GreenBiz: Data teaches serious supply chain lesson to Oregon college
Author: Erin Stanforth
Posted: November 1, 2013

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With supply chain-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) having a large footprint for any institution, procurement has emerged as a burgeoning area of reduction targeting throughout the public and private sectors.

Portland Community College (PCC) is the largest higher education institution in Oregon, with approximately 100,000 students and 10 campuses and centers that cover 2,276,615 square feet. In 2012, PCC's Office of Sustainabilitychose to voluntarily report its supply chain-related GHG emissions.

Before that, PCC became a signatory of the American Colleges and Universities Presidents' Climate Commitment in 2006, committing the school to complete GHG inventories, develop a climate action plan and report annual sustainability progress. Since then, PCC has completed four GHG inventories, reported sustainability progress annually and completed two climate action plans.

In 2012, the Office of Sustainability partnered with Community Environmental Services (CES) within Portland State University to complete an assessment of supply chain GHG emissions. CES is a research and service unit within the school's Center for Urban Studies in the College of Urban and Public Affairs. The group chose to assess data spanning from fiscal years 2006 to 2012 because of PCC's 2006 GHG reduction baseline. The college is committed to reducing its emissions 10 percent below 2006 emissions by 2012, by 40 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050.

The first step was data collection. We gathered all purchasing records for all funds within PCC for these years, which amounted to more than 750,000 lines of data.

The team then took that data and organized it into accounting codes specific to PCC and deleted unnecessary data, such as salaries, benefits, tuition and grants. The team then organized the data into categories specific to the Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment calculator. This free calculator, developed by Carnegie Mellon University in 2002, quantifies carbon emission intensities to dollar amounts.

Once the final results were complete, PCC entered this data into the GHG calculator. The final results were quite surprising.

Because PCC is a community college, our assumption was that our highest sources of emissions would be commuting. That indeed was true, but the surprise for us was that supply chain emissions followed so closely behind. In 2012, 37.6 percent of PCC's total emissions were attributed to commuting, while 37.3 percent were supply chain emissions. Because of these high numbers, PCC's Sustainability Council (PSC) was forced to re-focus the work of its subcommittees on the highest emissions sources.

This graph represents PCC’s GHG inventory from FY 2005-2012.This graph represents PCC’s GHG inventory from FY 2005-2012.
Before 2012, the PSC had sub-committees that were subject-specific, such as buildings and energy, transportation, and consumption and solid waste. With this new, more accurate information, the PSC refocused its sub-committees and priorities on GHG emissions sources. For example, in 2009 the consumption and solid waste subcommittee focused on waste reduction by increasing the amount of recycling and compost collection systems available districtwide. This was a significant use of resources.

With the completion of the 2012 GHG inventory, the PSC learned that solid waste accounts for only 1.5 percent of the overall GHG footprint, yet we spent a considerable amount of resources reducing this impact. With this knowledge in mind, the PSC created a new structure for the subcommittees:

1. Scope I: Focuses on consumption of natural gas, district fleet and refrigerants
2. Scope II: Focuses on consumption of electricity
3. Scope IIIA: Focuses on commuting and air travel
4. Scope IIIB: Focuses on supply chain and solid waste
5. Sustainability in education: Focuses on sustainability in curriculum and academic programs
6. Community outreach: Focuses on outreach to faculty, staff, students and administrators

With this new structure, PCC will reduce its carbon footprint through measures targeting supply chain and commuting. This new method for tracking and assessing GHGs is now the standard at PCC.