Procurement is perhaps the most critical link in a sustainable materials management system. Purchasing decisions impact not just the materials flow into the University, including the embedded environmental impacts from the resource extraction, manufacturing and transport of the products, the durability of those products and how frequently they need to be replaced, and the potential to repurpose, compost or recycle products at the end of their useful life.

A central recommendation of the Procurement subcommittee aims to develop Penn State’s first-ever sustainable purchasing policy (see Appendix II: Proposed Sustainable Purchasing Policy). This policy will be the guiding foundation for how the University can promote sustainable stewardship by controlling the Penn State waste stream at the onset, when goods or services are purchased or brought into the University. Developing and implementing this policy is paramount, but only the beginning of a successful program. Annual reviews will be needed to assess compliance with the procurement policy, leverage evolving opportunities for waste diversion, and developing innovative measures and benchmarks for a procurement first approach, where some of the greatest achievements may be invisible: products never purchased in the first place. For all these reasons, sustainable purchasing must become an enduring function of the University.

The procurement analysis focused on several specific topics: documenting the in-flow of products and services to our campuses; increasing opportunities for reduction, reuse, recycle, and upcycle of inbound products; meeting the food service target of the “20 by 20” goal to purchase 20% of food locally by 2020, improving waste stream control and diversion, including the packaging of products; and developing a sustainable purchasing policy. All of these topics can contribute to sound policies and procedures for how products and services are brought in, used, maintained, and eventually leave the University.

Recommended goals and principles to impact Penn State’s waste stream:

Short term

Long term

  • Policy enforcement
  • Policy scorecards
  • Policy reassessment and revision as necessary

In short, success will be measured by observation. Decreased waste, increased diversion of waste, cost mitigation, and waste reduction per capita, including students and employees, will individually and together indicate success for improving the sustainability of Penn State’s waste stream.


This is a University-wide task force, therefore it is important that there are partners across Penn State who will support and implement these recommendations. To help implement we will need to enlist senior leaders, all Purchasing functions, and department/unit heads through coaching, mentoring, education, and change management. University-specific partners will include Purchasing leaders and staff, the Sustainability Institute, department/unit heads, students, faculty, all employees, the Smeal College of Business, the Office of Physical Plant, the Office of General Counsel, Environmental Health and Safety, and Housing and Food Services. Penn State’s waste stream also affects the wider community, so partnering with goods and services suppliers, state and municipal agency partners, and logistics suppliers will be critical for success as well. Coordinating across all these internal and external organizations, staying abreast of best practices, developing, updating and implementing procurement policies, all these activities will require a new full time Purchasing position: Sustainable Procurement Program Coordinator.

Purchasing will also need resources such as the Sustainable Operations Council, training and education, change management, and software/tracking solutions. The subcommittee estimates six to twelve months would be needed for policy implementation, with an additional twelve months for success measurements.

Returns and Impacts

Quantifiable returns and impacts are to be determined. These strategies should be reexamined semi-annually.