This profile was developed in 2007 as part of the Sustainable Food Policy Project.

Portland State University

Portland State University RFP
Exhibit E: Goals for Sustainable Food System Practices


Background & Vision
Through open forums on food service with students, faculty, and staff, Portland State University (PSU) identified sustainable foods as an important priority for its community. Consistent with the university’s vision statement, PSU dining services decided to include sustainability as a criterion in selection of a new food service contractor.

Language type
Portland State University’s RFP required bidders to address 10 questions on sustainability. The resulting contract with their food service provider contains percentage goals (non-binding) for purchasing of local, sustainable and organic foods. It also outlines expectations for annual improvement.

PSU defines local as “products grown and processed in the Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Northern California) with an emphasis on Oregon and Washington grown and processed products within a 150 mile radius of the campus.” It defines sustainability as “equivalent to the Food Alliance” standards.

PSU set minimum percentage goals for sourcing by food type (produce, dairy, eggs, etc.). The contractor is encouraged to exceed the set minimum percentages, and is expected to show increases in local purchasing throughout the term of the contract. The documents do not require procurement from a particular source, but offer local and regional resources to facilitate purchasing.

The contractor is required to submit quarterly and annual reports on the progress made in achieving the sustainable food service goals. The report must include the overall percentage of locally sourced foods, measured by dollar value, as well as percentages by food type. The report must also indicate the percentage of purchases that are organic.

Lessons Learned
PSU counts good background research, support from local non-profit organizations, support from upper management, integration with the vision/mission of the University, and persistence as key factors to developing an effective purchasing policy.

PSU called out the importance of including all stakeholders in the policy writing process and believes that food purchasing should ideally be a part of an overall sustainability policy addressing purchasing, waste management, landscape and facilities management, and other factors.

PSU learned a big lesson about contracting requirements. Exhibit E (from the contract) was originally designed to be a list of "requirements" of the food service contractor. However, to be binding, all specific requirements must be stated up front in the RFP. Since Exhibit E was not included in the RFP, the list of requirements had to be changed to "university goals" that PSU asked the vendor to support.

Not stating specific sustainability goals/criteria in the RFP ---- i.e. "all food containers must be made of 100% post-consumer, unbleached, recycled paper" ---- may have had some benefits though. For one, it allowed bidders to set their own targets in response to the RFP, which in some cases exceeded PSU’s expectations. It may also have helped keep bids lower.

In retrospect, PSU believes more attention should have been given to the social aspect of sustainability. After the contract was awarded, students became concerned about the contractor’s performance with respect to labor issues. These could also have been referenced in the RFP.

It was also not initially clear to the contractor that sub-contracted national vendors would need to be included in the sustainability goals. Getting the sub-contracted vendors to comply with those goals is an ongoing issue – due mainly to corporate structure and marketing/branding issues.