The expression "purchasing power" is a common one,
but rarely is it used to mean anything more significant than getting
a good price for a large group of consumers. Universities in particular
often fail to realize the innovative ways they could use their
power for the good of the environment.
Collectively, colleges and universities in the United States
alone spend more than $146 billion for goods and services annually,
giving them a powerful tool to affect the policies of their vendors.
A university's purchasing department has the leverage to reduce
waster, reward durability, minimize environmental hazards and
toxins, and increase the use and market for recycled materials.
Rutgers University uses this power to accomplish all of this and
Mandate offers incentives
Rutgers, a public university in New Jersey, began its Environmental
Procurement Program in 1988. At that time, the state of New Jersey,
in an effort to capitalize on the value embodied in its wasted
resources, instituted s statewide mandatory recycling program
- the New Jersey Source Separation and Recycling Act. State institutions
such as Rutgers were required to divert at least 60 percent of
their waster stream by 1995. The state provided a list of items
that could no longer go into landfills but offered no specific
policies for what to recycle or more importantly, how to create
a market for the recycled goods in order to "close the loop."
In May 1992, the Rutgers University senate unanimously passed
the Recycling and Source Reduction Policy and the Recycled Products
Procurement and Use policy. These two policies charged the university
- Review and recommend practical recycling, source reduction,
and recycled products use measures;
- Recommend goals and objectives for recycling and source reduction;
- Encourage cooperative interaction between diverse members
of the university community to instill a "reduce, reuse,
and recycle" ethic;
- Recommend educational programs.
The university's operational policies were developed by Eric
Zwerling, a graduate student who had lobbied the university senate
to pass the bill. Kevin Lyons, hired as a purchasing agent by
the University Procurement and Contracting division, developed
supporting purchasing policies. Rutgers President Francis Lawrence
sent a letter to members of the university community informing
them of the new policies and asking for both their assistance
and their compliance.
Environmentally sensitive contracts
Because University Procurement is required to negotiate and award
all university contracts, that department became the center for
screening the environmental impact of incoming commodities and
the possibilities for outgoing waste. Lyons sought to engage vendors
in the public awareness campaigns that are necessary to educate
the campus community to make changes and to negotiate environmentally
"To me, an environmentally sensitive contract should place
an obligation, through the competitive bidding process, for environmental
preservation and sustainability with the contractor," he
Rutgers, with 47,000 students and 17,500 faculty, generates an
enormous amount of waste on a daily basis, and the new procurement
policies began with research into restructuring the waste and
recycling contract. This contract created a partnership with the
service provider, requiring the company to assist in the development
of Rutgers' Environmental Public awareness Program by placing
educational advertising in campus newspapers, suggesting programs
for increasing campus participation, and providing case studies
of successes at other schools. In addition, the contractor was
required to assist Rutgers in waste reduction strategies and to
help identify items that could be removed from the waste stream.
This unique relationship is now a model used with other university
The student connection
From the beginning of the program, students have worked with
Lyons to develop environmentally sensitive operations on campus
and to assist with both outreach and research. One student project
developed a procurement survey for department directors. Other
student projects include sustainable waste management programs
and various waste and procurement auditing programs. The projects
serve as practical course assignments that provide critical data
for the University Procurement Department.
Lyons is also active in educating the campus community. Environmental
procurement practices have affected dining, custodial, and construction
services. Several years ago, Rutgers Dining Services switched
to 100 percent recycled, unbleached napkins. Anticipating a possible
negative reaction from students, dining services staff placed
table tents out announcing the change and brought the manufacturer
in for a presentation.
"We didn't just switch without telling anyone," remembers
Jim Vernere, Dining Services supervisor. "We promoted it
and they [students and staff] were quite receptive."
Not only were students receptive, after the change Dining Services
received a wave of good press coverage instead of the usual negative
food comments. Dining Services has since tried to switch all paper
products to unbleached, 100 percent recycled paper. Like all departments
making environmentally sensitive purchases, Dining Services has
had to shop around to find competitive prices. It is also exploring
methods to minimize packaging. "We work with the manufacturer
and let them know our concerns," says Vernere, "Maybe
we can't really impact General Mills, but it is important that
they understand our thinking."
University construction offers another opportunity to use recycled
materials. Environmental language is employed in university road
and parking lot paving contracts. Paving contractors are required
to recycle and use their excavated materials. Additionally, the
university has tried recycled decks, ceiling tiles, wall boards,
insulations, roofing products, snow fences, and parking bumpers.
Like all university vendors, construction contractors are responsible
for identifying and reporting waste reduction strategies as well
as reporting the amount of materials they have recycled at Rutgers.
Closing the loop
The Center for Plastic Recycling Research at Rutgers manufactures
a variety of plastic items that help close the loop. They are
currently developing technology for a project that will require
a New Jersey-based company to receive Rutgers' plastic waste to
generate new, high quality recycled content (commingled) plastic
products, which Rutgers and several other New Jersey colleges
A similar closed-loop initiative is being designed for the university's
paper procurement. Rutgers generates approximately 500 tons of
white photocopying paper water a year. The Procurement Department
is negotiating with the waster contractor to sell the university's
white paper waste on the open market and share the revenues with
Rutgers. These revenues will go toward the purchase of recycled-content
paper for the university.
Even decisions about which recycled paper to purchase required
extensive research. In order to determine the paper with the highest
campus acceptance and lowest environmental impact, surveys were
sent throughout the campus and site visits were made to various
mills. University departments were provided with cases of virgin
and recycled paper to test. Only the departmental liaison knew
which paper was in the machine. Rutgers hopes eventually to close
the paper loop further by selling its paper waste directly to
the paper mill that supplies its recycled paper, thus reducing
Savings ensure momentum
Environmental initiatives have reduced costs across the Rutgers
campus. Replacement of inefficient lighting in 30 major buildings
saves an estimated $869,000 annually. Recycling solid waste instead
of disposing of it kept 16,187 tons of trash out of landfills
in 1993 and save Rutgers $1,861,500. By purchasing natural gas
at the wholesale price at the wellhead, and then having it piped
in instead of buying at a retail price which includes delivery,
the university saved $692,000 in 1994.
Since the institution of the Source Separation and Recycling
Act in 1988, New Jersey has elected a new governor. Although none
of the executive orders that set the environmental initiative
in motion have been rescinded, those programs could suffer cutbacks
in funding and reductions in government staff. Yet, because Rutgers'
programs save money they are becoming institutional practice.
One way schools can maximize their purchasing power is through
cooperative purchasing agreements. Usually, but not necessarily,
"hosted" by a large institution or state government,
these agreements allow purchasers to band together on a single
contract in order to get better prices by taking advantage of
volume discounts. This is important, Lyons says, because it surmounts
a major obstacle to buying environmentally sensitive products:
People often say, 'We really want to do it but it just costs
too much.' Cooperative purchasing agreements take care of a lot
of that, and universities can then move on to the next step of
comprehensive, environmentally sound purchasing throughout the
The agreements also enable enhanced quality control of environmental
products because they allow them to be tested at a wide variety
of institutions, each of which has different needs and standards.
To set up a cooperative purchasing agreement, Lyons recommends
that schools first survey other institutions to see if they would
be interested in a particular product, such as recycled-content
paper. Letters of inquiry should be sent to purchasing departments
asking whether the institution would want to be part of a group
contract and how much of the product it would buy.
The host school then determines total volume of product demand
and writes a contract accordingly. The contracts are simply modifications
of a regular purchasing contract (American universities can receive
sample contracts from the Treasury Department of the states in
which they are located).
Next, the purchasing cooperative host institution gathers bids
from vendors, makes a selection, and publishes the final price
to all the schools that indicated they would join the cooperative
purchasing agreement. After the agreement is signed, the host
institution is responsible for maintaining the contract and making
sure vendors live up to specifications. Lyons says setting up
a cooperative purchasing agreement takes a lot of work initially,
but once a network of purchasers is created, it is easy to maintain
and can benefit the host institution as well.
"As a large university [Rutgers], we're going to get favorable
pricing anyway, but there might be a slight price differential
when bringing in new customers. Vendors are looking at the big
marketing picture," he says. "Creating partnerships
by soliciting other universities and bringing them all under one
umbrella is worth it. The benefits include not only pricing and
quality control, but also collection of data on what's really
needed and marketable."
Making the links
As a ULSF member institution and signatory to the Talloires Declaration,
Rutgers strives to link its campus operations to research, curricula,
and partnership activities. It has accomplished this in a number
of ways, including research like that conducted at the Center
for Plastic Recycling Research.
The school's curriculum includes a required course on "Citizenship
and the Environment," in which students combine regular classroom
work with weekly volunteer assignments at local schools, environmental
groups, and other community organizations. These real-world educational
settings engage students in experiential learning; introduce them
to the interplay between ecology, economy, and community; and
offer perspective on the often-conflicting goals of environmental
protection and socio-economic development.
Through such efforts, Rutgers fulfills the mission of the Talloires
Declaration and utilizes the shadow curriculum to foster environmental
literacy and responsibility in its students.
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