Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sustainable Procurement at DePaul University

Many organizations, including America’s most influential universities, recognize that it is their responsibility to implement initiatives which reduce their carbon footprint. What they may not recognize, however, is that they can significantly influence the carbon footprint of their vendors through sustainable procurement practices. Campuses are careful to have recycling programs, install water control systems and use low-watt compact fluorescent light bulbs for lighting in dormitories, classrooms and offices whenever possible. One practice, however, requires no retrofitting of buildings or significant upfront cost. It simply requires consciously vetting, selecting and monitoring the sustainable practices of vendors when procuring products that universities must purchase anyway. Learn more about DePaul's procurement initiatives here.

DePaul received a paltry D+ grade on the 2009 College Sustainability Report Card, which independently evaluates campus and endowment sustainability activities. Although far below acceptability, DePaul’s D+ rating was an improvement over the previous year and the University continues to make advancements in its practices. One such improvement is in the University’s green purchasing procurement policy. According to The Sustainable Endowments Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts, “green purchasing” has become a priority at many schools across the U.S. with 61 percent of schools implementing some form of a green purchasing policy. Of the schools with sustainable procurement policy programs, about half limit their green purchasing to a single initiative (e.g., buying Energy Star appliances). Far fewer have adopted more robust policies involving multiple types of purchasing areas and vendor practices. DePaul, however, takes sustainable procurement quite seriously.

In order to be good stewards of the environment, DePaul must have a holistic view of the procurement process. For DePaul, the process begins with the Request for Proposal (RFP). The university makes it quite clear when distributing RFPs that it prefers vendors that are diverse, sustainable and socially responsible. Vendors are held accountable for their practices and must evaluate their competitiveness as many other universities also adopt this practice. In addition to social responsibility inquiries, potential vendors must explain practices such as:

1. Describe any programs your organization has implemented to provide goods/services in an environmentally sustainable way. Describe both in terms of the actual products sold to the University as well as practices in place at corporate and other locations.

2. Describe any re-use and recycling programs that your organization offers.

3. Describe your packaging and shipping options and how those impact sustainability efforts.

4. List any key environmental organizations you belong or any certifications your organization carries (e.g. EPEAT, LEED, Cradle to Cradle, Green Seal, Energy Star, etc.). Include the date of the last certification and its expiration.

5. Please provide links to websites that highlight your company’s commitment to sustainability (corporate statement on sustainability, press releases on specific initiatives, etc).

DePaul’s procurement department requires that all potential vendors reflect on their company’s sustainable policies and markets several vendors, including Staples and CDW-G, who have eco-friendly and sustainable products available. According to Cheryl Procter-Rogers’, Vice President, Public Relations and Communications, response to the 2010 Sierra Club “Cool School” questionnaire, the university purchases only paper with at least 30% post consumer recycled content and is endorsed by The Rainforest Alliance, the Sustainable Forest Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council. Review DePaul’s core RFP requirements here.

While it is impossible to monitor the daily sustainable practices of 100 percent of its vendors, DePaul is committed to improving its sustainable procurement practices. Requiring vendors to be introspective in the RFP process is a significant step toward emphasizing the importance of how the university values sustainable practices.

posted by: Sondra Elder
photo courtesy of Procura+

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