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UC Procurement: Using purchasing power to further UC’s values

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When you think about how UC is fulfilling its mission and values, the university’s procurement strategy is likely not top of mind. But if you consider the fact that UC operations support 430,000 jobs in California (one in every 46 people) and that the university’s economic impact is $46.3 billion, it makes sense that the way the university spends its money has a major impact.

Keeping sustainability top of mind

One area in which UC Procurement is keenly focused is sustainability. When UC expanded its systemwide sustainability goals as part of the Carbon Neutrality Agreement in 2018, university leaders recognized that UC had an opportunity to leverage its market power to make sustainable products and services more widely available. The 2019 Policy on Sustainable Practices outlined additional procurement guidelines — prioritizing environmentally friendly solutions, supporting small, diverse and disadvantaged suppliers, reducing unnecessary purchasing and more.

“[We are] approaching procurement in a way that generates benefits not only to our organization, but also society and the economy, while remaining within the carrying capacity of the environment,” explained Associate Vice President of UC Procurement and Chief Procurement Officer Bill Cooper.

Since 2012, the Procurement Leadership Council has united all 10 UC locations in pursuing a shared vision, mission and strategic objectives. Cooper points out that this systemwide commitment is key to success. “Changing our buying practices to support small, local and diverse business communities, working with our suppliers to lessen their impact on the environment and requiring that sustainability practices be considered in our RFP business cases requires the commitment of every buyer, strategic sourcing manager, contract manager, and procurement staff member at our campuses,” he says. “Only with serious and concerted effort will we accomplish real change and be able to show the way.”

UC Procurement is also working to share its expertise in sustainable procurement, contracts and partnerships. This spring, it launched the Lead Agency Marketing Program (LAMP) with Omnia Partners Public Sector — the largest purchasing organization for public center procurement. As a lead agency within Omnia, UC Procurement manages a portfolio of procurement sourcing programs that is accessible to government agencies, higher education institutions, schools and nonprofit organizations nationwide.

Giving small businesses a fair shake

Each year, UC Procurement partners with about 178,500 suppliers from 117 countries. And, thanks to concentrated efforts by local and systemwide procurement teams, many small, diverse and disadvantaged businesses are among them.

Here are some of the resources and strategies UC Procurement uses to facilitate contracts with small, diverse and disadvantaged businesses:

  • The Explorer Professional platform helps buyers identify diverse suppliers, including those already contracted with UC. It makes connections and educates both parties on vendor eligibility and new opportunities for partnerships.
  • The UC Small & Diverse Business Advisory Council provides a forum for the business community to give feedback on how UC policies and practices affect how small and diverse businesses participate in university contracts and projects.
  • CalUsource — an eSourcing platform for sourcing, contracting and spend analysis created in collaboration with California State University systems — helps university staff build upon procurement peers’ knowledge by making previous contracts and analyses accessible to all. It also provides a range of supplier resources for working with UC, including how-to video guides.
  • Many campus procurement teams engage in direct outreach to local small business organizations, including chambers of commerce, to help companies learn how to become vendors. 

Building partnerships to support students

Although UC Procurement often serves a background function when it comes to the university’s academic activities, staff often leverage their connections with UC suppliers to directly benefit students. 

In 2019 alone, UC Procurement developed strategic partnerships with suppliers that funded more than $170,000 in supplier-sponsored internships. These include the UC/US Bank Student Engagement Fund — a collaboration with Office Depot where student interns analyze and optimize UC’s “green spending” — and partnerships with several lab suppliers where student interns on seven campuses develop Green Lab Action Plans and implement waste management improvements.

This spring, UC Procurement’s efforts shone at the fifth annual Grad Slam: They helped facilitate a sponsorship proposal to Thermo Fisher Scientific, which offered to sponsor this year’s event for $11,000. The company’s chief scientific officer also served as an event judge, and expanded sponsorship is on the table for future Grad Slam events.

“In moving our relationships with suppliers beyond transaction-only exchanges to value-based and student-focused opportunities, UC Procurement elevates its purpose from acquiring goods and services to directly furthering the UC mission by serving students,” says Cooper.

To learn more about UC Procurement, visit its website, read its impact reports and check out its newsletters.

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