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Creating a more sustainable procurement process

April 17, 2019 | Bonfire Interactive

binder clips representing sustainable procurement process

Sustainability is a hot topic for many public institutions, but the conversation is especially active in higher education, where students and faculty are at the front-lines of sustainable development research and practice.

In the Sustainability in Education report, one third of respondents reported that sustainability was a strategic priority for their institution, while nearly all institutions have a sustainability policy in place.

These policies and priorities can manifest in many different ways on campus: everything from curricular expansion in the field of sustainability, to community programming, to green-building initiatives.

Many administrators are also looking internally at the standard operating procedures of their departments, to examine where they could make changes to their own process to support their institution’s sustainability commitments.

What is Sustainable Procurement?

Sustainable procurement is the adoption and integration of ethical and environmental concerns into your procurement processes and decisions, while also ensuring that they meet the needs of your business.

Many higher education procurement teams are beginning to implement formal sustainable procurement initiatives. These can have a huge impact—after all, each procurement decision represents the opportunity for institutions to choose environmentally and socially preferable products or services for their campus.

Formal initiatives aside, procurement teams have an immediate opportunity to make the procurement process itself more sustainable by reducing the reams of paper that flow through procurement departments every year.

Procurement’s paper footprint

In an article for Inside Higher Ed, Eric Sickler wrote about a recent experience as a vendor submitting to an RFP for a major American university. He notes that despite the university’s stated sustainability commitment, the requirements for this RFP specified the submission of numerous identical paper copies, amounting to nearly 1,000 printed and bound pages.

The irony was not lost on Sickler, as he asked:

“Is your department — and the departments with which you routinely collaborate — really walking your sustainability talk?”

While Sickler’s experience deals with a particularly detailed RFP, the procurement process is notoriously paper-heavy. The State of the RFP, a benchmarking study of billions of dollars of public sector RFP decisions, shows that the average RFP submission is 132 pages in length. Considering that the average project receives five submissions, with copies for an average of four to five evaluators, a single RFP project requires a total of 2,970 pages of paper.

Bringing your bid and RFP process online eliminates the need for paper instantly, resulting in a more sustainable procurement process.

The environmental impact of a paper procurement process

Paper savings are not just about the number of trees being cut down! As this infographic shows, paper production also requires a significant amount of water and electricity resources. Consider also the CO2 emissions from the delivery and transportation of paper RFPs from your vendors’ office to your campus.

By implementing paperless procurement process, Bonfire clients have saved a total of 31 million sheets of paper, equal to:  

  • 3,767 trees
  • 1,695 MWH of energy (enough to power a desktop computer for 11,300 years)
  • 13 million gallons of water
  • 104.8 tons of CO2 emissions


Infographic on the environmental impact of paperless procurement

Digitizing procurement: good for you, your campus, and the planet

Sustainability improvements are a good news story for your institution. However, the environmental benefits of digitizing the procurement process are merely icing on the cake when you consider the advantages to procurement teams:

  • Significant efficiency gains, resulting 50%+ shorter RFP cycle times
  • Streamlined communication with internal departments
  • Clear visibility and reduced risk

Bringing your procurement process online is a win-win, allowing you to ensure alignment with your institution’s commitment to sustainability, while also improving the process for your team.

Read more about the impact of paper RFPs in The True Cost of your Paper RFP.

About the author

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Bonfire Interactive

Bonfire helps public procurement teams reach better sourcing outcomes through an experience that’s blazingly fast, powered by peer insights, and so easy to use—vendors love it just as much as buyers do.