University Surplus, Sustainability and The Triple Bottom Line

The focus on sustainability in higher education has become prevalent throughout the country. Institutions like the University of Central Florida and Ohio State University helped pioneer sustainability programs in the early 2000s, and since then, many other schools have followed suit. By 2013, more than 665 U.S. colleges and universities had publicly committed to pursue net-zero carbon emissions.

Sustainability programs make strategic decisions based on the triple bottom line (TBL), an accounting framework that encompasses three business components: social, financial and environmental. To improve the TBL, many college sustainability programs are working with their surplus departments, which oversee the resale and reuse of university surplus property.

Here, we’ll explore how your institution can leverage surplus to positively impact the social, financial, and environmental aspects of the triple bottom line.

University surplus can improve the social component of your triple bottom line

University Surplus and Social Benefits

The social component of the triple bottom line encompasses the institution’s responsibility to customers, the treatment of employees, and participation in favorable business practices.

Below are three ways your school’s surplus department can contribute to an improved TBL.

1. Generate goodwill

A portion of University tuition dollars may be used to purchase capital assets, so it’s important to students that the University uses their money responsibly. Much like corporations, once an asset has fully depreciated, the school is responsible for its disposal or reuse. To curb spending, a surplus operation can limit new purchases by encouraging and facilitating the reuse of surplus property.

Temple University’s Surplus Program repurposes assets by utilizing a reuse platform. When one department is done with an asset, it’s sent to surplus for a limited amount of time, exclusively for other departments in need. If it is not purchased by another department, the item is auctioned or sold to the public. Many established university surplus operations use online auction sites like GovDeals, where institutions and government agencies can sell surplus assets.

2. Foster innovation

By selling to customers whose intent is to repurpose the purchased goods, a surplus program also encourages innovation. The surplus department at Indiana University Bloomington took it a step further, partnering with a local blogger to help customers brainstorm DIY projects using available items from their warehouse.

A successful surplus program can help promote awareness of sustainable practices that can be implemented throughout the community.

3. Attract Students

Reutilizing your school’s surplus property helps to facilitate a sustainable reputation, which assists in attracting employees and students. In fact, 64% of students consider a school’s commitment to environmental issues when choosing a college.

Surplus can also help boost your school’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) score, which is a self-reporting blueprint established by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for measuring sustainability performance.

University surplus can improve the financial component of your triple bottom line

University Surplus and Financial Profitability

If practiced correctly, sustainability can help an organization become more efficient and competitive, which leads to profitability. It’s no coincidence that some of the Greenest Universities (based on STARS) also made Forbes list of America’s Top Colleges. The list of sustainable and coveted schools includes Stanford University, American University, the University of California in Santa Barbara, and more.

There is tangible evidence that a sustainability focus can help generate revenue. In partnership with their Surplus Property program, Temple University was able to generate $19,000 in revenue–and that was just in March 2017.

Further, by encouraging your organization to reuse assets and diverting waste from landfills, a surplus program can also contribute to cost savings. Having a strong relationship between your sustainability and surplus department can also provide a better understanding of how much waste the institution is producing. If the surplus department can calculate its waste diversion rate, the amount of money being saved from trash-hauling fees can be calculated. Some donors are attracted to institutions that have reputations for being environmentally friendly, and a surplus operation can help support those efforts.

University surplus can improve the environmental component of your triple bottom line

University Surplus and Environmental Factors

University surplus can have a significant impact on your institution’s waste diversion efforts. Waste diversion is the amount of waste that is withheld from landfills through reuse, composting or repurposing.

Surplus departments give their respective institutions an opportunity to contribute to waste diversion by reusing, reselling or auctioning off assets that might otherwise end up in a landfill. Below is a list of a few universities blazing the trail for creative waste diversion efforts:

  • Since 2011, over 300 tons of surplus property has been diverted from landfills thanks to the efforts of the Wake Forest University Surplus Program.
  • At free e-cycling events, students, faculty, and staff at the University of Virginia can dispose of personal electronic equipment, or “e-waste,” in a secure and environmentally friendly way.
  • During residence hall move-outs, Colorado State University’s Leave-it-Behind Program collects items left behind by students. Through the school’s Surplus Program, these items are then sold or donated.

As we’ve seen here, your university’s surplus program can help improve each of the three components of the triple bottom line. If organized strategically, your institutions surplus operation can become an essential part of your school’s sustainability program.

7 Ways to Promote Your Surplus Operation

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