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Green Procurement - Pollution Prevention Regional Information Center Topic Hub

This topic hub addresses information about the selection by an organization of products and services that reduce environmental impacts and provides a glimpse of the enormous impact purchasing decisions can have on the environment.

Making the Green Purchase Change

The following list provides examples of green purchasing actions you can implement on a limited basis. Consider it a list of the "Top Ten" things you can do to have immediate impact and results.

  1. Review purchase specifications and contracts to determine if they contain environmental performance standards or requirements.
  2. Ask your existing suppliers about environmentally friendly alternatives and give them a try.
  3. Consider how to make your product or service "green" and what you'll need to purchase differently to make it happen.
  4. Choose a suitable green products listing and use it when making purchases.
  5. Purchase and install energy efficient lighting for your buildings.
  6. Determine who supplies your energy and consider changing to alternative-powered energy sources.
  7. Request vendors to provide supplies in reusable packaging that can be used for your products or returned to the supplier.
  8. Purchase appropriately sized lots to minimize waste. Purchase bulk where feasible but in small quantities for shelf life/dated materials.
  9. Change your office purchasing policies: buy recycled office consumable products, Energy Star certified office equipment, and reusable utensils, plates and cups for meetings.
  10. Buy and use less toxic cleaners. Or hire those who do.

Now consider what it would take to develop a successful green purchasing program. Here are eight keys to success in building a green product purchasing program.

    1. Make a statement of intent.

      This establishes management support and sets priorities. If publicized, it informs and raises awareness among suppliers and employees about the objectives and conditions of the change, and of the their roles. This can be done with a revised business policy, mission, or declaration. Caution: Terminology is important! This intent can be promoted as a cost or quality program.
    2. Put someone in charge

      Identifying a leader establishes accountability. A coordinator can research products and work with users.
    3. Work with departments (and suppliers) one-on-one. Set reasonable expectations and reward small accomplishments.

      This approach engages experts in the work that they know best. Change takes time. You can't just say "buy green" and expect it to happen. You can expect mistakes—learn from them. End users know what they need. Environmental purchasing coordinators can help find products that fulfill those needs. Find and work with the internal champion. When you have changed the buying habits of one person, you've succeeded. Build on that and go to the next person. Use teams.
    4. Start where you are. Ask existing suppliers for environmentally preferable products.

      What products are you buying for which there are recycled or low volatile organic compound (low-VOC) alternatives? Use measures well-understood by suppliers and users alike. Have a department test and evaluate a new product. Don't make the decision for them. Ask what products are used in areas where environmental regulations are stricter, such as California, Canada, or Europe. Verify claims of additional cost. Emphasize teamwork of all parties.
    5. Look for products that save money and meet other performance needs

      Set objectives that can be measured in meaningful terms. Easy wins include toner cartridges (one-third the cost of new cartridges), tire retreading (half the cost of new tires), energy-efficient products (rule of thumb: new equipment will have low enough operating cost savings over energy consuming equipment greater than 10 years old to pay for itself). Use measures such as materials/unit of production.
    6. Test the new products over a few months to assess efficiency, quality, and user friendliness.

      Compare them to conventional equivalents. Don't forget that purchasing depends on availability and other performance attributes.

Utilize calculators that are available to help calculate the benefits of green purchasing.

The Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN) Calculators 
      The Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN) has collected 12 Green Purchasing Calculators to help quantify the results of responsible purchasing. 

EnviroCalc-Environmental Benefits and Cost Savings Calculator for Purchasers 
      EnviroCalc is a downloadable spreadsheet-based tool designed to estimate the environmental benefits of purchases of recycled-content and energy efficient products in a single tool. One of the advantages is that all the calculations are based on reporting information that is easily obtained from product suppliers. 

Energy Star Calculators 
      The Energy Star website contains a number of calculators created to estimate the potential savings and payback period for purchases of energy efficient products. 

Environmental Benefits Calculator 
      The Northeast Recycling Council, Inc. (NERC) developed this Calculator as an easy-to-use means of generating estimates of the environmental benefits of a study area, based on the tonnages of materials that are source reduced, reused, recycled, landfilled, or incinerated (includes waste-to-energy). The Calculator can be used to educate the public, legislators and others about these benefits, assist state and municipal employees to better understand the impacts of their waste management programs, support market development efforts, and to increase the public's understanding of source reduction, reuse and recycling as a sustainable environmental strategy. 

EPEAT-Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool 
      A procurement tool to help institutional purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes. EPEAT was developed through a 3-year stakeholder process that was managed by a non-profit organization - Zero Waste Alliance. 

      There are also calculation tools that can be used to measure your organizations GHG emissions and waste stream to help build reports on your sustainability efforts. 

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Calculation Tools 

The Business Calculator 

The EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) 

Network and share information

      Learn from others, and share your successes, even though they may seem small. 
King County's environmental purchasing program
     has a web site and distributes e-mail bulletins to keep in touch with county departments and other jurisdictions. Encourage program staff to subscribe to listserves and belong to national organizations.
  1. Network and share information

    Learn from others, and share your successes, even though they may seem small. King County's environmental purchasing program has a web site and distributes e-mail bulletins to keep in touch with county departments and other jurisdictions. Encourage program staff to subscribe to listserves and belong to national organizations.
  2. Collect data and publicize

    Publishing information that demonstrates reduced costs, improved efficiency, increased market response, or enhanced environmental performance promotes accountability and information sharing. Communicate internally and with suppliers using email, newsletters and periodic meetings.

Once your program is in place, consider the following issues: 

Perform a Product Life Cycle Cost Analysis

Look beyond purchase price when making purchasing decisions. Consider the costs of operations and maintenance, worker exposure and waste disposal. These extended costs are often hidden, and can reveal previously unrecognized savings.

Contracting for Services

Service agreements with no written environmental performance standards allow the contractor flexibility to operate under their own environmental management systems. Contract agreements provide a strong leverage point for requiring improved environmental performance standards. Purchasing professionals have tremendous buying power. Suppliers in a competitive relationship with other suppliers, and suppliers seeking to gain a preferred position have a motivation to respond to your customer needs. 

Leasing Equipment or Consumable

Evaluate whether a piece of equipment or consumable you are currently buying can be more cost effective if the supplier "leases" or provides a "service". Under a leasing system, actual ownership of the product remains with the manufacturer. Customers pay for the use and maintenance of a product. At the end of the product's useful life, the manufacturer is responsible for disposal. The lessee can obtain use of high quality equipment that is regularly upgraded. In addition, the lessee can avoid disposal costs. The lessee also can retain high value equipment that delivers more revenue over its life. 

Buying Office Supplies

There are a tremendous amount of office products available that are made from recycled content and are energy efficient. Buying these products helps conserve natural resources. 

Increase Communication Among Purchasing Operations

If you have a fragmented purchasing system (each department responsible for purchasing their own materials) then develop a coordinated purchasing system. This allows for purchasers to apply standard criteria for evaluating and purchasing products. Coordinated purchases can better leverage volume with a supplier. This system also provides better inventory control so products are not "over purchased", which causes many products to expire on the shelf. Once expired, these products then need to be disposed of properly. 

Buying Energy

Restructuring of the electric utility industry has allowed purchasing departments to choose among power supplies. Renewable sources of energy can now be purchased instead of power from coal or other fossil fuels. 

Buying or Receiving "Demo" Products

"Demo" products used for testing purposes become a waste once the tests are complete. Often these waste products need to be disposed of as a hazardous waste. Do not accept products for trial runs if the manufacturer or manufacturer's representative will not take back the product or provide you with disposal options. 

Get to Know Your Suppliers

Are suppliers manufacturing their products in the most environmentally responsible way? Do they have formal energy conservation programs? Do they have formal water conservation programs? Do they design their products for ease of recycling or take-back after the product's useful life? Do they have special requirements from you? 

Consider Products Certified by Third Parties

A product designed around a single attribute such as recycled content, energy efficiency, or bio-based materials may not "make the grade" as a green purchase. To do so, an evaluation based on multiple, diverse attributes such as chemical composition, toxicity, and biodegradability needs to occur. Third party certifiers, such as Green Seal or Scientific Certification Systems can make your purchasing decisions easier because of their work on verifying environmental performance.

Learn From Government Programs

Really! Several programs have been implemented to evaluate and identify green products. These provide information resources you don't have to reinvent. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency has established a ranking of often purchased product types that have reduced environmental impact.

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