FM Frequency: Pinching Pennies; Counting Quarters

By Charles Carpenter
Published in the June 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Facility managers (fms) have always looked for ways to reduce costs in their locations and stretch the fm’s buck. The trick seems to be mastering the art of cutting costs without compromising quality, appearance, or continuity. A cost cutting move gone wrong could have negative repercussions on employee morale, facility uptime, or policy compliance.

This author is not the first person to point out the benefits of getting the biggest bang for an fm’s buck, but let’s consider the following example. Say Company A has a profit margin of 10% in its sales. Company A has to sell $10,000 worth of goods or services to make an additional $1,000. Company B has a top-notch fm (you know, the kind who reads Today’s Facility Manager). If Company B’s fm manages to reduce costs by $1,000, then Company B has also made an additional $1,000. People like to say it takes money to make money. But no one ever says it takes a good fm to make money; even when they realize how very true that statement is.

Vendors are quick to offer solutions with average payback periods based on past installations. While a product may have a good track record elsewhere, it does not always translate into a slam dunk when an fm tries to get approval for an installation. If an fm is lucky in today’s economy, s/he might get to implement a cost cutting solution in one location as a case study to implement company wide.

There are ways for fms to reduce costs by changing how existing operating procedures are executed. There are also things that fms can do in the design and implementation phases to reduce future costs or avert more expenses from occurring. These techniques or decisions can be made in equipment choices, operating procedures, financial efficacy, and facility specifications.

The most important caveat in trying something different within an organization is that facilities serve different functions, have different populations, and operate at different frequencies. Fms should expect different payback periods if they are comparing a 9:00 am to 5:00 pm business with a 24 x 7 call center, or an 80,000 square foot building that houses 400 employees with one that houses 800 people.
So while this article may offer suggestions that are not part of the readers’ current day-to-day responsibilities, they still offer fms an opportunity to cut costs within an organization. Now let’s take a look at some of these measures.

Trash cans and liners. One cost that most companies cannot avoid is trash. While there are ways to reduce trash, how you handle that refuse can save money. Trash can liners are made from petroleum products, so anything that uses fewer oil byproducts saves you money in the long run (also, using fewer trash bags is greener). First, you can instruct your cleaning crew to empty larger trash cans less frequently. If the crew takes out the trash at 2:00 pm regardless of how full the cans are you can save some liners by having them wait (unless something stinks).

Another strategy is to opt not to replace the liners in individual cans nightly, unless they are obviously soiled. [This could be a money saver for your cleaning labor too.] The most aggressive strategy is to reduce the population of trash cans entirely. Some companies have eliminated trash cans at smaller work stations (mainly from employees who produce one or two pieces a day) in favor of centrally located trash cans for everyone to use. While this strategy may make an fm look like a miser, you will quickly find that you spend less money on liners and a lot less on a cleaning crew walking aisle after aisle just to pick up a couple of wadded up NCAA brackets.

HVAC consideration #1. You probably know the refreshing feeling of coming in from the heat of 85˚F into a comfortable indoor environment that may be 72˚F (or conversely, coming from a cold 35˚F into a 72˚F space). Controlling the humidity has as much to do with indoor comfort as anything. Gradually moving your set points in the direction of the temperature may yield some electricity savings. When it gets to be 98˚F outside, a 74˚F space feels mighty good. As the thermometer dips lower in the fall, you can start shifting those set points to match the weather.

HVAC consideration #2. Just like the notion that you should change your car’s oil every three months or 3000 miles (that’s 4828 km for our Canadian readers), some people believe that preventive maintenance (PM) needs to be done every three months. Unless your equipment manual says otherwise, you could shift your PM schedule to every four months for your non-critical equipment. Some fms even go six months between PMs under the notion that if it is not broke, why fix it. (On the downside, I have seen a lot of refrigerant leaks that can be traced to a loose Schrader valve from the last PM.)

Multi-function devices/printers (MFDs). Fms might not be responsible for the operation of these devices, but trimming costs is everyone’s responsibility. One suggestion for getting more out of MFDs is to load black and white (B&W) print drivers on users’ PCs. While users are told not to print in color unnecessarily, it is a tough policy to enforce. These B&W drivers can be made the default printer, forcing the users to select a color device; moreover, these drivers may be the only driver available to users (which will prevent them from printing their soon to be tossed NCAA brackets in color). Another strategy is to set devices to print documents double sided by default. One study even found that printing in Century Gothic uses less toner than other fonts. (So even if toner is free, using less is still green.)

Cost saving ideas are everywhere. While more examples will be provided in this column in the future, we would welcome some of your ideas too. Considering that most corporations report their earnings in thousands of dollars, the fm who can measure his or her cost savings can see a direct impact on the bottom line.

Save your company $10,000, and you just added a 10 to the corporate earnings statement. Save $100,000, and that statement goes up $100.

You can then bring your “revised” statement into your next performance appraisal (for those of you who even get them) and have some great fodder when you explain how you just paid for your own salary in cost savings.