We are very lucky in that we get to talk to loads of change makers as we go about our daily business. In this 2 part blog article, we discuss the challenges of implementing sustainability initiatives in a lagre organisation.
Warp It’s Daniel O’Connor welcomes David Mazzocco from the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, to talk about reuse and sustainability within a university environment.
As we’ve learned in the past, sustainability initiatives within large organisations often take a lot of effort to introduce, the idea must go beyond an explanation, and instead show piece-by-piece how the new practice will work and benefit upon application. Without further ado, let’s get part one of the interview underway.
David, what sort of challenges are you facing on the campus at the moment?
“We're kind of a weird model for most US campuses. We have 12 schools and centres that are under the umbrella of the University of Pennsylvania, but each one is pretty much semi-autonomous. Trying to manage and coordinate how each one does business is quite a challenge.
I think what they're trying to do from a campus sustainability level is unearth a host of whole other issues. They’re trying to have a central management point coordinate how the different schools and centres purchase things, how they dispose of things, how they hire people, how they bring in contracts - that sort of thing. Each one kind of has its own rules of the road.”
What about at Wharton in particular?
“Wharton is no different, and Wharton tends to be looked at from some of the other schools and centres, maybe the exception of the school of medicine, as kind of the pinnacle in terms of the reputation we have. That’s in terms of appearance and budget that we can spend, because we have a big reputation to uphold here with being a premier business school internationally.
With the types of people coming in, they want to maintain a certain image, so there's usually no expense spared in that regard, whereas some of the other schools and centres don't have that luxury. When we try to set standards and such across these different boundaries it's usually very difficult because it's not one size fits all.”
Can you give us an example?
“A good case in point is for reuse with Ben’s Attic, our internal system for repurposing furniture. We were just talking about this with the different sustainability coordinators, we had our meeting last week, it's a topic we're starting to focus on a little bit more in depth. The group was exploring:
“How do we take care of that old furniture where some of it can be reused and some of it's done? How do we repurpose it? How do we recycle it if we can't use it? “
As usual, there's no set standard, each one of us has our own means and method and some of us try to post it in the online service that we have internally, but it's difficult to manage and you have to spend a lot of time tracking people down and coordinating the move and that sort of thing, and it can be quite cumbersome. Programmes in that sense have not been very successful.”
Warp It’s take on the matter
In the UK, everybody has the same issues, they want to reuse, but they've got no time. They want to reuse but they've got no storage. They want to reuse but everything gets left until the last minute and then it becomes really hard. They might have an email ring, but it's clunky and it doesn't encourage enough participation.
We saw these problems in the UK as well and five years ago we developed this solution, which is marketplace like eBay or Amazon for surplus assets. You can set it up so there’s a marketplace for either the whole university or for the separate colleges so that staff within the colleges can trade surplus assets first. If nobody wants it within the college it can then be advertised to the wider campus community across the whole university, and if nobody within the university wants it, then, if you want it can be either sent to surplus if you need to deal with that programme or it can be actually shared with other universities across the state or even the municipal council. Or even schools and charities.
Tell us a bit about the storage issue you face for reusing office equipment?
“Yeah. We have places we can hold it in, as long as it's moving along, but one of the other schools they actually have to rent offsite storage for all their stuff, and it's a major expense for them. If we could minimise that, that'd be great.”
What other issues do you face that are barriers to reuse in your setup?
“For us really the main thing is : how do we inventory what we're getting rid of, and how do we make it available for others that want to see it and the ones that need to see it?
I don't have a lot of statistics on Ben's Attic, the internal craigslist type website that we have, so I don't know how well utilised it is. I know within our school it's rarely used, but it seems like in the other schools and centres it gets a little bit more use because there's equipment and stuff like that, that other people might want to use. Yeah, I don't think people are as aware of the opportunity to reuse things as much as they could.
Frankly, you touched on it earlier, it's just part of an overall challenge with sustainability missions that you're trying to break a mindset of people through their everyday activities. And if you're trying to, while they may be on board for a lot of the stuff, if you're adding extra steps or having to make them stop and think a little bit harder with their daily work, it's just not going to get done.
Even simple things like recycling. That's sustainability 101, recycling, and people come up to a waste bin and they're faced with a choice of ‘do I put it in this one or in this one?’. We have a problem here where so many recyclables end up in the trash because nobody wants to stop and think about what's supposed to go where. It's things like that. It's quite a challenge.”
Warp It’s Daniel’s response to this problem:
“I used to work as a recycling manager at a university in the UK, and that's when I first realised that you've got to make things beyond idiot proof. The saying is idiot proof, but you've actually got to go beyond that and make it so that a baby could do it almost, because people are overwhelmed with their work tasks. They're distracted. They've got other things on their mind.
If you're putting barriers into place, that reduces participation, and when you reduce participation you get low impact. My whole vision with reuse, I want to make reuse mainstream, so my system has to to be as easy to use as Amazon. It's got to be as easy to use to buy, it's got to be ... For me, my challenge is, Warp It has got to be as easy as buying something on your e-procurement system. It's got to be the same sort of setup, the same sort of activity, but it's going to be secondhand, it's going to be reused.
I realised that when I used to put recycling bins in. I made these whole fancy posters with all this detail, and no one ever read them. You realise that people just haven't got time.”
It's an automated system so that the only manual input is cataloguing the asset at the front end and and then moving the asset from A to B across the campus or the estate.
To continue reading the interview with David, continue to part two where we delve a little deeper into the challenges he faces implementing sustainability initiatives.
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