A Roadmap to Sustainability Purchasing
- By Daniel Pedersen
- January 1st, 2017
ILLUSTRATION © NATINKA
The beginning of the calendar year is a good time to do
some housecleaning and add some green purchasing
policies, which are an easy and powerful way to create benefits
for your school. The principles of green purchasing can easily
increase your school’s sustainability when they are incorporated
into school purchasing specs and policies.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainable Higher
Education (AASHE) sets criteria for green campuses under the
AASHE STARS program, which can be applied to K-12 schools.
You can use their requirements as a roadmap to sustainability;
the list of Operations (OP) credits will give you a good framework
for green purchasing. You can make a big difference when you
choose products like electronics, cleaning products (such as
cleaners, paper towels, and bathroom tissue), and office paper.
An emphasis on local items and services reduces transport
needs and strengthens the local community, while environmentally-responsible food and beverages and low impact meals can
reduce the footprint of food services. Less frequent purchases —
paints, insulation, windows, doors, furniture, and carpets — are
important for the sustainability of building operations and maintenance
or design and construction.
With a little more thought, your school can use a life-cycle cost
analysis to estimate the lifetime cost of ownership for items —
especially those that use energy or water. The total amount of
money you end up paying for energy, water or waste removal is
something that you are probably tracking already. Even though these
dollar figures are only an indirect measure of environmental impact,
they will give you a good idea of the actual environmental impact.
Life-cycle costing means looking at costs incurred while the item
is in-use and when it’s disposed of, rather than looking only at the
purchase price. For example, when buying a refrigerator, you might
decide to choose the cheapest model in your size. Or you could look
at the electricity used over the lifetime of the fridge, and at the cost
of disposal of any hazardous materials when you get rid of it. Very
often, the cheaper product will end up costing you more money
and causing more environmental impacts in the long run.
The initial cost of an appliance or building is only half of
what you will pay over its entire lifetime. Once installed,
the monetary and environmental cost of their
operations will now be locked in for the next few
years or even decades. Your purchase and
design decisions will determine heating
and cooling, lighting, water consumption,
repainting, and other maintenance
When designing a building, adding energy efficient technologies (thermal insulation,
low-emissivity windows, window overhangs and daylighting
controls) will increase the initial cost, but can result in a 20 to 40
percent reduction in energy use. This improved efficiency will,
in turn, yield further savings because the heating and cooling
needs of the energy-efficient design would require smaller HVAC
systems. Harvard, Stanford, Energy.Gov, NIST, Forest Service,
and many others have guidelines, calculators, software and other
tools to implement life-cycle costing.
Another way you can extend the impact of your purchases
and contracts is by making it clear to your business partners that
you expect them to have responsible environmental practices,
employee wages and work conditions.
It’s very easy to implement the same green purchasing policies
that leading green colleges and universities use to meet the
requirements of the STARS program. Following their example
will save you money and improve the health and performance of
students and staff.
Daniel Pedersen, Ph.D., is the vice president of Science and Standards at Green Seal, which identifies environmentally responsible products and services and provides public education for creating a more sustainable world. He also serves on AASHE's Advisory Council. For more information about Green Seal, visit www.greenseal.org.