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Archives > December 2013 > Colleges' Cost-Saving Secret Weapon: Furniture Asset Management

Colleges' Cost-Saving Secret Weapon: Furniture Asset Management

While college students prep for another semester and prospects scurry to submit applications, critical behind-the-scenes renovation decisions are being made by project management teams at universities across the country.

By: Mario Insenga

The biggest obstacle they face is balancing a tight budget, along with a short summer time period and the increasing push to be environmentally responsible. While it sounds like a recipe for disaster, simple solutions can make these obstacles that much easier to hurdle.

For school administrators tasked with seeking new and unconventional ways to save money wherever possible amid increasingly tight budget cycles, implementing furniture asset management solutions, including repurposing existing furniture in classrooms, dorms or administration buildings, is an important aspect to saving money and eliminating campus downtime, especially compared to the financial and operational commitments that come with purchasing new furniture.

While furniture asset management programs have been implemented at countless universities throughout the nation, more higher education institutions must rethink the way they view furniture-shifting from a mind-set of how to handle disposable commodities to implementing solutions that repurpose valuable assets that can deliver a lifetime of quality use. This is especially important when students, parents, stakeholders and faulty are putting more pressure on university administrations to reduce spending budgets and increase sustainable initiatives.

Repurposing existing furniture assets makes good environmental and fiscal sense. It's good business, tied to a commitment to conservation. Furniture asset management solutions not only saves budgets through immediate return on investment, it also allows universities to allocate funds across a wider range of operations that mean the most to the university community as a whole, from student affairs to campus beautification.

Here are some points university officials should keep in mind:
Furniture refinishing can maximize furniture assets and prepare them to go the distance.
Furniture asset management services-refinishing, remanufacturing, reupholstering, color changes, solid surface replacement, such as granite, quartz, laminate and glass, and decorative hardware updates, including drawer knobs, handles, pulls and casters-are the little-known-secret behind the wide-spread do-more-with-less initiatives that are sweeping our country's colleges and universities.

For example, The Refinishing Touch recently worked with Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), a private liberal arts institution in Harrisburg, Virginia to complete a LEED-certified dormitory renovation project. Instead of purchasing new furniture, EMU researched its options and implemented an extensive furniture asset management program. In turn, it was awarded with Harrisburg's first-ever LEED Gold standard building.

Ecologically and financially sound practices have driven many other green efforts in colleges, and have evolved in complexity. For instance, the University of New Hampshire's campus in Durham led the way in the collegiate community with its EcoLine-a landfill-gas-to-energy effort that generates up to 85 percent of the power and heat for the campus.

The gold LEED-certified McLaughlin Cluster residence halls at Dartmouth College in Massachusetts are home to a pilot program that shows how much electricity the dorm is using, in real time. The monitors are placed in common areas, according to the school's website. The idea is to get students to be more aware of power usages and to incorporate ways to save energy into their everyday lives.

Working to save natural resources such as wood is an evolving ecological trend that benefits us all.

Implementing furniture asset management solutions saves universities money.
Furniture built years ago tends to be more structurally sound and well made than its more current counterparts, with the majority of older assets being composed of solid wood and made partially, if not entirely, by hand. This gives refinishers a strong base to transform an aesthetically compromised, worn down built-in wardrobe into a like-new structure at less than half the cost it would take to purchase a new, lower-quality unit.

Babson College, located in Wellesley, Mass., used this cost efficient strategy when renovating its campus restaurant during a summer session years ago. Once August approached, students were greeted back-to-school with a completely new, yet affordable, cafeteria.

Cost analysis research suggests Babson may have spent over $29,000 had the management team invested in new furniture pieces. By applying furniture asset management tactics instead, and reusing existing pieces, the institution spent just under $8,500-suggesting over 70 percent in cost savings.

Our own studies have shown that refinishing furniture can save an institution up to 80 percent in costs, as opposed to purchasing new. The savings provide both immediate and long-term return on investment. Maintenance, shipping and handling fees, and additional, often hidden costs when buying new furniture no longer becomes a concern for a university's management team.

Colleges are busy places, we know. Furniture refinishing lets students, teachers and faculty get back to business.
There can be misconceptions about cost and downtime when implementing a furniture asset management strategy which, in reality, are both minimal when compared to the hassle and price of purchasing and installing new built-in wall units.

In reality, room and furniture downtime is extremely manageable. Refinishing and color changes can be done on-site, meaning expensive fees to move items out, dispose of them, and move new ones in are avoided all-together. In addition, refinishing can also mitigate costly and timely room redesigns, eliminating the need to remove built-ins and replace with free standing furniture.

Most refinishing in collegiate dorms occurs during quiet summer sessions-leaving both students and faculty uninterrupted during busy semesters. However, even if dormitories are occupied with those enrolled in summer courses, refinishing teams can move in and complete renovations in a matter of a working business day. This means by nightfall, the summer students can return back to their dorms, unaffected by any of the noise, smells or additional inconveniences of renovation work.

While there are many hazardous lacquers currently available on the market, it is important for management teams to invest in and use safe and non-toxic finishes. For example, the finishes used by our production teams contain no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), allowing for a hypoallergenic, safe and clean renovation process. VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids, and are extremely hazardous to one's health-especially when used indoors.

A study by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be two to five times higher inside homes than outside. Additional EPA research revealed that while people are using products containing organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed.

Luckily, the solution can be found in patent pending finishes, which produce no fumes, are non-flammable, and non-carcinogenic. During renovations, investing in such high-quality, low-chemical finishes should be top priority for higher education management teams. This ultimately guarantees indoor air quality and safety for the renovators and dormitory inhabitants-all at a low cost and minimal time commitments.

Repurposing furniture is a practice in line with many colleges' green efforts and curriculum.
The push in sustainability has become more than a trend-it is now an additional requirement prospects, parents, shareholders and others expect of a higher education facility.

Our studies find refinishing can save roughly 90 percent of carbon emissions from being released into the air, when compared to buying new furniture. It takes approximately 1,000 times more carbon dioxide to make a new furniture asset, rather than to refinish it. At a time of immense concern over global warming and climate change, gas emissions must be reduced in order to preserve our environment.

Beyond the environmental stewardship and cost savings, implementing furniture asset management solutions mirrors the very values of many Earth-friendly courses now offered at universities across the US, such as fisheries ecology, sustainable agriculture, forest ecosystem science and conservation biology.

It goes hand-in-hand with recycling, use of energy-saving light bulbs, and installations of motion-sensor faucets that shut off automatically. It pairs with more use of natural light and sustainable wood for construction. It adds to any campuses environmental efforts and rounds out your school's green achievements.

An ecologically sound and multifaceted conservation plan, which can include refinishing, remanufacturing and re-upholstering, can go a long way in making a school stand out in terms of attracting students, staff and donors. It sends a consistent message that environmentalism is a widespread priority at your university.

Predictions
We believe that the use of existing resources on college and university campuses, such as furniture, will increase in 2014 and that this focus on environmental concern and fiscal restraint will continue and expand. Higher education institutions will continue to prioritize saving money and actively search for new ways to do so. Repurposing existing furniture assets-everything from re-upholstering seating found in dormitory study rooms to refinishing built-in wall units-will increase.

With responsible fiscal and environmental considerations, reusing existing furniture such as built-in wardrobe units and desks will be more than a trend in the years and decades to come, but more of a new way of doing business at colleges and universities.

Perhaps a larger philosophy behind colleges and universities practicing reuse is to truly position themselves as leaders: in our communities, our workforces, and in our environment. Furniture asset management--such as the way we've eliminated room downtime and all but removed the environmental hazards of purchasing new furniture by instead utilizing odor-less, VOC-free refinishing tactics--is the wave of the future.

In 2014, we will see even further continuation of this trend by colleges and universities-a stride towards a cleaner, greener future.

 

 

About The Author
Mario Insenga

is the president and founder of The Refinishing Touch, a world leader in on-site environmentally safe and sustainable furniture refinishing, re-upholstering, armoire modification, and TV recycling. Insenga founded the company in 1977, following his involvement in a furniture-refinishing project for a large East Coast hotel chain. For more information, visit www.therefinishingtouch.com.

 

 

 

 

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