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Buying Into Sustainability: Higher Ed's Green Purchasing Power

By Sharon Chen
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How can higher ed use its purchasing power to effect sustainability? Portland State University (PSU) is showing us how universities and colleges can buy into sustainability. With significant buying power, college campuses can wield considerable influence when it comes to supporting green business.

Darin Matthews, PSU’s director of contracting and procurement, believes that sustainability policies will be an even bigger part of procurement practices in the future, and that sustainable product offerings will only increase. Matthews is taking sustainability a step further: he believes that if social equity is a part of the sustainability equation, the use of local minority and women-owned suppliers needs to increase.

Using purchasing power as a way to increase sustainability, and encourage companies to focus more on sustainability, is an important way that higher ed can lead on climate change solutions. For more information on how higher ed can drive climate change progress, please join us on the Path to Positive.


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Portland, Ore-based Portland State University (PSU) is active on a variety of sustainability fronts. PSU was the first university to join Oregon's Healthy Purchasing Coalition, which is focused on making purchases that avoid inclusion of toxins and other environmentally damaging ingredients. The school is also a member of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council.

Darin Matthews, PSU’s director of contracting and procurement (photo below on right) says he believes that sustainability policies will be an even bigger part of procurement strategies and practices in the future, including cooperative contracts. “If we consider social equity as a part of sustainability, then the use of local minority and women-owned suppliers needs to increase,” Matthews says. He adds that large corporations hold most of the current national cooperative contracts. Those corporations, Matthews explains, “need to do a better job of partnering with small business.”

The PSU purchasing director believes that there’s plenty of room for improvement in the availability of sustainable products through cooperative purchasing. He notes that most current programs address sustainable products, including office supplies, computer hardware and cleaning products. “However, as sustainable products evolve, the contracts need to reflect that, and even increase their prominence. Procurement professionals shouldn't have to ‘dig’ to find sustainable product offerings,” Matthews tells GPN.

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