Sustainability in Procurement for Higher Education: Key Strategies for a More Sustainable Campus

When thinking about your institution’s environmental impact, sustainable procurement strategies focus on more than just the cost of goods or services. Purchasing decisions also have the power to affect environmental and social implications. For any institution that wants to be part of building a greener tomorrow for future generations, procurement teams must adopt a sustainable procurement strategy to meet evolving sustainability goals at colleges and universities.

Not only can applying these strategies make a local impact, but higher education has significant purchasing power. Emphasizing sustainable procurement can influence students and staff to lead more environmentally friendly lifestyles. It can also create substantial market demand for sustainable products, encouraging suppliers to fill this demand.

Grading Higher Education Procurement on Sustainability

While many academic institutions have made significant inroads in their sustainable procurement practices, most still have a long way to go. With budget constraints and higher prices, it is easy to see why the focus remains on affordability. The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for 2023 show that only seven universities in the U.S. made the top 100 list, and no U.S. higher education institution ranked at the top of any category. We’ve got work to do.

To be fair, procurement teams are trying to meet a wide range of goals, from cost savings to supplier diversity goals and more. Often, teams are trying to do more with less—lower budgets, fewer team members, and greater workloads. Navigating these complex interests and goals with an overriding focus on cost reduction is difficult.

Developing a Sustainable Procurement Strategy

Several key steps can help develop a sustainable procurement strategy for your college or university.

1. Establishing Clear Sustainability Goals

Institutions should have clear goals and policies that align with their broader environmental and social responsibility objectives. These goals should include measurable targets for reducing environmental impact and promoting ethical sourcing practices.

2. Integrating Sustainability Criteria into Procurement Processes

Sustainability criteria should be formally integrated into procurement processes, from supplier selection and contract negotiations to product specifications and performance evaluations. By embedding sustainability considerations into procurement workflows, institutions can systematically prioritize sustainable alternatives.

3. Collaborating With Stakeholders

To meet objectives, you will need buy-in and commitment from everyone involved in purchasing. This means eliminating maverick spending and making sure department heads are using the same criteria for their purchase decisions.

4. Evaluation and Selection Based on Sustainability Criteria

Institutions should prioritize goods and services that meet sustainability criteria. For example, when evaluating outdoor furniture, you might prioritize items constructed with recycled materials.

Supplier evaluation should also consider environmental efforts, sustainable sourcing, and transparency in supply chain management.

5. Choosing the Right Products

Sustainable procurement can reduce your environmental impact and produce cost savings.

Cost Savings

  • Lower energy bills by buying LED bulbs and energy-efficient HVAC systems
  • Reductions in water bills from water-saving fixtures and smart irrigation systems
  • Reduced waste costs from recycling and composting
  • Money saved on maintenance and replacement by selecting more durable products with longer lifespans

Environmental Impact

  • Increases in diversion rates from purchasing more recycling bins
  • Emission reductions from transitioning fleet vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs)
  • Improvements in air quality by choosing low-VOC paints and formaldehyde-free furniture
  • Avoiding products with harsh or toxic chemicals
  • Reducing environmental impact by choosing products with recycled materials

6. Utilizing Technology and Data Analytics

Leveraging technology and data analytics can enhance sustainable procurement strategies in higher education. Procurement professionals can track environmental metrics to demonstrate tangible results that justify such purchases.

Deploying Your Sustainable Procurement Strategies

While these sustainable procurement strategies sound like good ideas, they can often be difficult to put into practice given the volume of work and the time procurement teams have to make it happen. That is where E&I Cooperative Services can help.

E&I Cooperative Services is the only member-owned, non-profit sourcing cooperative exclusively focused on serving the education community. We have pre-negotiated cooperative contracts that leverage the bulk buying power of 6,000 member institutions. This regularly produces substantial savings versus sourcing and negotiating deals yourself. You can choose to opt into these competitively solicited contracts and save time finding sustainable products and services. E&I has a team of dedicated specialists on staff assigned to oversee each category. These experts know the suppliers and their catalog offerings and can help you source products and services that are green, sustainable, and in line with your goals.

You can choose from from our carefully-vetted contract providers who offer a broad assortment of products and services that are rooted in sustainability principles for a greener world. That way, you can be a key part of your campus being a champion of sustainability and renewability for generations far into the future. Many suppliers also offer rebates or incentives, especially for cooperative members.

You can become a member of E&I Cooperative Services at no cost, and there’s no obligation or minimum spending threshold required.

Contact E&I Cooperative Services today to view available contracts to improve your sustainable procurement strategies rooted in a greener tomorrow.


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