We are Penn State!–Paper!

We Penn Staters are loud and proud. Yes, the cheer really is We Are—Penn State! I have amended the traditional PSU cheer for a reason. The folks who purchase Penn State’s janitorial paper wanted to add a sustainability component to their next contract. Janitorial paper is bathroom tissue, paper towels, paper napkins, facial tissue, etc. They asked if a group of MBA students would be interested in developing a “sustainability scorecard” to help them do this. The result of this effort was a 1-credit “Sustainable Procurement Practicum” in the MBA program in the fall of 2008.

A long time professor at the University, Dr. Terry Harrison, taught the class. I happen to have had one if his courses (Quantitative Business Analysis) when I was at Penn State—so I know from personal experience that the result of this practicum was backed up by solid research. The students were mostly, but not all, members of an organization called Net Impact, which focuses on how business can strengthen communities and improve environmental stewardship (in addition to being profitable, of course).

The research included many items in addition to the specific sustainability criteria. These aspects included the current procurement process and general contract requirements, product performance, price, the experience of peer institutions, the best method for evaluating the actual sustainability dimensions of the products, and specific technical knowledge of how these products are manufactured. As an example of the complexity of the data, the final report identifies upwards of twenty different items that could have conceivably been on the scorecard.

At the end, the sustainability scorecard had 6 criteria: Pre/Post Consumer Recycled Content (with targets); Forest Certification (either Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Institute or both); Packaging Recycled Content; and various aspects of being chlorine free in the product manufacturing process. There were also very important usability considerations. With only 6 mostly numeric or yes/no criteria, it is easy for a supplier to input their specific information. Even more important, it is easy for the procurement folks to incorporate the results into their contracting decision.

In other words, the sustainability scorecard can and will be used. Sounds like a successful integration of sustainability into a regular business process to me. Makes me just a little bit happier I am a Penn Stater.

Also:
I want to thank Matthew Holtry, the president of the Penn State University chapter of Net Impact, for posting the practicum’s report on his LinkedIn profile, It is fascinating reading.

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