I've commented before on the challenges Greenback is facing, accounting for the considerable greenhouse gas emissions resulting from things like air travel and purchased paper. Like lots of other universities, we've decentralized the purchasing of these products and services. Years ago, this purchasing was centralized on the theory that purchasing in large quantities got Greenback a lower price. However, a good portion of the quantity price discount has evaporated with industry consolidation and online ordering, as has departments' willingness to delay gratification for the additional days or hours necessary to let a centralized purchasing department get involved. Add the issuance of university credit cards to every department, and the rules necessary for centralized purchasing simply became untenable.
From a financial/administrative efficiency/customer service perspective, then, decentralized purchasing of travel services and everyday office supplies makes a lot of sense. Why force departments to go through a central travel office, or a contracted travel agent, when they can get the same prices themselves, online, faster and more conveniently? Why force folks to order copy paper through Purchasing, when you can just give them the Greenback discount code for Staples or OfficeDepot, and they can get the same price for themselves?
Greenback isn't alone in this kind of arrangement, and we're not alone in losing out on data as a result. With purchasing so decentralized, there's no way at the end of the year to assemble anything like a complete inventory of paper purchased, or air miles traveled, or whatever. We can't do it, and other schools can't do it, either. How do I know? Well, the sustainability leader at the University of Illinois at Chicago posted a query to the Green Schools List, asking if anyone had a solution to this problem. A number of other folks posted responses, but no one answered with a clear "yes". Presumably, then, it's a problem that remains unsolved.
Personally, I'd like to be proven wrong in my presumption. If your school requires you to share information about air travel, or office supplies, or anything else that you purchase departmentally (rather than centrally), or if you used to be able to purchase these things departmentally but it's since been re-centralized, please share that information. If you think you know of a school that falls into either category, please email me -- I'll do some digging and share the results.
The way I see it, many schools are going to address this lack of information in the next couple of years. If we each make up our own solution, some of those will be pretty burdensome, pretty ineffective, or both. On the other hand, if one of us knows of a solution that's already working and is willing to share ...