• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

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Packaging projects

Any campus which is trying to become more sustainable has to get there one step -- one project -- at a time. Or, at least, one set of projects at a time. The importance of submitting project proposals for approval and funding in sets or bundles is something a lot of sustainability administrators learn early on.

October 28, 2010
 

Any campus which is trying to become more sustainable has to get there one step -- one project -- at a time. Or, at least, one set of projects at a time. The importance of submitting project proposals for approval and funding in sets or bundles is something a lot of sustainability administrators learn early on.

The good news, in this regard at least, is that there are often so many different projects to implement that submitting multiple technically independent projects as a single decision package doesn't raise any eyebrows. Fewer decision packages, less administrative overhead for the decision-makers, what's not to like?

The better news, from the point of view of the person submitting the proposals, is that you get to decide what gets bundled with what. And technical logic needn't have much to do with it. The decision package doesn't necessarily have to deal with a single building, or a single set of building features, or a single set of technologies. It can be a collection of cats and dogs, dressed up with a few words about opportunities and immediate (or near-term) time frames. The trick, then, is to bundle projects so that you get what you want to get.

See, some sustainability projects (re-lamping comes immediately to mind) can have very short payback periods -- three years or less. Other enhancements still make sense from a sustainability perspective, but aren't as attractive on financial terms. Envelope improvements -- new windows, insulation, etc. -- are notorious for long payback periods. So one of the common techniques is to put together a decision package which mixes short- and long-payback initiatives. On average, then, the package can get evaluated on its overall payback -- say, six years. Individually, though, some of the elements involved might have three-year payback and others might take 15 years to recover their capital cost. If the 15-year-recovery items were to get submitted on their own, they'd likely not get improved. Bundle them with some quick-recovery efforts, however -- find out what sort of parameters your decision-makers like to see, and bundle your proposals so that each package looks just a little better than that -- and much of the time you can get permission to go forward with the work you need to do.

(BTW, for schools which use more sophisticated screens than simple payback -- think return on investment (ROI) or internal rate of return (IRR) -- the same sort of bundling technique still works just fine. You just have to crank the numbers a bit differently to determine what gets bundled with what.)

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