Investigating Impact: How Dal is doing its part to reduce the world’s material footprint

In focus: Responsible Consumption and Production (UN SDG 12)

- April 5, 2022

Dal's Procurement Department ensures the entire life cycle of a product is taken into consideration (supplied photo)
Dal's Procurement Department ensures the entire life cycle of a product is taken into consideration (supplied photo)

Our Investigating Impact series continues to explore how the university’s alignment with a selection of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is contributing to a better future for us all.

The amount of raw materials required to meet the demands of global consumption continues to grow exponentially. Current projections show the global material footprint is expected to reach 180 billion tons in 2050 — four times the agreed sustainable threshold. By leveraging their collective multi-billion-dollar buying power, colleges and universities can play a part in minimizing consumption.

“You can't just accept the status quo,” says Monty Thibeault, director of Dalhousie’s Procurement Department. “You have to look for ways to do things differently.”

When it comes to procurement, doing things differently could mean having a flexible approach. While the university’s Purchasing Code of Conduct includes an overarching statement on sustainability, the department works with each purchaser to figure out the sustainability criteria that’s needed for their circumstance. To help guide decisions, the Procurement Department and the Office of Sustainability have developed a Sustainable Procurement Checklist [PDF - 100KB] for purchasing at the university.

“Any procurement we do is really a collaboration,” explains Thibeault. “We seek a lot of input from the purchaser to determine what the right scope is and to get the right solution for Dalhousie.”

Procurement also ensures that the entire life cycle of a product is taken into consideration — in other words, the responsibility for the purchase doesn’t end when the deal is done. 

“The procurement cycle is not just buying things. We look at the total life cycle,” says Thibeault. “That includes maintenance throughout its life and eventually disposal. We want to make sure the assets we buy are reused or disposed of in an environmentally sustainable way.”

 Making an impact on Responsible Consumption and Production

By approaching procurement from a collaborative, life-cycle perspective, Dalhousie’s practices are aligned with UN SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, which is targeting improvements in resource efficiency; a reduction in waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse; and the creation of more sustainable procurement practices. 

Several procurement initiatives, including the sustainable checklist and the surplus materials bidding system, were submitted as evidence for this year's Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings. The annual ranking assesses universities around the world on their contributions toward achieving the UN SDGs. Last year’s submission was Dalhousie’s first for the ranking related to Responsible Consumption and Production, which resulted in Dalhousie ranking 53rd (of 503) globally and 10th nationally.

This year’s ranking, which is due out in April, will consider the strength of university research related to Responsible Consumption and Production and operational procurement life cycle management — from purchasing policies to the amount of waste that gets recycled. 

 Maximizing reuse to minimize waste

Dalhousie is a leader in extending the life cycle of the materials it buys. Since the Disposal of Surplus Equipment Policy was created nearly 40 years ago, Procurement has been managing a surplus materials bidding system to offer up equipment, furniture, and supplies that were purchased with university funds and are no longer needed. This unique system allows the university to maximize the opportunity for reuse of items and minimize the amount of material that enters the waste stream.  

“We work with all university departments to promote assets, that are safe and able to be reused, on our surplus website,” explains Thibeault. “With furniture like chairs, desk units and those types of things, we’re able to redistribute a lot within the university. And if we can’t, then the public has a crack at some of this stuff too. That allows us to get some cost back to the university to cover our administration. Whether it's a cabinet or a vehicle, we have processes in place to ensure our disposal practices are transparent. And anything we can’t sell is recycled or disposed of appropriately with help from Facilities Management.”

Initiatives like the surplus materials bidding system are making a substantial difference in reducing the amount of waste generated by the university. In 2019-20, 70 per cent of Dalhousie’s waste was diverted from the landfill. 

“That's a great thing that’s really come out of a university culture shift,” Thibeault says. “We’re really focused on ensuring that we're being responsible with how we manage our goods from the time we buy them right through the time we dispose of them.”

Read more: Investigating Impact: Innovative energy efficiency practices on campus lead the way for the wider community
Investigating Impact: Freshwater research supports water security in Canada’s Arctic communities 
Investigating Impact: Student‑run HOPES Clinic seeks better health care for society’s most vulnerable


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