6 smart purchasing choices make it easy to be green

11/15/2012  |  JASON WICKEL
green classrooms
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Kermit the Frog sang, “It’s not easy being green.” The pressure to go green, help the environment and save the earth is growing, but at times it can appear to be at odds with the pressure to be cost effective in purchasing.

The good news is that going green doesn’t have to be expensive. Taking advantage of cooperative purchasing to make these six small changes in your school can point you in the right direction to be a green leader.

1. Show Your Commitment

Show your commitment to the environment, and teach students to be aware of it too, by making visible changes in the classroom. Consider the supplies you are using daily: pens, paper and printer ink. Did you know refillable pens and pencils can save you a significant amount of money in the long run by purchasing only refills instead of boxes of new disposables every time?

2. Use Remanufactured Ink and Toner Cartridges

A half gallon of oil is conserved and about two and a half pounds of metal and plastic are kept out of landfills by remanufacturing just one toner cartridge rather than using new plastic and metal for a new item. Remanufactured ink and toner cartridges are on average 15 percent lower in price than traditional cartridges, and many come with a quality guarantee. So on average, if you spend $100,000 on ink and toner cartridges a year, you could save $15,000!

3. Use Energy Efficient Equipment

All office equipment comes with two price tags: what it costs to purchase it from your vendor and what it costs to operate and maintain it each month. ENERGY STAR qualified equipment incorporates advanced technologies and uses 10 to 50 percent less energy than standard appliances. Purchasing ENERGY STAR qualified light bulbs and office technology in bulk can save you up to 75 percent on your energy costs.

4. Does Your Furniture Company Practice Green Initiatives?

Furniture companies are now also meeting the stringent qualifications for being environmentally friendly and can assist with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for school certification. Ask your vendors if their wood products are manufactured from 100 percent recycled and/or recovered fiber — or if their materials are harvested using certified sustainable methods. Research to see if they are recycling any unused metal or wood after the manufacturing processes. Nowadays, many furniture manufacturers are taking these green initiatives and are willing to work with schools to improve their classrooms.

5. Practicing Green Energy

The U.S. Green Building Council reports that taking a high-performance building approach can enable building owners and operators to reduce energy costs by 20 to 25 percent. Heating, ventilating and air conditioning system performance plays a critical role in the operational efficiency of a building. A safe and efficient HVAC system is key to minimizing operational costs and meeting your green goals. Performing an efficiency test can show you where a system could fail or if it is costing you more than you know. Check with your HVAC vendor or building project manager to be sure your team is making the effort to stick to the green goals of energy efficiency.

6. Using Artificial Turf

Making an effort to be green outside of the school building is just as important as being environmentally friendly inside the walls. Installing an artificial grass system for an average-sized sports field can save millions of gallons of water per year. Artificial turf not only reduces the impact on water resources but also removes the need for fuel-powered mowing, aerating and reseeding. Furthermore, it eliminates grass clippings, which are among the biggest landfill contributors to the greenhouse effect. During the summer months, clippings alone can account for nearly half of a community’s waste. Installation of an artificial grass system can also contribute toward numerous LEED credits.

Being eco-friendly is not a fad. It is an ongoing effort to improve processes with the understanding that today’s change and investment mean a better tomorrow for all. Ask your suppliers if they are upholding environmental standards or if they maintain an environment-management system. Then ask if they are part of a cooperative purchasing group to verify that your green purchases are most cost-effective for your budget.

Cooperative Purchasing

In today’s economy of shrinking budgets along with the high demand for increased green efforts, schools’ purchasers can look to cooperative purchasing groups to help them make cost-efficient decisions on contracts that apply green incentives from vendors in office supplies, facilities, furniture and even commodities.

As defined by the National Association of State Procurement Officials, cooperative purchasing involves sharing procurement contracts between governments. Purchasing cooperatives competitively bid and award contracts to vendors for commonly purchased products and services, allowing entities to make compliant purchases at a valued rate.

This form of purchasing is available for use by government entities, public and private schools, colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations. In many states, laws encourage participation in cooperatives to eliminate duplication of efforts, thereby saving tax dollars and allowing more time for purchasers to focus on other work.

Purchasing through a cooperative is a proven way to reduce administrative and production costs, increase efficiencies and stretch shrinking budgets during difficult times. Cooperative networks complete the competitive bid process so that public agencies no longer need to go out for solicitation on goods and services. Bulk and reduced pricing has already been secured for entities to use, no matter how large or small they are. In addition, when stretching the dollar to go green, a cooperative contract can come in handy.

There are a few qualities to look for when choosing a cooperative network.

Review the network’s vendor list. Does it include products or services you purchase frequently? Is there something in particular you are looking for? If so, ask. Many times vendors are associated with cooperatives and can easily set you up directly with them.

How are the network’s contracts bid and awarded? Many networks use one or more agencies to competitively bid and award contracts, which can affect consistency and assessment of vendor contracts. The fewer parties involved, the better. The Cooperative Purchasing Network (TCPN), for example, utilizes a bid process that is ISO certified, and works with only one lead agency to ensure consistent bidding and auditing for all of its vendor contracts.

Cooperative purchasing got started in order to help buyers increase efficiency, shorten delivery time and stretch budget dollars. So being a member of a network shouldn’t cost you financially either. Look for a cooperative with free membership and take advantage of all the benefits it offers, from a large vendor list to assistance with finding what fits your needs and compliance standards.

Allocating a budget to be greener shouldn’t be a strain. You can use cooperative purchasing to save on day-to-day needs as well as reaching your green goals. Integrate this purchasing method into your buying decisions for an efficient workflow and cost savings you didn’t know you could secure.

Jason Wickel, president of The Cooperative Purchasing Network (TCPN), has 18 years of education experience. Wickel began his career in education as a staff auditor with an independent firm. He later worked with Channelview ISD in various business roles and joined Region 4 Education Service Center in 2004 to direct fi nancial services for school districts. Wickel has been with TCPN since October 2007 and is a member of the Texas Association of School Business Offi cials. For more information, visit http://www.tcpn.org.
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