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Managers Discuss Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Programs

By Chris Matt, Managing Editor - Print & E-Media - January 2011 - Green


*Doug McLean, Management Analyst, Facilities Management/Administrative Services, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

*JoAnn Murphy, Director of Purchasing, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Making purchasing decisions is one of the most difficult and important tasks maintenance and engineering managers face. Primary considerations when specifying building products and technologies include cost — both initial and life-cycle — maintenance requirements, and storage. But a product's impact on the environment is increasingly important, and organizations are implementing green purchasing programs to address that concern.

What were the biggest challenges in implementing your environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) program?

MCLEAN: First, making people aware that green alternatives actually exist for many products. Second, for some reason, a lot of people still think green products don't work as well as some of the older, tried-and-true products. This is especially true when it comes to green chemicals and cleaning products. So a big part of going green is convincing your employees and your customers that you aren't sacrificing quality for the sake of the environment. It requires re-educating people by letting them try and become familiar with the products, which in turn creates product trust and employee and customer buy-in.

MURPHY: I think the biggest challenge is that there is not a single answer for when someone asks, "What is the right product, or what is the green product to buy." It's not black and white. It's varying shades of green. That's the biggest challenge is that there is no single right answer. You really have to look at each and get the best choice for your specific situation. The second biggest challenge is overcoming the misconception that it's always more expensive (to buy green products). People tend to focus on initial cost, rather than total cost, including the life cycle of the product and the disposal of the product. Those are all the factors that need to be taken into account.

What are the program's primary cost considerations?

MURPHY: When we do make a change, because we are a large university, we will phase in a change. To address the issue of leftover inventory, we will try to use up what we have, as opposed to just letting it go stagnant and sit on the shelf. The disposal costs at the end are another consideration. If you're making a switch for light bulbs, it doesn't make sense to get rid of your entire inventory of light bulbs just because you're making a switch.

MCLEAN: The initial costs involved with converting to green products can be significant. Energy-efficient lighting, water-conserving plumbing fixtures, turf conversions, and updating warehouse inventory with green chemicals and energy-efficient spare parts requires an upfront investment that won't generate an immediate return in most cases.

What is the role of maintenance and engineering managers in the EPP program?

MCLEAN: Maintenance and engineering managers play a key role in implementation. Our HVAC, energy management, and electrical managers have all contributed to significant savings in campus electricity use through conversions to energy-efficient lighting, ballasts, room-occupancy sensors, and a state-of-the-art HVAC control system. Our landscaping and grounds managers have converted large areas of campus turf to water-friendly desert landscaping, and our plumbing managers have converted restrooms to sensor-operated, low-flush urinals, commodes, and sinks. This has resulted in significant water savings.

MURPHY: We work closely with facilities. We do a good job of working together collaboratively just to figure out what the right choices are. Again, that goes back to the shades of green. What might be good for one building may not work in another building. Facilities is trying to balance that also.

What are the biggest concerns managers have about the program?

MCLEAN: When it comes to changing over to new chemical and cleaning products — or even electrical, HVAC, and plumbing components — the big concern is always, "Will this new stuff work as well as the old stuff?" Managers also worry about how much the changeover is going to cost, as well as whether or not the new products are going to cost more than the old. To address these concerns, we try to show that even though the new items might cost more upfront, they will save money over the life cycle in reduced utility use, longer life, etc. Sometimes an item costs more, and there really is no savings, but it's the right thing to do as good environmental stewards.

MURPHY: They do have concerns. If you look at something like switching the type of paper towels, it seems like something that's very simple. But (managers) look at the amount of paper towel in the different types of rolls. They think about how much they're going to go through and how many more rolls they're going to need to change. They don't always just look at cost. They look at the whole impact of (the decision), which is good. Someone needs to do that. Managers actually will weigh all the options, and based on all the input, they make the right decisions.

What is the process managers must go through before making purchasing decisions to ensure they align with the goals of the EPP program?

MURPHY: The pilot program (is important). We try it in one building first or in one floor of the building to try things out to see how they work. Then we can expand the pilot. You can do all your research, and you can do all of your pros and cons, but until you try it in a real-life scenario, you never get the full impact. You also take into account the feedback from building occupants.

MCLEAN: The campus program is still fairly new. But facilities management has actually been buying green for quite some time now, originally to cut utility costs, which then expanded to other areas.

How does the program impact purchasing building systems and components, such as HVAC and lighting?

MCLEAN: The color of money is green, and that's what it's all about for us — saving money. We've been purchasing green electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and landscaping products for quite some time now, mostly to save money on utilities. Of course, the side benefit is we're also doing what's right for the environment. But if you focus on cutting utility costs, you'll find yourself going green without really trying too hard.

What impact has the EPP program had on recycling and waste-management initiatives?

MURPHY: We recently implemented a minimum order value with our office supplies. That's one of the new programs we started just to reduce the number of small-dollar orders and, therefore, reduce the amount of boxes and cartons that are delivered to campus. There are actually hard-dollar savings for the university also because, at the end of the day, we need to dispose of that cardboard box. The fewer cardboard boxes that we have to dispose of is hard-dollar savings for us.

MCLEAN: With the changeover to many green products, we can assume that our chemical waste stream is less toxic than it used to be. Although outflow is not measured, water-saving plumbing fixtures have decreased our water use. So it can be reasonably assumed that our sewage outflow has been reduced, as well.

What impact has the purchasing program had on inventory management and the quantity of MRO spare parts and equipment?

MCLEAN: It's had a huge impact on inventory management. New products require new stock numbers, shelf space, etc. Old products need to be phased out through attrition or through inventory reduction — either sold as surplus or turned in for recycling. Quantities of stock items haven't really changed that much, but the type of items being stocked has changed significantly. A good example is incandescent lamps. We used to stock many, but now only a few. The same evolution has happened with fluorescent lighting, ballasts and plumbing fixtures. We have replaced all of them with new, more efficient green models. The bottom line is, our warehouse stock looks much different today than it did just a few years ago, and it continues to evolve every day.

MURPHY: We did just recently launch an online surplus property exchange. It's not a surplus sales site for personal products. It's really designed to be an exchange from department to department. It's a huge benefit from a disposal standpoint.




Roundtable: Green Purchasing

Part 1: Managers Discuss Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Programs


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