Higher Education Procurement and Sustainability: Harnessing Requirements to Drive Positive Environmental Change

Higher education institutions have a significant responsibility when it comes to fostering sustainability. It’s essential to educate students about the importance of environmental stewardship and to set an example by incorporating eco-friendly practices into your procurement and sustainability strategies.

For procurement teams, this has created another layer of complexity to meeting procurement targets in an era where cost-efficiency is more important than ever.

Embracing Sustainable Practices

To ensure you prioritize procurement and sustainability in your sourcing and purchasing, you must develop policies with clear goals and objectives. Colleges and universities today often have a complex mix of goals, including cost factors, diversity initiatives, and sustainable procurement requirements. So, when evaluating suppliers and sources, it is critical that you have clear guidance on how to weigh these various criteria.

Once policies are established, academic institutions should identify priority areas for sustainable procurement. Depending on where your institution is in its purchasing cycles, this might include commodity items such as:

  • Eliminating single-use products
  • Opting for recycled paper products
  • Choosing non-toxic cleaning chemicals
  • Requiring sustainable packaging and shipping materials
  • Buying LED bulbs for campus buildings


Sustainable procurement requirements should also apply to long-term planning and big-ticket purchases, such as:

  • Building construction and renovation
  • Fleet vehicles and public transportation
  • HVAC systems
  • IT infrastructure and data centers
  • Waste management and recycling systems


To be effective, your sustainable procurement requirements must be applied universally across every category of procurement. However, there are some challenges you need to address.

Overcoming Challenges in the Adoption of Sustainable Procurement Requirements

Several key obstacles must be addressed to implement effective procurement and sustainability strategies.

Cost Perceptions

One of the most significant hurdles is often the cost factor. There is a perception that sustainable alternatives have higher upfront costs. In some cases, this is accurate. For example, electric vehicles typically require a much higher initial expense. While prices have fallen dramatically over the past year, this can still be a challenge.

Procurement teams can overcome these perceptions by focusing on the total cost of ownership (TCO) and the environmental impact. EVs have a lower TCO when you factor in reduced energy costs and maintenance. Telematics can help calculate changes to fleet emissions as well.

Demonstrating the cost-saving potential can justify sustainable practices, even for those who do not embrace climate change concerns.

Educating Stakeholders

Not all purchasing decisions are made by the procurement team. While consolidating efforts can help curb maverick spending, it is imperative that everyone involved in purchasing understands the importance of considering sustainable procurement requirements.

This requires discussion and education of stakeholders, such as department heads and anyone else involved in purchase decisions, to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Working With Suppliers

Collaborating with suppliers can help identify products and services that meet your sustainable procurement requirements. You should also explore cooperatives like E&I Cooperative Services, which has a wide variety of goods and services available through an extensive portfolio of competitively solicited contracts. By aggregating purchase power across more than 6,000 academic institutions, E&I can provide you with the sustainable products you need, typically at lower costs than those you can negotiate on your own.

Launching Pilot Programs

Many institutions phase in sustainability during budget cutovers or replacement cycles. Pilot programs can focus on areas that provide the most significant environmental budgets and cost-saving opportunities for readily available products. As the benefits are realized, it makes it easier to scale programs across campus and get broader adoption.

Monitoring and Reporting

Evaluating and reporting on progress toward meeting procurement and sustainability goals reinforces the impact of such programs and creates accountability. It also helps establish a culture of continuous improvement. For example:

  • Establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics aligned with sustainability goals, such as emissions reductions, waste diversion, and cost savings
  • Conducting regular assessments and reporting on procurement practices and outcomes to stakeholders
  • Gathering feedback from stakeholders and suppliers to identify areas for improvement
  • Adapting and refining procurement strategies based on lessons learned and emerging best practices

Driving Positive Environmental Change

Higher education has the power to drive fundamental changes in the ways institutions choose to care for the environment for future generations. Educating students and staff on the importance of eco-friendly practices helps create healthier lifestyle habits. Procuring sustainable products can help shape future supply chains.

By integrating sustainable procurement requirements into your sourcing and purchasing, you can demonstrate a true commitment to building a more sustainable future for students and staff.

View available contracts that support environmental and sustainability initiatives for higher education institutions from E&I Cooperative Services. We offer a broad selection of sustainable and recycled products to meet your sustainability goals.


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