KPIs, Sustainability, and Private Universities

In the 1980s, British Airlines was going through a difficult period. One of the airline's challenges was that it simply did not have a good departure and arrival flight record. There were many flights- far too many-that were leaving or reaching their destinations from two to as many as six hours behind schedule.

What the airline decided to do was look for key performance indicators (KPIs) that could help determine where the delays were originating from and what actions could be taken to minimize or eliminate these delays. Calling their program “The Late Plane KPI,” the airline’s employees decided these KPIs needed to focus on six criteria, as explained in the 2015 book Developing, Implementing, and Using Winning KPIs by David Parmenter.

First, they looked at custodial: the amount of time it took to clean the planes. Secondly, they looked at refueling, quite simply the amount of time it took to refuel the planes. Next, they accounted for catering, the amount of time it took to restock the planes’ food and beverage supplies. Fourth, they considered slow passengers, those who might need more time boarding or who could potentially slow down the boarding process. Fifth, they looked at high-paying passengers, specifically how to accommodate first and business class passengers without delaying takeoff. Finally, they considered traffic control-primarily in updating traffic control so they are aware the plane is boarding and soon ready for takeoff.

Following these KPIs and taking actions where needed, it was not long before British Airlines had turned things around and actually had a better than average reputation for leaving and arriving on time. As you can imagine, this had a big impact on the airline. This process helped British Airlines financially, resulted in more loyal and repeat customers, improved employee morale, reduced costs, and even promoted sustainability and the environment.

Bringing KPIs Closer to Home

At this point, you might be wondering what KPIs and British Airlines have to do with operating a private university. Plus, while we referenced it in our discussion, what does all of this have to do with sustainability? Quite a bit actually, especially if your private university is working to become more sustainable, use natural resources more responsibly, and reduce operating costs.

First, it should be noted that we are focusing primarily here on the environmental and profitability aspects of sustainability-not people, which is the third “pillar” of the term. Our goal is to identify and track such metrics as the following resource and environmental-related KPIs, which can cost a private university a considerable amount of money. We consider energy consumption, water use, waste and recycling, fuel consumption (both by university personnel and for deliveries to the university), and finally products-including such things as Green and traditional cleaning products. These KPIs have subcategories as well, allowing us to expand the analytical examination considerably.

How it Works

In order for a private university to track KPIs, such as the above, it will need to access some sort of online dashboard system. These systems can gather data, decipher it, monitor it, and then provide a big picture of where things stand and where they are going when it comes to the school becoming more sustainability focused. Possibly the best way to understand this is to use an example.

Let’s say we operate a private university made up of five buildings. Our goal is to reduce electricity consumption in all five buildings by ten percent in twelve months. Our first step is to create separate categories in our online dashboard system for each facility, labeling them “Building A,” “Building B,” and so on.

Now we must track the power consumption -and related costs-of all five buildings individually. But before we start, we must ask our local utility company to provide us with monthly statements indicating the electricity consumption and costs for the past three years in each building. It’s important to go back two or three years because this becomes our benchmark, and we want this benchmark to be as accurate as possible.

The Dashboard System

Once this information is obtained, we start inputting current data into the dashboard system. We now can monitor exactly how much electricity and related costs the university is consuming. As to reducing energy consumption, there are scores of ways to do this, from simply changing to more energy efficient light bulbs to adjusting the thermostat. But, we want to create a “culture of sustainability” in our university so our first step is turning in-house and a good place to start is with the school’s custodial crew. They work for the university and they likely know all five buildings better than anyone.

We have the custodial crew identify items such as computers, copiers, vending machines, lights, HVAC systems, televisions and monitors, and other devices and systems that tend to be left on all the time but could be turned off at the end of the workday and on weekends. We also take this a step further and identify equipment that may still be on even when in the off position, as so many electronic items are today.

Many electronic items are actually in a “standby” mode when turned off so that they can boot up quicker. While this may be a convenience, electronics in standby mode can use from 10 percent to as much as 50 percent of the energy they would normally use if turned on. With this information in hand, our custodial crew begins turning off these electricity-consuming items at the end of the day. In some cases, this simple act alone may help us reach our 10 percent power reduction goal; in other cases, it is a very big first step.

Good Business and Doing the Right Thing

The process is actually quite simple and using an “online” dashboard system means inputting the information and accessing the dashboard’s features which can be accomplished at any time from any computer. What private university administrators should know is that this type of monitoring is being used by many types of facilities, especially property owners and managers of all types of buildings around the country such as commercial office buildings.

They are not doing this necessarily because they believe it is the “right” thing to do. Administrators are also not primarily using these technologies for public relations and marketing purposes. Invariably, one of the top reasons for monitoring, measuring, and reducing source consumption is cost savings. Becoming more sustainable is one of the most effective ways administrators can lower operating costs. Of course, doing the right thing and enjoying the marketing benefits is also good business.

About the Author
Stephen P. Ashkin is founder of the Green Cleaning Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about Green Cleaning, president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry, and CEO of the Sustainability Dashboard Tool (