Partner Profiles

Mark Mills, Director, Purchasing Services

August 24, 2015

As the University of Pennsylvania’s Executive Director of Purchasing Services, Mark Mills oversees approximately $1 billion in University spend.  Mark’s team performs a variety of services on behalf of Penn, ranging from strategic sourcing, supplier management, procure-to-pay systems management, travel services, and payment card administration.  In performing these services, Mark and his team are driven by core goals that address service excellence, cost containment, economic inclusion and sustainability. 

Mark joined Penn in 2011 and brings more than 20 years of procurement and financial management experience.  Prior to Penn, Mark held positions with such firms as Cigna, Johnson & Johnson, Unisys, BearingPoint, and Siemens.  Mark holds a Master of Science Degree in Organizational Dynamics from Penn and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Temple University.  He earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from the University of Delaware.

 

Q: Your team oversees a billion dollars in University spending. That’s a lot of money. Tell us about your approach to making that large budget as environmentally sustainable as possible.

We see it as our responsibility to help Penn purchase as sustainably as possible, primarily by identifying and/or championing sustainable solutions.  A green idea may come from one of Penn’s Schools or Centers or through our team and the suppliers we manage.  If the solution will benefit Penn, we see it as our responsibility to use our influence to implement or promote it.  We also challenge our suppliers with bringing us green solutions and ideas.  For instance, we recently rolled out the Green Purchasing Award (GPA), which will recognize members of the Penn Community who are leaders in sustainable purchasing.  We believe this helps foster a culture of sustainability and an awareness of its importance. The winner will be announced at our annual Supplier Show on Sept. 30.

Q: Given that one of your goals is cost containment, how can you reconcile that with making environmentally sustainable choices?

Often environmentally sustainable choices require no premium.  In other words, it can be just as cost effective – if not more cost effective – to buy green.  As an example, Penn recently contracted with Wash Cycle Laundry, which is now a preferred laundry service provider.  We now have a cost effective laundry provider that fulfills its laundry service by bicycle using only environmentally friendly cleaning products.  This is a highly innovative solution to the urban delivery of laundry that provides an environmental benefit without increasing our cost.

In cases where a sustainability win may require a significant initial investment, we work closely with our stakeholders to manage the solution.  As an example, University leadership recognized that Penn was not helping its carbon footprint by maintaining old, inefficient ultra-low temperature freezers.  To replace the hundreds of freezers in operation would require a significant investment.  With this concern on the minds of both Purchasing Services and the Green Campus Partnership, we teamed up, worked with key stakeholders and suppliers, and created a program, launched this year, to incent end users to replace their inefficient freezers with newer high efficiency models.  Working collaboratively with our purchasers is the key to promoting cost savings and sustainability.

Q: How does your office include the voices of Penn stakeholders into purchasing decisions – students as well as faculty and staff?

In any situation where a central purchasing decision will affect the business and work of faculty or staff, we do our very best to build stakeholder buy-in up front.  This is often done by forming an advisory group consisting of key Penn customers.  In certain cases, as with solutions that have an environmental impact, we also involve central partners including the Green Campus Partnership or Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (as examples).  Of course, often times, the very smart ideas are generated from those partner organizations or from among the Schools and Centers themselves, and we’re there to support. And while, faculty and staff are our primary audiences, students often bring their ideas to us. Conversely, we also seek the expertise of faculty and students to help us improve our programs.

Q: How do partnerships with local vendors and service providers figure into your purchasing plans and sustainability goals?

In line with University values, Purchasing Services works especially hard to do business locally.  This is largely driven by our goals to advance economic inclusion locally, but certainly offers sustainability benefits as well.  At the most basic level, as the University buys more locally, it in turn reduces the carbon output that would be required for longer distance transport of those products.  We also have local suppliers that really understand our innovative and green culture and offer smart solutions accordingly.  We also have a number of other local and regional suppliers offering green solutions, such as caterers who can manage our waste at events.

Q: Share with us your personal interest in being “green,” and any past personal or professional experiences that influence your work in sustainability today.

I am not a scientist and don’t pretend to know the full impact I make on the environment.  At the same time, I’m a science embracer and, like many, find it intuitively important to do what my family and I reasonably can.  In terms of commuting, our household maintains a zero-gas daily commute: I commute by bicycle, my wife commutes in an electric vehicle and our kids are elementary school walkers.  In our yard, we use a rain barrel to catch water for our garden and plants.  We say no to fighting mosquitoes with chemicals and instead have built a bat house to help restore our neighborhood’s mosquito-eating brown bat population.  We maintain a family ban on pesticides and herbicides.  All of our yard work is done by electric or by hand.  To that end, we were among the early adopters of the cordless electric lawn mower – a tool that I’m still shocked hasn’t become more standard given its low total cost and ease of use.

With that personal mindset, it’s refreshing and rewarding to be able to work at Penn, which of course maintains environmental sustainability as a core value.  These values are manifested deeply through my division (Division of Business Services ) and our department.  I love the fact that our suite has achieved Level 4 Green Office Certification.  I’m also proud of the fact that on our team of 16, we currently have no single-passenger car commuters.

Q: If you could look 5 years ahead, where would you like to see the University’s procurement efforts in support of environmental sustainability?

Over the past year, I have attended two major procurement conferences, each of which consisted of multiple sessions focused on today’s issues in procurement.  To my shock, in neither case was environmental sustainability a topic.  I would like to see Penn Purchasing at the forefront of higher education not only in terms of implementing smart, environmentally sustainable supply chain solutions, but also in leading national conversations on the topic.