For Part 3 of this “Know Your Campus” series, I am going to focus on location. Some folks in real estate are fond of suggesting that location is everything. I wouldn’t go that far, but location can have a profound impact on how you manage your recycling and sustainability programs.
In terms of location, I would suggest there are 3 main categories of schools:
- Urban campuses
- Semi-urban/suburban campuses
- Rural campuses
In terms of these categories, I do not see population of the community as the main determinant. Rather, I see a more-complicated criteria based more on the layout of the community, density of the campus, and location of the campus within the community. I have seen colleges and worked for colleges in small New England “cities” of 30,000 people that I would consider more “urban” than campuses I have seen and worked for in much more populous (but more sprawling) western cities of over a million people.
On an urban campus, campus buildings are typically densely laid out and there is often very little buffer area between the campus and other residential and commercial buildings in the community (which are also typically densely laid out). As a result, you have very little on-campus free land to site anything. Even the Facilities Department is often in a densely populated area and typically lacks the “facilities yard” storage area that is more common on a more rural campus. As a result, you are going to generally need more frequent pickups of trash and recycling (because there is no room for those materials to accumulate). Solutions that require stockpiling or storing materials on campus are less likely to be a viable option.
Compounding this, because of the building density, vehicle access to many buildings is likely to be limited, especially for larger delivery trucks or waste collection vehicles. This is especially an issue at older campuses whose initial layout predates the widespread use of the automobile, and whose access roads are sometimes literally paved horse or donkey paths. However, that building density can also be an asset. Because buildings are so densely located, you can sometimes consolidate collection locations and ask collection staff to bring materials from several buildings to one central building which has adequate collection truck access. The density of campus may also make non-motorized collection more viable, whether that is wheeling carts between buildings, using bicycle trailers, or using electric carts.
For services which urban campuses choose to contract out, they are likely to encounter a larger pool of service providers. Because they are in a densely populated area, there are more customers in that area and thus more likely to be a greater number of service providers in that area from which to choose.
Rural campuses typically have the opposite logistics, opportunities and issues that urban campuses have. Typically they had ample land when they were developed so there is often (but not always) significant spacing between buildings. That typically means sufficient space for truck-based collection at each building. Conversely, it also often means that there is too much space between buildings for easy centralized collection among adjoining buildings (i.e. realistically you’re not going to get a custodian to walk a cart full of recyclables that far between buildings on a routine basis).
In terms of space, there is also typically significant space on campus that can be used for storage and staging of materials. And, that storage and staging area is often needed, because often times rural campuses have to do it all themselves. Rural campuses are located further away from other customers (and sometimes further away from end-markets). As a result, there are less likely to be a multitude of private haulers competing for business which makes contracting out for services more difficult. Without a multitude of other customers nearby, a rural school is less likely to be added to a private hauler’s existing collection route. Rather, they are more likely to be their own collection route, or the predominant portion of one. For smaller rural campuses, or for materials generated less frequently, that typically means aggregating stuff until a full truckload of material is accumulated (which is OK because you typically have the land on which to aggregate these materials).
Because they are less densely developed, rural campuses are also more likely to have larger amounts of landscape and grounds wastes than more urban campuses. They are also more likely to have agricultural areas of campus. That is part of the reason that I think it is so important to include categories in any waste diversion or sustainability metric so that these sorts of differences can be more readily seen.
The space on a rural campus also typically means that a school can experiment with its own solutions to issues. If for example the campus wants to undertake composting, it is more likely to have the space to be able to do so on-site (at least initially – when a program grows to a certain size, it may eventually make sense to take that operation off-campus).
Suburban/Semi-urban campuses fit that broad spectrum in between rural and urban campuses. This would include many “college town” campuses as well as campuses located outside the downtown area of larger metro regions. The good news is that these sorts of campuses typically have the widest range of options available to them. However, there can be challenges in having so many options.
It is harder to initially rule options out. And the reasons that things work or don’t work are often a bit more subtle. Sometimes options that at first glance seem like they would work, but end up not working at least on part of the campus. You also may have options that don’t seem available that are easier to develop than you realize. As a result, you often have to go through many more “bad marriages” of options until you find the solution that is right for you. To minimize this, I highly recommend testing options and expanding incrementally before you “go all in” with a solution. The other difficulty in having so many options is that when you do finally develop a solution that works, it is often a struggle to preserve those options. Because so many things seem like they might work, programs at these schools are frequently at risk of being undermined. Often there is a vendor or advocate or even an administrator who has an idea that meets their own needs. But because it is an option that cannot be immediately ruled out, that sometimes leaves these programs in a more constant state of flux than their urban or rural counterparts.
Unlike some realtors, I don’t think that location is everything. But I do think it is an important facet of any campus. And it is a facet to be acutely aware of when bench-marking or comparing your school to any other school out there.