Guest Blog: Bringing the Purchasing Power of the Campus to Bear: A Word from Our Partners

Ria Knapp is campaign coordinator for Climate Counts and a recent Boston University graduate. During her college years, Ria’s fervor for the outdoors turned into a passion for finding ways to preserve and protect it. A four-season biker and runner, she believes in the importance of taking daily steps to reduce her personal environmental footprint. 

In the wake of newly proposed climate legislation, including a carbon cap-and-trade bill, we’re beginning to see promise for real headway on the climate crisis. Touting an economic recovery package elevating clean, green energy jobs and less dependence on coal and oil, the federal government appears finally ready to lead, but will need sustained support and participation of people and institutions across the country.  

Case Studies:

Ball State University in 2006 partnered with the Barnes & Noble-managed bookstore on campus to sell and promote more environmentally-friendly products, such as recycled paper. Members of the group hope that these products will not only be popular among students, but inspire members of the corporate B&N chain to stock greener supplies in its other stores.

In 2002, Chatham College embarked upon a plan to obtain lists of its current cleaning, paint and lawn-care products used on campus, analyze the current costs and those of proposed healthier alternatives, and lobby the university to phase out the undesirable products in favor of newer ones. After testing the new products, the university calculated it could save $10,000 by switching, and agreed to direct the funds towards purchasing wind power for the school.

Universities and colleges can play an important role in fighting global climate change. Campuses are communities, marketplaces, and the birthplace of great ideas and social movements. The looming climate crisis needs campus awareness and action as never before. Yes, it’s time for you and your campus community to change the world.Big business is responsible for the lion’s share of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But, business can have an enormously positive impact in the fight against climate change. If 100 of the world’s largest businesses reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by just five percent, that’d be like taking 25 million cars off the road. Companies will listen and act on an issue if they know consumers care. They spend billions of dollars each year on finding out what drives their consumer base and monitoring their reputation. Even in a down economy, everyone has purchasing power – maybe especially in a down economy.

But how can you play a role in aggregating voices from your entire campus? Consider the role that your college or university plays in supporting business. It likely has major contracts with multi-national corporations to provide food, cleaning supplies, software, electronics, lodging, and other goods and services for students, faculty, staff, and alumni. You can get involved by raising your voice about your campus’ procurement practices. If you think you should be buying from companies that are serious about climate change, shouldn’t your campus be doing that as well? Your own voice can certainly make a difference to companies, but when large institutional purchasers like colleges and universities say they are only doing business with companies that are serious about reducing their impact on global climate change, companies will really pay attention. One voice is one thing. 1000 or 10,000 voices at once is entirely another.

Climate Counts works to score the world’s largest companies on their actions to fight climate change. We distill information on what companies within major industry sectors are doing on climate to distinguish those that are leading from those that are still doing little or nothing at all. Purchasers, students and other campus leaders can use our database of companies to start a climate-responsible procurement campaign on campus.

  • Advice From the Experts:

    The National Association of Education Procurement recommends that schools “include in your solicitations and renewal contracts [a] ‘Green Profile Questionnaire’ that all potential suppliers must complete and include with their responses to the solicitation or renewal.”

    The first step is to figure out with whom your campus is currently doing business. Look in the cafeteria, the library, and the student centers. Evidence of your campus’ procurement should be everywhere. Then, try to find out the amount of money your campus spends with these suppliers. It may be as simple as asking the administration or the campus purchasing team or, if your campus has one, the sustainability coordinator.

  • Next, use Climate Counts’ company scores as a resource to help gauge where your campus might improve its procurement relationships. By supporting companies with a climate commitment and avoiding those without, you send a powerful message to companies that they need to keep up or step it up if they want your college or university’s business. Our scores are based on 22-point criteria broken down into four key areas. We look at whether companies are measuring their climate impact, working to reduce their climate footprint, supporting (or blocking) progressive climate policy, and whether they’re making their efforts public and transparent.
  • And finally, help motivate and educate your school on how to vote with its dollars in everyday purchases. Send a message to companies with the help of Holding email and petition drives, forming a climate-conscious club or group, and distributing pocket guides to offices and student centers are just a few ways to engage your college’s student body. The goal is to aggregate a campus-wide voice to motivate business.

We know campuses across the country are taking action around climate change. The current initiatives to measure and reduce your campus’ footprint are critical, but colleges also need to continue to reach outside their campus borders for ways to perpetuate the climate conversation. To help you succeed, we hope you will align your efforts with our Climate Counts scores. To learn more about how your campus can work with Climate Counts to shape climate-conscious procurement on your campus, drop them an e-mail at and tell us a little bit about how your campus is currently spending its money.


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Published: March 17, 2009