Episode 16: One Lab’s Trash is Another Lab’s Treasure: Reducing Waste and Increasing Reuse at Northwestern University - Transcript
Dave Karlsgodt 0:00
Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode, we'll talk with leading campus professionals thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed and corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems, we hope you're ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt, I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy, carbon and business planning firm.
Julie Cahillane 0:34
Scientists talk about collaboration when it comes to research itself, but to have them talk about collaboration and when it comes to the tools to support research would be a huge win.
Garry Cooper 0:47
We want people who want to be sustainable, who want to help their organization, purchase smarter be able to do so. Right so we want to empower In fact, our mission statement is empowering professionals to save money and save the environment.
Dave Karlsgodt 1:02
And this episode, you'll hear my interview with Julie Cahillane, sustainability associate director at Northwestern University, and Dr. Garry Cooper, adjunct professor at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, and CEO co-founder of Rheaply Incorporated. In our conversation, you'll hear how Garry has leveraged his experience working in research laboratories to start up a company that is helping institutions better manage their laboratory surplus supplies and under utilized equipment. Julie will discuss how Northwestern University is piloting Rheaply's platform as part of their broader sustainability efforts to reduce waste and increase reuse in their laboratories. On an editorial note, my intent with this conversation as well as all of our podcast episodes is to do a deep dive into particular sustainability topic. I'm not intending to explicitly promote or endorse a particular company. But I also recognize that many cutting edge ideas do exist in the private sector. In this particular case, I felt like Garry and his company Rheaply have developed a novel approach to addressing some of the challenges at the intersection of waste and scientific research. I think you'll find this conversation clearly fits within the exploratory intent of the show. But I would welcome your feedback, especially as we consider interviewing other for-profit companies in future episodes. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this January 31 2019 interview with Garry Cooper and Julie Cahillane. Julie and Garry, it's great to have you on the show today. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me. Alright, well, Julie, let's start with you. Can you give us a quick background on who you are and a bit about your work at Northwestern?
Julie Cahillane 2:37
Sure. My name is Julie Cahillane, and I am the Associate Director for sustainability at Northwestern University. My work at Northwestern centers on engaging our campus community in practices and behaviors that align with our campus strategic sustainability plan. And much of my work focuses on resource conservation, waste reduction, recycling.
Dave Karlsgodt 2:59
Great. Well, Garry, I'd like to talk a little bit more about the innovative work you're doing at Rheaply, but can you just give us a little background on who you are as well? And then we'll dive into Rheaply here in a second.
Garry Cooper 3:10
Yeah, so I'm Garry Cooper. I'm from Ohio, Dayton, Ohio, if anyone knows there, that place. I did my undergraduate at Indiana University in Bloomington, B.S. in math and chemistry. And then I came to Northwestern in 2008. And completed my PhD in neuroscience 2014 a postdoc thereafter, and now I'm adjunct faculty member in Feinberg School of Medicine, as well as CEO and co-founder of Rheaply.
Dave Karlsgodt 3:37
Great, well, let's start there. Maybe you can just give us a little picture elevator pitch of what Rheaply does and and what we have to look forward to learning more about today?
Garry Cooper 3:46
Yeah, it's actually pretty simple, really tries to help large organizations answer a singular question, do we already have this, as an organization gets big, it's very hard for people to know if they're coming might have resources that they could leverage, as well as it's hard for a large organization to understand resources that can be redeployed, as opposed to going into a landfill. So Rheaply tries to solve that problem. So just better asset management.
Dave Karlsgodt 4:16
All right. if I understand it correctly, you're talking about things like equipment and chemicals and but not assets in the general sense of like a big organization is this mostly lab focused?
Garry Cooper 4:27
That's how it started, we started, you know, I'm a scientist. So we kind of start in the lab, I was fortunate to work in a lab that was very well funded, but I had a lot of friends and colleagues who are in labs that were struggling from a financial perspective. So we started kind of just a resource sharing program. So it started about lab equipment and supplies, but now with clients ranging from universities to fortune 500 companies of Fortune 10 companies. There's a lot of, you know, we kind of have an array of things on our platform
Dave Karlsgodt 4:55
now. Great. Well, Julie. So coming back to higher ed says the focus of our podcast here, maybe you can give us a little bit of your perspective on. I know, you've done a pilot with Rheaply, and I know, you deal with these issues generally, like what are the problems that institutions are facing around managing assets as maybe particularly in the lab or in general?
Julie Cahillane 5:15
Yeah, sure. So Garry hits on a lot of the words, the very first conversation I ever had with Garry, I was excited about Rheaply because he, he seemed he really got it, he understood the excess and surplus and waste issue from a laboratory setting. And in our conversation really grasped the kind of resource conservation perspective, reducing waste to the landfill, which can also help save cost. So resource conservation is one of the five program areas covered in our strategic sustainability plan. And we've identified as an institution that we really need to reduce waste generation through our comprehensive review of both our procurement practices and our reuse practices, whether they exist or not. So expanding reuse programs, like what Rheaply is trying to do, to extend the lifecycle of our products within our campus is is definitely in line with that it'll support our efforts to reduce waste and to decrease cost. We also need mechanisms to track progress in the areas, the two R's reducing reuse are much harder to measure than recycle. And so historically, that's been a challenge, and really is kind of bringing that potential both to the measurement and to the ability to potentially implement a surplus operation.
Dave Karlsgodt 6:34
Great. Well, thanks. Thanks for that, Julie. And Garry, maybe you can back up into how you got to start Rheaply. I mean, how does one go from studying neuroscience to start up in this area? What's the story?
Garry Cooper 6:46
A question my mother always asked. So the, the the high level story is, during my research in the medical school at Northwestern, me and a couple others started just kind of just internal Reese reuse program, which was really just a amongst the people on our floor. And what we would do is we would take things that we no longer needed in our lab, put on this cart, and I would essentially, every week, kind of just run the cart around the floor and say, Hey, does anyone need x or y or whenever we would have on the cart. And that started to pick up where it was just the people in our floor who were interested in the people in floors above and people floors below. And so it became a small little thing. But it was extremely manual, right? So you have to place the things in the cart, you have to will it around, you have to see if people were there when you're there. So there's a lot of improvements that I have, obviously kind of a digital representation of the cart could deliver. So that was kind of the leap, if you will, from all this is there's something here to let me see if I can kind of put a business around this. And so that was kind of the first I guess, birth problem statements we're, Rheaply is trying to solve today.
Dave Karlsgodt 8:05
So is this like a cart you took from the local shopping center that you kind of got past the security? Or was this a like a pallet cart? No, I'm just kidding.
Garry Cooper 8:14
This is a card that that we used to carry mice around on. So it was pretty big. Don't let my lab manager know about that. But yeah.
Dave Karlsgodt 8:27
You got it you didn't do unofficial reuse? I guess that's good. So yeah, so it sounds like that. That was the start. And then how did you go from there to deciding that this was worth of business, then?
Garry Cooper 8:39
Yeah, so the so I did spend a couple years in the corporate world. And so I started to make some contacts, and obviously just learning a little bit more about business models and how to start one. So I thought, you know, the first thing is, I need to figure out if this is a problem at Northwestern, if there's a problem at Feinberg or if this is a systemic problem. And so one of the things that we we did was conducted a survey, we conducted a survey amongst I think about 150 users at Northwestern. But what we found was kind of startling, we found that the problem that I was having my lab was not my labs problem, it was a pervasive problem across University. And one thing that Julie could probably speak to is that Northwestern, at least at the time, was ranked in the top quarter green universities in the country. So I knew that if it was a problem at Northwestern, it's probably also a problem throughout all universities that do high impact research. So that was kind of justification enough for me to take the leap and do something that I think could impact both the environment and research science.
Dave Karlsgodt 9:45
Well, yeah, Julie, maybe you can speak to that, you know, you're thinking about this from the perspective of sustainability, not necessarily from the perspective of, you know, asset management, I assume, right? That's not really your role, per se. But can you tell us how those things fit together? From your perspective?
Julie Cahillane 9:59
Yeah, I think what you hit on is how they fit together, there's there's a great intersection between sustainability and responsible use of resources, we have a goal to increase our conversion rate to 50% by 2020, and reducing waste and increasing our division three. So recycling is how we're going to get there. We could use a Garry on every floor of every lab building with the current and face to face engagement around reuse opportunities. There may be even more Garry's out there doing something similar, but as a sustainability initiative on campus. I never knew Garry was doing that. And, you know, we we what we need is an institutional platform for this. Opportunities for surplus infrastructure are limited on our campus, for sure. state institutions generally have a state mandate that implements a process and a program for managing surplus. I don't know that they always get down into the labs or that they're able to have a lot of success in the labs. But at Northwestern we don't have a very robust industry. Barring having a Garry and a cart on every floor of every lab building pushing around and on Hawking goods, we could really use something that institutionalizes and streamlines this process or makes it a little easier. A virtual platform is something that we identified we did as part of our strategic sustainability plan, we did a very deep dive, we started across campus, and we audited facilities based on their function. So lab buildings were part of that. And out of that way, started came an integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, which is available on our website for anyone to see. And one of the things was identified in there greatly seen needed are as we sorted through the trash was that the things get thrown out that shouldn't, there's a great need to reclaim. And so that's a sustainability perspective, but also a better Asset Management goal. So we need a platform for surplus operations and for sharing and redistributing and repurposing items, you know, on campus and within our own communities across Northwestern.
Dave Karlsgodt 12:04
What What is the range of what you're actually seeing, you know, Garry, now that you have this system up and running, I mean, you had sounded like when you were wheeling your cart around the offices, it was mostly just surplus lab, like consumables, I assume, or maybe chemicals or other things like that you weren't probably willing around electronic microscopes or things like that. But what what do you see coming through your systems today?
Garry Cooper 12:25
Yeah, that's a great question. And I would say it buckets a little differently for universities, and it does for the industry. But I'm from on the academic side, what we see is a lot of lab consumables. In fact, the way that we want to differentiate some of the stuff that we are doing at Rheaply versus some other kind of asset management systems that we really want to dig deep in the consumables, plastics, glassware, things that don't have a barcode, or you wouldn't create a bar code for, but things that are obviously going to generate ways but have a high value redeployment. So I'll give you an example. If I take an antibody or parts of an antibody from a colleague, I've maybe just saved myself $300, they've also saved themselves from throwing something in the bio hazardous waste. And there's a cost, you know, obviously disposing of that waste. So it's a kind of at least a two fold kind of win. And so we see a lot of again, things that you would find a laboratory that are on the consumable side, but we have things like LED lamps, microscopes, surgical equipment, 3-D printers, we have a ray of other kind of heavier equipment from the laboratory as well.
Dave Karlsgodt 13:40
So Garry, tell us a little more about the actual platform itself. So what would it look like if I was, say, a researcher at Northwestern? What would I when I logged into your system, what would I see?
Garry Cooper 13:51
So what we try to create is we're trying to take asset management or resource management and make it as easy as possible. So when you log in, it would almost most look like a cleaner version of an eBay or Amazon. So you kind of have these very typical shopping use cases, right. So as you search for something that you're looking for, in particular, or maybe you pick a category, that you want to just kind of shop around for things that might be available when you're not looking for something in particular. So from a UI UX perspective, it looks very much like a standard marketplace. But again, it's more like an internal inventory management tool. And then also, the really cool thing that you can do on Rheaply is that you can book time, so let's say a person has a piece of capital equipment, but they're not using it effectively, or they're just under utilizing it because maybe the project that they are they bought it for has ended or has subsided. You can also allow people to like book it our book, three hours, whatever, kinda like how you use like an open table to kind of book a restaurant, you can book time on someone's microscope. So you can also do those types of functionalities on replete, but the look and feel of it on your phone and your tablet on your computer is exactly how you would shop through like an eBay.
Dave Karlsgodt 15:05
Okay, yeah, that sounds great. Let me let me play devil's advocate, though, for a second. And Julie, and I'll direct this at you first. And then I'll let Garry answer this as well. You know, it sounds great to get these labs to reuse the materials and equipment and whatnot. But aren't those same materials and equipment, the critical tools they need to do their job? I mean, these are world class researchers, why do we need to bother them with worrying about the waste associated with their work? Or can you speak to that?
Julie Cahillane 15:32
So I think, in a university setting, I'm looking at it from, you know, more global across the institution. And while our researchers are particularly busy and focused and doing amazing things, the resources of the institution still come into play in that big picture. So if labs can use their resources, whether that's funding or supplies or goods, more effectively, it creates more opportunity down the road. So space is a premium, for instance, in labs, and especially on our campus where we're pretty tight. And so if you've got old equipment that you're not using, or old supplies, that you're not using, taking up space, that's a waste, not just from a good issue, but from a potential for laboratory research issue. So our labs at our Office of Research safety have looked at cleaning out labs as a way to regain critical space to support greater research. So I think that's, that's one way to look at it. And also, you know, the labs or whatever they're doing, they're functioning within this institutional setting. And the institution as a whole, has priorities that the labs, you know, are part of. And so if we have a priority to reduce waste, or reduce cost, the labs are part of that just like department, or any other academic division would be so focusing on or understanding their role in the big picture of the institutional setting is still important, despite the fact that their work sometimes is separate from are very different from the rest of what's happening on campus, if that makes sense.
Dave Karlsgodt 17:18
Yeah, fair enough. Fair enough. Well, Garry, so maybe a different pushback question for you. But I know we have mutual friend, Allison Paradise, who I just saw at a conference yesterday, actually, earlier this week. And she talks a lot about change management, and just the challenges around management. I mean, it sounds like a lot of what you're doing here is getting scientists to change to, you know, to change their behavior. And one of the quotes I heard the other day, which gave me a chuckle was, you know, you can idiot proof things, but PhD proofing things is really difficult to do or something like that. But in any case, what what kind of pushback Are you getting from people trying to engage with this? What have you run into? Yeah,
Garry Cooper 17:58
so some things that have been they're very typical for Asset Management System. Sometimes, when people hear us coming, they think, oh, we have to go label everything, and re inventory everything. And really, our platform is actually not meant to inventory every thing. It's meant to inventory, the things that are in surplus that have value, right. So the things that should not be thrown away the things that people should understand that are available, before they want to go buy them again, before that person who owns it throws it away. So one thing is just kind of around the messaging around, we're not an asset management system, we call it an asset exchange manager, we try to help exchange assets that are valuable or resource that are value bowl within an organization. The other thing that I would say around the kind of thought about change meant at the individual or the user level, is indeed, when you're when you're doing science, sometimes you don't think about am I using a certain asset or resource very valuable because you're you're high impact, right? You're trying to get your next paper out and your next thesis out if you're a PhD student, and so forth, and so on. So the one of the ways that we've tried to get at that is to incentivize the user themselves, right? So sometimes you can change behavior by saying, hey, user, or Hey, student, if you do something that's going to benefit the university, going to benefit your colleague and potentially benefit the planet, we want to do something for you, the user, not your lab, not the university, but you and so we gamified our entire platform, to kind of help give credit to the people who are who are doing things most, most privately, I would say. So those are those are some of the I would say kind of barriers that we we continue to have to think about and cross. But the really cool thing is that I think, at the top of the list of the people who should be at the forefront of the sustainability movement are scientists. Right? So I think, from the idea of it might be a change of behavior. But we've only received high marks about it being a welcome new change. That's great.
Dave Karlsgodt 20:02
Speaking of the gamification, what kind of incentives Do you offer? Is it you know, pizzas or free antibodies?
Garry Cooper 20:10
We've got, in fact, we're having we're having a we're having a pizza party tomorrow, actually, we throw a lot of parties, we talked about happy assets and happy resources, were a happy company. So no, we throw a lot of parties. But no, typically the prizes it does vary between organization. So it depends on how we we partner. But our what we do standard is we typically send a $25 Starbucks gift card code. So we run at least that back, we run a continuous raffle. And if you win that raffle, because again, you've been a little bit more sustainable, a little bit more cost effective. Internally, we put you this raffle, if you win, you get a $25, Starbucks gift card code email directly to you. And the really cool thing is that we're not managing at the University of the institution that we're partner with is not managing it something that we built out that just works. So well. We also think about from a change management perspective, is how do we design out many administrators, and many, many functional people who have to spend time and making this work? So one of the ways we do is we try to virtualize a lot of the things that are on our platform, and the gamification is one
Dave Karlsgodt 21:22
great so that the Northwestern doesn't have to manage this directly. Is that the end? No. I mean, or any university or
Garry Cooper 21:28
No, no university. No.
Dave Karlsgodt 21:30
Julie, anything to add there. Right?
Julie Cahillane 21:32
Well, I will say, Garry, I love the scientists should be at the forefront for sustainability change. I may steal that and and use it,
Garry Cooper 21:40
Please. I believe it. I'm sure you do too, as well.
Julie Cahillane 21:45
Yeah, it's, it is interesting, I think. I think one point is, you know, that you were kind of touching on is that the lab setting is fairly isolated. And those the lab workers tend to have a lot on their plate and considering waste and things outside of the research is always a challenge to to break through that. You mentioned behavior change, David, that's the story of my life. And one of the most challenging things to do is to engage people and behavior change. So anything you can do to incentivize them is is really, hopefully, going to help shift shift the needle.
Dave Karlsgodt 22:24
Yeah, well, how have you done that? Julie, other than I mean, some of those types of gamification, or what are the other techniques you've used for, you know, behavior change management in any context.
Julie Cahillane 22:34
You know, we don't necessarily have the resources for the that gamification ideas. So with us, it's about trying to engage folks in their setting and, and what's important to them, we have a green office certification program. And that's a way for offices and individuals to really tailor sustainability to their specific group, or setting we are I would like to have on our radar to implement a green lab program or green lab certification program. We haven't kicked that off just yet. But really helping people see their own behaviors and impact on the institution. And where there's touch points for sustainability is the best way I think, to engage folks that if you just talk about sustainability at an institutional setting, it's all kind of that's not me, I don't do that I don't impact it. But really finding what people are doing what they're already doing. And helping them see how that supports change at an institutional level. Is is one way that we engage folks to see the impact on the potential they have to improve our sustainability efforts.
Dave Karlsgodt 23:42
Know that that's great. And I just got back from that conference and heard Allison Paradise give a panel on the green labs program that they run out of my green lab, which was on our episode four, I think I was struck by, you know, she framed it as individualistic, you just may not make that big of a difference by themselves. But in aggregate, when you think of all of the laboratories over the country, you know, the amount of waste the amount of energy, the amount of, you know, just individual changes, they do add up and making that culture of changes is really what they've been all about. So, okay, well, let's step back then. So let's try to frame what is the scale of what we're talking about. Like when we were talking about surplus? I'm sure waste is much bigger, because you're not, you're not able to get rid of everything. Right, Garry? I mean, people still have to throw away gloves and things like that. But what's the size of what we're talking about?
Garry Cooper 24:33
Yes. So the data is still young on the front. Because if you go to any CFO of a university, again, pick on academia of a university and ask them how much of their assets whether that be equipment or supplies here, do they think they don't use effectively or don't use at all, they won't have any good data around that either. We tried. So what we did, was we conducted serving at Northwestern. And we just simply ask people in the actual lab spaces, how much of your budget, do you think each year goes to wasted, meaning unused assets and resources. And we were able to get the number to be about 2.4%, which is really interesting, because I think, generally speaking, the average lab has a supply budget, but about 100 to $125,000 a year. So if you think about an aggregate, when you have thousands of labs at one university, the amount of money that's being generated to valuable surplus resources, is significant. I know we've talked a little bit about the green win, which we are mission focused on at least at Rheaply and also at Northwestern. But there's also kind of the green wins from a dollars perspective, we think it's around 2.4%. But as we get more universities on boarded and kind of look at the data, will be able to hone that number in a little bit better.
Dave Karlsgodt 25:59
So that's 2.4% of supply budgets. I wouldn't include like that, including equipment budgets, like big refrigerators, and microscopes and stuff like that. Yes,
Garry Cooper 26:08
Yes. Yes. And, and with what we haven't gotten down to, and maybe Julie will have a little bit more data, or at least high level thoughts about this is some of those big pieces of equipment that pool electricity all day long, aren't even being completely occupied. Right. So if I start thinking about the amount of waste from electric electricity bill perspective, the number probably exceeds what we've been able to calculate.
Dave Karlsgodt 26:37
Great. Yeah. Julie, any thing to add there any data, you guys have collected? Deep Dive study?
Julie Cahillane 26:42
Yeah. So in our waste on it, we saw that about 10% of the waste coming out of labs is lab plastics. And most of those are going to be those kind of small lab Where's, I don't have a data point on whether they were still reusable or not. But we did see a lot of things that were still in the packaging, you know, still totally usable, that just got pitched, because, you know, probably because there wasn't an option for it, or there wasn't any awareness of you know, what else you could do with it. So, you know, if you look at the potential to reduce waste from laboratories, from an institutional perspective, by, you know, even 5% Labs, makeup, a lot of waste. And so that's, that can be pretty significant. Garry mentioned the energy use from lab equipment, and that is definitely a significant draw on the overall consumption and an institution. Things like refrigerators that are there freezers, deep freezers that are being not properly used, not fully used, are creating a significant amount of waste. So if you look at the scope, talking about equipment and equipment sharing, and the sharing of a microscope, if if labs were able to share freezers, and or take things offline, that they're not using, or are old and inefficient, it would significantly impact the energy use on an institutional setting.
Dave Karlsgodt 28:04
All right, now, this is this is encouraging. And it sounds like both of you are getting at, in your own ways, ways to get at this problem. I suspect, though, that, you know, saving anything usually means disrupting a current business. Maybe Garry, I'll throw this one at you first. This is a pretty major industry selling stuff to laboratories. I assume that people don't necessarily want people to reuse these things that I've worked for. In a former life. When I was a software developer, I remember setting up a shopping cart for a company that was selling reusable plastics for doing some scientific research. And in the the owner of the company basically said, Yeah, we're just printing gold. I mean, these things are, are you know, they're pieces of plastic, we make as many as we can, and sell as many as we can and hope they have to use a new and every time. Who are you going to make mad? And are they going to even notice that you're a threat? Or what do you think about?
Garry Cooper 28:52
Well, that? Well, firstly, firstly, I on behalf of the whole scientific community forgive you, for your for your sake.
Dave Karlsgodt 29:00
Garry Cooper 29:01
If I can speak on the behalf. So yeah, I mean, if you're selling products, or manufacturing products that happened to be on our platform, you don't like us, but that tension is always a tension between a primary vendor and a secondary marketplace. Right. So you know, people who are selling shoes don't want them to be sold on eBay. We're aware of that. But I think they'll curve around in the future to kind of what we're doing. So I'm, I'm holding out for their for working with some of the big vendors. But one of the other things that we think about and faces there are a lot of different platforms for secondary equipment, in particular, the scientific space. While you're talking about corporate liquidators who are selling equipment from pharmaceutical biotechnology companies, or just kind of just like the eBay version of science, there are several different platforms. And actually, it can be confusing as a scientist trying to purchase like which platforms are legitimate? Which one should I go too, and so forth, and so on, we into our market. That's kind of open from the supplies perspective, in a company that's more mission bound cost savings and waste diversion. But for sure, there are definitely other organizations doing kind of secondary market places for scientific equipment.
Dave Karlsgodt 30:19
Yeah, so what what's stopping labs then from, you know, just going out to these other spaces? What is it different that about what you guys are doing than them just going out to these things? It sounds like part of it is the you're dealing with things beyond just the standard equipment that might end up on one of those marketplaces. But are there other things that differentiate Rheaply from what they're doing?
Garry Cooper 30:38
Yeah, great question. So the one major differentiator is we partner with the university, if your university is not a part of our client portfolio, someone at your university can't just post something on our platform, we try to establish a deep relationship with the institutions or organizations of which we're partnering. we align on their goals, we align on their expectations and parameters. And then we become a first touch point. So the idea would be if I met in a lab, where should I go posters? Or where should I go look for something? Oh, I should go use that thing Rheaply that. I see a lot of flyers around about right. So we're a lot more visible than some kind of random secondary market place for equipment. That's one big thing. The second is you see your colleagues on the platform, you have our profile page, people know what kind of science you're doing. We send around newsletters around sustainability, we send around newsletters when people in your university have published a new paper. So it's a little bit more social, and it's a little bit more closer to you from I know, these people in this platform, as opposed to I'm buying something from someone in China. So those are one or two of the biggest differences. But there are others
Dave Karlsgodt 31:46
Got it and you know, as we've been talking about this, we've used the term asset management. But I think we've also used the term like supply or surplus management. It sounds like this is really more about surplus than it is asset management. Can you speak to that?
Garry Cooper 31:59
Yeah. So there are I think, as I sometimes say that asset management systems are commodities, so you can find one, if you just Google it, you'll have a million entries to kind of find one. But there aren't great systems to manage surplus supplies. So if you think about a box that comes into a company and organization, it might be tagged, and it might be tracked and listed on an asset management system. But when you open the box and take the supplies out and distribute the supplies, now, if I don't use all the supplies, there's nothing tracking that I still have a little bit of the supply left. So what we're trying to do is kind of fill that gap, but not use the asset management tracking way to use the principles of secondary marketplaces to connect people who have these little bits of things that they can share with others before throwing them away, or before they buy it.
Dave Karlsgodt 32:51
And that makes sense. Okay, yeah. So it's, I think we're joking about this in our prep call, but I have a pile of records in my office. And the way I'm ready record in my pile of records is not tracked on my insurance asset list anywhere. Exactly. But, yeah, so but but, but it was part of the, the asset tracking system of the record company back in 1986, or whenever I bought the thing, right. So. Okay, well, what else I know, we've talked a little bit about some of the pushback and some of the challenges, but sounds like there's issues around what you can do with things that you buy in a scientific setting. So if you're a scientist, you buy this equipment, you may not be able to sell it, or or you might have to sell it. So Garry, can you speak to some of those challenges that you run into with this type of thing?
Garry Cooper 33:38
Yeah, so the the federal there are federal and state obligations. And some of those obligations, of course, are different for each state that you go to. But generally speaking, states adopt the federal guidelines, the federal guidelines are both clear and non exhaustive. The hum. So the clear part is that if you have an item that it's worth $5,000, or less than retail value, the government says that the PI or the principal investigator has plenary authority to move it around, how are they best see fit, whether that's to another lab, to another lab in the university, throw it away, or to another lab outside the university. Once the item gets above $5,000, especially to 25,000. Generally speaking, the federal guidelines to make the University have to be in a party to that type of decision. And then once it's over $25,000, the federal government itself has to be party to this to decision. So that's kind of generally speaking, how the kind of rules but really, there aren't a lot of rules, quite frankly, the government wants people to share wants people to collaborate, for obvious reasons. And so the cool thing is we've built roughly around those those federal guidelines and parameters. So even if you unwittingly post something of $10,000, we take care of that, make sure that you don't get into any federal trouble.
Dave Karlsgodt 35:03
Julie, do you have anything to add from? From your perspective?
Julie Cahillane 35:05
Yeah, I think Garry's outline of the federal guidelines demonstrates that, that those are pretty, you know, specific. And even if they're sometimes vague, there's a lot there. And so I think in a lab setting, they're focused on those guidelines. So institutional guidelines, or me trying to jump in and say, Hey, you should post those pipettes. So you're not going to use on, you know, this Rheaply site like that, that's a challenge to get them beyond though these very strict, you know, federal rules. So I think getting the attention of a lab, or anyone on campus, really, with the attention of a lab is, is can be even more challenging. I mentioned before that labs are often just very isolated and focused on their own work. So this kind of platform when we can institutionalize it, make it a you even though the university doesn't have to manage it, or run it, but make it a university program. I think that really helps get across some of those barriers of reaching, engaging, and getting labs to retain the message and the idea that you're sharing in light of all the other, you know, stringent guidelines that they're trying to follow when it comes to surplus or assets.
Dave Karlsgodt 36:16
Yeah, so that sounds good using using this platform to try to get people beyond some of those barriers, and just getting people to pay attention. Sounds great. But Julie, now that you've worked in this space, I know Garry's done a little bit more work with more institutions. But from your perspective, what other advice would you give institutions thinking about putting a program together like this?
Julie Cahillane 36:35
So I think kind of pulling a few things together is a platform such as Rheaply has the potential to do this. We talked before about engaging people in understanding why these efforts are important and how their their individual impact matters, and adds up across the board. So I think, as you look at any kind of surplus management, engaging labs around these, figuring out your message, tailoring in a way that helps users understand and embrace the value of you know, this behavior change that you're engaging them in, is important. Understanding how you're going to engage people and using the platform. I think, I don't think Garry would disagree. That's one of our challenges in this pilot project at Northwestern, how do we make sure people are aware of this and using it and coming to it? And I also think one thing that's important that I don't think we really touched on is the metrics. What are you measuring and tracking? through using something like this, whether it's weekly or you know, your own surplus operation? And are the things that you can track things that support institutional priorities? And are that provide useful information on the success of that effort or efforts that you are looking at university wide? So I'd say those are things to think about as you move forward with anything any project like this?
Dave Karlsgodt 37:57
I mean, you know, we didn't really get into the pilot project. Can you just give us a brief overview of what that is, and and what you've been? I think you've spoken to the some of the learnings you've had out of in the last statement, but just tell us more about the pilot.
Julie Cahillane 38:08
So yeah, I think it Garry can talk a little bit more about the outcomes. But I'm thrilled that the Feinberg School of Medicine stepped up to pilot this effort was so much lab centered work in the School of Medicine, it's a great place to figure out what works, where the obstacles are, and how we're going to overcome them. I think we have a lot of challenges still to figure out and how we're going to really get people to use this in a robust way and and really make it work. Obviously, you know, the more people use it, the better it is, and the greater resource it is. So my hope is that Rheaply's efforts, will want to increase awareness, engagement and engagement around waste and opportunities for reuse and labs, and to demonstrate to the institution that this is feasible and can can be a benefit to the institution as a whole as well as the labs and the users themselves.
Dave Karlsgodt 39:00
Why don't you give us an overview from your perspective?
Garry Cooper 39:03
Yeah, so from our perspective, we have internal KPIs that we try to track and kind of make sure that a university is getting a lot of value out of both our technology, and the program that we're trying to virtually install, as well as they just like working with us at the you can't under cut kind of the customer success or service of that. beyond that. We like to see real numbers, right? So we like to think of things in three buckets. are we helping a university divert ways? How much? are we helping a university save money? How much? And are we helping to draw a university closer together or so called collaborate? So we kind of have metrics that we track. But we, as Julie was kind of pointing out, we want to align our platform and our in this case, our pilot success, with what priorities the university itself wants to see that ranges from the different universes that we've partnered with that ranges from within they want to see. But internally, we try to look at those, those three metrics as kind of what we think are value valuable.
Dave Karlsgodt 40:06
Okay, great. I've got a couple more questions for you this one. Give this one to Garry, you've been on this journey of trying to build a platform and as an entrepreneur, I know how challenging that can be, in it getting people to pay attention to something that you've put your heart and soul into figuring out along the way. Yeah, where have you had aha moments? Or maybe the inverse? Do you know moments? Yeah. So
Garry Cooper 40:31
I will, I'll start with the last one, first of the question. So where we have the moments. So what I will say is, is not easy. Understanding how to move resources around University, it's even harder to figure out how to move resources between universities, we had to spend a lot of legal money, a lot of time and patience, because a lot of this stuff is just not written down anywhere, and trying to figure out structure that protect us as a business, but also protect our clients as institutions. So that's, you know, some a bit of work that I didn't imagine going into this venture that we had to put together. And we're still quite frankly, learning. The aha moment is every every scientist I've spoken with, and it's been two and a half years that we have the business, I spoke to scientists in London and Canada, and Mexico and every corner United States, I think I've been to over 70 different universities and spoken about Rheaply, one of the things I think 100% of the time I hear is, what did I think of this, right? And just in some, like base level of, there's something here we should keep working and keep striving is the fact that resoundingly people who have been in the lab, understand exactly what we're doing, and they get it and they want it to be wanted to work. So that's what keeps us going, even though there are sometimes legal or regulatory challenges that we have to understand or help the government right itself, which we actually are, we are motivated and inspired by the the kind of collective voice that we've heard from the scientific community that something like this should exist. And we're glad that someone's trying to take it on.
Dave Karlsgodt 42:14
Okay, Julie, question for you along the same lines would be and maybe I'll ask this one to Garry as well would be, let's say that these efforts are wildly successful. Can you paint a picture for us of what this looks like, say five years from now? 10 years from now? How do labs operate differently than than they do today?
Julie Cahillane 42:31
Oh, wow. So I would love to see that, in the future labs are just a little bit more in touch with the inventory, they have the waste they're generating. And instead of, Oh, we need to make space, we have a new researcher coming in, let's just wipe that entire stock, a stuff that's stored over there on the lab bench into the trash bin, and move on to have them engage and be aware of what they have on a regular basis. And using a system some system for surplus on an ongoing as opposed to a you know, oh, no, we have to make space, we have to get rid of this stuff right now. Just doing it on a more timely fashion and being aware on a daily basis. That's what I would hope to see in the future. Lab users, lab managers, PIs, you know, instead of having a closet full of old junk that nobody knows what's in there, they're more up to date and up to speed on what they have, what they need, whether something they've outgrown something, or you know, moved beyond a particular supply item. And be more aware of the idea of sharing resources. I think scientists are, you know, talk about collaboration when it comes to research itself. But to have them talk about collaboration, and when it comes to the tools to support research would be a huge when and an improvement in an awareness and understanding of their role in the bigger institutional setting.
Dave Karlsgodt 44:06
Yes, they can look at this bottle of alcohol and say, does this bring me joy? And then decide what to do with it? Yeah, no. No, that's a great answer. Sorry.
Julie Cahillane 44:18
It would, it would bring me joy if they did if they did what I described.
Dave Karlsgodt 44:23
Will this bring Julie joy.
Julie Cahillane 44:25
I wouldn't have to throw them out.
Dave Karlsgodt 44:28
That's great. Garry, what about you? What where do you see this going? And you no longer you're wildly successful? I mean, other than you sell the company and could move to Tahiti or something, I suppose it's probably in that mix, too. But what, what else?
Garry Cooper 44:41
No, no, no selling of the company. I'll be in Chicago. Even if it's wildly successful. No. So our vision is pretty clear. We want to enable, not just in academic labs, but also in K through 12. settings. Also in corporate America, we want people who want to be sustainable, who wants to help their organization, purchase smarter, be able to do so. Right. So we want to empower In fact, our mission statement is empowering professionals to save money and save the environment. We hope that our tool is a place that people can come and say, do we already have this and get an answer? Or does someone need it and get an answer? That's what that's how I would measure our success five years from now. And we are dogged about trying to get there.
Dave Karlsgodt 45:30
Fair enough. All right. Well, as we're wrapping up, it's it's been fun hearing about all the innovation you guys have been working through, and I'm doing this podcast, it's been really fun for me just to, you know, stick my head and all these crazy corners of sustainability. And this is not one I really had ever really thought about. So it's been fun for me to learn about it. Julie, it's been fun to see how your university is taking this on as a test and experimenting with it in working with a startup company. That's That's great. And Garry, it's it's really fun to hear of somebody going after an entrepreneurial venture like this. I like hearing people trying to make a living at saving the world, which I certainly am in that camp as well. But, um, any final thoughts you either of you would like to leave us with today? Maybe? Julie, I'll start with you, as we wrap this up.
Julie Cahillane 46:17
I think my one thought and this is kind of a win that I've seen in in working with Garry is that any idea or new, new program, new project, if you can start the conversation around how that that thing that project, that program fits within the bigger institutional goals, you know, particularly your sustainability goals. And if you can find partners who are willing to talk through how that fits, I think you've heard Garry say a few times, you know, wanting to meet goals within the institution. And my first conversation with him, it was it was a lot of fun talking about, here's the metrics that I look at from a sustainability standpoint and a waste standpoint, here's the metrics they look at from their standpoint, and how do we merge those two? And how do we integrate so that that we really can see how this effort supports the institution? I think that's that's what's exciting to me about a new a new program like this is working together with an outside vendor and coming up with ways that it's it's good for all of us, and it fits seamlessly into the into the institutional goals.
Dave Karlsgodt 47:26
Great. Now, I'll take that to heart as well. That's That's great advice. Garry, what what do you have for us his final thoughts here?
Garry Cooper 47:31
A final thoughts. I think that if you have a an idea, that's big and bold, and not really being addressed, you should do it, but you can't do it alone. You have to establish a team that is way smarter than you and everything. But then you also have to find the right partners in the market, whether they in this case, be an institution, the right administrators who care who want things to be different. And so what we've been lucky to run into with Northwestern and all of our university partners is, are people who want the world to be a little bit different, at least the world that they operate in. And they are willing to figure it out with us. And so that's been a really, really powerful to work with. And I imagine over the next year, we're making a lot of success happen with the places that we're working for and we're operating in.
Dave Karlsgodt 48:24
Well great. I really appreciate the both of your time today. I know it's a very, very chilly day in Chicago. Hopefully you're warm and cozy in your house. And thanks for sharing all these thoughts with us today and coming on the show.
Garry Cooper 48:35
Julie Cahillane 48:36
Thanks for having us.
Dave Karlsgodt 48:38
That's it for this episode. To learn more. You can always see the show notes at our website at campusenergypodcast.com. You can follow us on Twitter, we are @energypodcast. This show is a free service, but if you'd like to support the show, please consider leaving a rating a review on iTunes or just telling a friend about the show. As always, thanks for listening.