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Switch Your Thinking

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is going green and going lean by going online to send VolXpress billing statements to its students instead of sending them by mail each semester.

By e-mailing billing statements to students, the campus will reduce printing costs along with the very large expense of return postage and remailing of statements that could not be delivered. All told, the campus stands to save more than $85,000 each year.

It’s one of the latest projects undertaken by Rupy Sawhney, a UT Knoxville associate professor of industrial engineering. Sawhney and his staff and students work with corporations and governments around the state and the nation helping them become more efficient and effective in their operations.

Sawhney’s group has been hired by the chancellor’s office with the support of the College of Engineering and the industrial engineering department to find ways to make the campus operate more effectively and efficiently in light of recent budget cuts.

“We are looking closely at the way the campus conducts its work,” said Sawhney. “The goal is always to find ways to do things more efficiently in a way that improves service to the university’s stakeholders.”

By moving to electronic billing statements, UT Knoxville joins colleges and universities, businesses and banks nationwide in shifting toward a paperless approach to billing. Since all UT students have a university-provided e-mail address, delivery is accessible, easy, efficient and secure. The new system should be in place by the fall semester.

Jonee Daniels, UT Knoxville associate vice chancellor for finance and administration, says the fact that the changes were created by students in Sawhney’s group is a point of pride.

“It adds to this that the whole system is designed by our own students,” said Daniels, who oversees the bursar’s office. “This change means better service for our students and their families; at the same time, we can make a real financial impact in tough budget times.”

Beyond just the cost savings associated with the change, the shift to electronic billing also will have an environmental impact. Not printing the more than 80,000 statements will save more than 30 trees each year, and will reduce the campus’ overall carbon footprint.

It’s part of what Sawhney calls “efficiency with a soul.”

“When we make these changes, we do so with the idea of making things better in as many ways as possible,” he said. “Whether that is considering the environmental impacts of efficiency, or using the opportunity to make the campus a better place to work, we consider all constituents in the process.”