College Works Toward Green Purchasing
Last month, Oberlin’s Environmental Purchasing Committee held its inaugural meeting and began the work of setting standards that aim to make college purchasing more environmentally friendly. According to College senior and Committee Secretary Molly Danielsson, the policy – which is to be finalized before winter break – will be the first official Oberlin document outlining a system designed to implement and enforce environmentally minded practices.
“[The policy] has pretty big goals,” Danielsson said.
According to Danielsson, the policy will set standards for everything from paper to large appliances. The purchasing committee will receive a set of specific benchmarks to use in evaluating and approving orders. She said, however, that the committee is still deciding whether to make the use of these standards mandatory or advisory: “We need to figure out the amount of carrot and the amount of stick.”
She explained that much of the College’s purchasing is currently done over the Internet by departmental administrative assistants. Because of this, the committee will also focus on ways to educate the staff members who make purchasing decisions.
The policy, which is being based off a document created by alumni Steven Wong OC ’06 and Trevor Walter, is currently in its second draft. Administrators have restricted access to the draft: it was not available for public review at press time. Danielsson said that she hopes a draft will be released to the public before the committee finishes its work in December.
“Implementation of Oberlin’s comprehensive environmental policy that was adopted by the Board of Trustees in May of 2004 has been slow,” said Environmental Studies Chair John Petersen. “It is therefore very gratifying to see our purchasing department taking initiative and working closely with students to translate the broad policy guidelines drafted by the Environmental Policy Advisory Committee into a much more concrete and specific policy designed to reduce resource use and increase recycling at this institution.”
Petersen continued, “I hope that their work provides an example that can be followed in other branches of the college.”
“I think it is a terrific idea,” said College senior Andrew deCoriolis. DeCoriolis worked last summer creating environmental purchasing guidelines for Campus Dining Services. “There’s a lot of opportunity without breaking the bank.”
DeCoriolis stressed the cost-saving potential for the College if the environmental purchasing policy is designed correctly.
“With a little bit of...intelligent management, you can save a lot of money,” deCoriolis said.
Danielsson believes that the success of the policy depends on whether administrators dedicate resources to the policy’s implementation.
“The next step will be [answering the question], will the College give this the teeth it needs to work?” she said. “Is [the college] going to give it the people [it needs] to make this work?”
Danielsson advocates the creation of a full-time position in the purchasing department to provide the “teeth.” In her vision, whoever holds the position will be responsible for applying the policy across Oberlin.
For now, Danielsson is excited about the policy because it sets specific guidelines rather than further explanations of the vague goals that characterized the College’s previous plans to become more environmentally responsible.
“The strategic plan in itself doesn’t really get me very excited because it just doesn’t tell me [how it will be implemented],” she said. “So it’s pretty exciting that now this is a policy that will actually reduce the college’s environmental footprint.”
She continued, “It is just a big step from how the College has been working.”