Spend It Like You Just DO Care

Its old news that students are incredibly energetic organizers and activists, capable of building movements and mobilizing individuals and institutions. The Nike and Gap campaigns, the Dirty Jobs Boycott, Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), and many other groups are superb change agents, and are setting agendas of human rights, gender equality, social and economic justice, and environmental protection.

Now theres another way for students to harness their collective energy to achieve real results for the environment. Campus Green Procurement takes on several different aspects of consumption on college campuses. First, green procurement programs find ways for universities to use less and consume more wisely, particularly focusing on waste reduction on campuses. Second, campus groups can push for the purchasing of environmentally preferable products, such as recycled paper for computer labs or organic potatoes for on-campus dining halls.

"Rutgers has proven that green purchasing is not just good for the planet environmental initiatives can save universities a significant amount of money"
To date, over 30 universities have undertaken substantial purchasing initiatives. These include everything from organic cafeteria food to sustainable lumber for campus building projects, reduced packaging or cardboard pens, or recycled toilet paper for dorm bathrooms. Often, these initiatives are student-led and organized, as increasing numbers of student groups and schools are starting to understand the importance of purchasing decisions in the big picture of campus environmental sustainability.

Several specific colleges stand out as leaders in campus green procurement. Middlebury College worked with Stonyfield Yogurt to create a local market for Stonyfields organic dairy products, and also agreed to spend 5% more on lumber to generate a sustainable lumber market. Students at Florida Gulf Coast University are working with a local green building project to construct a Green Building Learning Center on their campus. SUNY Buffalo has committed to purchasing environmentally preferable products whenever possible, including recycled and recyclable products, sustainably harvested raw materials, and highly energy efficient products. Duke University has adopted a "systematic, comprehensive approach to creating an environmentally sustainable campus," and has inventoried all departments to assess energy and resource use, and consequently pursue reduction strategies.

Rutgers Universitys green efforts stand out. The Rutgers plan requires major vendors to help the university reduce waste and improve environmental responsibility, rather than leaving that responsibility in the hands of the staff. Since the initiative launched in 1989, Rutgers has saved millions of dollars and has become a role model for government, industry and academic institutions.

Rutgers has proven that green purchasing is not just good for the planetenvironmental initiatives can save universities a significant amount of money. A report from the National Wildlife Federations Campus Ecology Program highlights cost-cutting conservation stories from 15 public and private universities in North America. Projects ranging from reducing water usage to composting and recycling saved the schools an average of $728,500 per campus; needless to say, the environmental benefits of their actions were priceless. You can read more about this report, Green Investment, Green Return: How Practical Conservation Projects Save Millions on Americas Campuses online at www.nwf.org/nwf/campus/tools/publications/gigr/

Getting Involved

So, how can students get involved with green procurement projects at their schools? Michael Hay, a program manager at Second Nature, has several suggestions for students interested in bringing green procurement to their campuses. First of all, seek out others who are working on this issue on your campus. Meet with faculty, staff and administrators to explore opportunities for student involvement in green purchasing. Campus green procurement is currently a "hot" issue, so odds are good that other groups and individuals on your campus share your interests and ideals.

Students interested in campus green procurement should also research existing initiatives. A great place to start is the oft-quoted book Buying for the Future, by Kevin Lyons. Another excellent resource is Greening the Ivory Tower, by Sarah Hammond. Often, green purchasing is only a small part of holistic, campus-wide green initiatives. It can also be a component of green building projects. Investigate these connections, and you can save yourself from re-inventing the wheel when communicating with administrators and staff.

Once youve found a community of groups and individuals interested in promulgating green procurement at your college or university, you should seek to accomplish two main things: First, turn your ideas and actions into tangible policy. Otherwise, as student leaders graduate, student-led initiatives can be forgotten or deprioritized. Second, work with other stakeholders, both on- and off-campus. Contact local community members, businesses and alumni, in addition to on-campus stakeholders such as faculty and administrators, to achieve lasting change for your college.

Environmentally preferable purchasing is taking off in industry, the business world and academia. Now is an excellent time to bring green procurement to college and universities, as they are powerful, well-funded institutions that are ripe for change. If youre a member of an environmental organization, or just a committed individual, get involved with green initiatives on your campus, and create some positive change thats good for the environment and for your school.

Resource: National Wildlife Federations Campus Ecology Program offers a great manual which features the best books and resource packets on campus green procurement and other student-oriented environmental issues, info on training clinics and fellowships, and much more. Its an excellent starting point for students interested in greening their campuses.

The Center for a New American Dream is a not-for-profit membership-based organization that helps individuals and institutions reduce and shift consumption to enhance quality of life and protect the environment.

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