What Is Sustainability in Procurement? Understanding the Basics with Real-World Examples for Higher Education

What Is Sustainable Procurement?

Sustainable procurement places a priority on buying eco-friendly products that reduce environmental impacts. By selecting products, services, and suppliers that align with your institution’s sustainability goals, procurement teams can promote social responsibility and save money at the same time.

While answering the question, “What is sustainable procurement?”, you might uncover different strategies and sustainable procurement examples across institutions. However, the underlying goals are generally the same: reduce your carbon footprint and promote more eco-friendly purchasing.

Real-World Sustainable Procurement Examples in Higher Education

There is no shortage of products and services you can procure to help you meet your sustainability goals. In this article, we focus on five areas that can have a significant impact:

  1. Building materials
  2. Cleaning products
  3. Energy solutions
  4. Office supplies
  5. Transportation

Sustainable Building Materials

Building materials for new construction, remodeling, and replacement are a significant focus for many colleges and universities as campus buildings represent a large portion of resource consumption and carbon emissions.

Options include:

  • Recycled wood flooring: Instead of opting for traditional hardwood flooring, institutions are turning to recycled wood products, which are often made from reclaimed lumber or wood waste.
  • Non-toxic paints and finishes: Conventional paints and finishes might contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to indoor air pollution.
  • Energy-efficient windows and insulation: Upgrading to energy-efficient windows and high-quality insulation can significantly reduce a building’s energy consumption and carbon footprint.
  • Sustainable concrete and masonry: Recycled materials, such as fly ash or slag, can be used to make concrete and masonry products, reducing the need for virgin materials and lowering the embodied carbon emissions.

Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products

Maintaining a clean and healthy environment on campus is crucial, but many traditional cleaning products pose risks to human health and the environment, according to the American Lung Association. Sustainable procurement practices prioritize the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products. Sustainable procurement examples include:

  • Green-certified cleaning supplies: Cleaning products that have been certified by reputable third-party organizations, such as Green Seal or ECOLOGO, ensure they meet strict environmental and health standards.
  • Non-toxic disinfectants: Sustainable alternatives, such as hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectants or products derived from plant-based ingredients, offer effective disinfection without harmful environmental and health impacts.
  • Biodegradable floor cleaners: Sustainable procurement practices encourage the use of biodegradable floor cleaners that break down naturally.
  • Concentrate-based cleaning products: Concentrated cleaning products require less packaging and transportation, reducing their environmental footprint.

Renewable Energy Solutions

By investing in clean energy solutions, colleges and universities can significantly reduce their carbon footprint. Strategies include procurement of:

  • Solar panels: Many institutions are installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on campus buildings, parking lots, or open spaces to generate clean, renewable electricity.
  • More efficient heating and cooling systems: Geothermal systems work with the constant temperature of the earth to provide efficient heating and cooling for campus buildings. Energy-efficient HVAC systems also reduce energy consumption.
  • Biomass energy systems: Some institutions are leveraging biomass resources to generate heat and electricity through combustion or gasification processes.
  • Energy storage solutions: To maximize the benefits of renewable energy sources, institutions are exploring batteries or thermal storage systems as energy storage solutions.

Office Supplies

Office supplies may seem like a small part of your procurement practices, but their impact can add up quickly. Colleges and universities can improve sustainability through a variety of strategies, such as purchasing:

  • Recycled paper products: By opting for paper products made from recycled content, institutions can divert waste from landfills, conserve natural resources, and reduce energy consumption.
  • Eco-friendly furniture: Sustainable furniture options often incorporate bamboo, reclaimed wood, or other recycled or renewable materials.
  • Remanufactured toner cartridges: Printer toner cartridges are a significant source of waste in office environments.
  • Recycled plastic desk accessories: From pencil cups to organizers, many desk accessories can be made from recycled plastic, diverting waste from landfills and reducing the demand for virgin plastic production.

Transportation Solutions

Transportation causes a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, making it a critical area for sustainable procurement practices in higher education. There are several key steps academic institutions can take in procurement to advance sustainability goals, including:

  • Electric fleet vehicles: Transitioning campus fleet vehicles, including shuttles, maintenance vehicles, and service trucks, to hybrid or fully electric models.
  • Electric vehicle charging stations: EV charging stations encourage the adoption of EVs among students, faculty, and staff but also demonstrate the institution’s commitment to sustainable transportation.
  • Bike-sharing programs: Bike-sharing programs provide a convenient and eco-friendly mode of transportation for short trips around campus. Some schools have launched low-cost bike rentals for students.


E&I Cooperative Services has a wide range of competitively solicited contracts for sustainable products and services. Leveraging the combined purchasing power of more than 6,000 member institutions, E&I can connect you with leading suppliers at significant discounts.

Contact E&I Cooperative Services today or view available contracts curated specifically to help higher education institutions reach sustainability and environmental stewardship goals.


We use cookies to make your experience better!

Skip to content