Green Purchasing: Helping Nature and the Bottom Line

Working with suppliers, involving stakeholders and reducing costs are three keys to a successful green-purchasing program

By Janet Wiens  

One of the most common myths regarding green products is they are more expensive than their more traditional alternatives. Maintenance and engineering managers working to make their facilities more environmentally friendly concede upfront costs can be higher in some cases, but the life-cycle costs might be equal to or lower than non-green products.

One thing is clear. Maintenance management professionals and others undertaking green projects in institutional and commercial facilities must understand and be able to communicate clearly the economic benefits of their green-purchasing decisions. The ability to communicate the reasoning behind these choices to an array of stakeholders is vital. Following proven techniques will help managers build and maintain support for green purchasing and maintenance efforts.

Learning the Language

Maintenance and purchasing professionals must learn to speak differently regarding the value green projects can bring to facilities, says Sarah Hammond-Creighton, director of campus sustainability at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

“People more readily invest in grand and glorious green projects if (the projects) can be seen by the general public,” Hammond-Creighton says. “The challenge for maintenance professionals is to communicate the value of their facility decisions for investments that most people will never see.”

Consider the decision to invest money in solar panels versus installing a number of 20-horsepower, variable-speed-drive motors in a building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. The solar-panel project is important and beneficial but offers roughly a 30-year payback. On the other hand, the motor project has a four-year payback.

Although both are viable projects, the solar panels are visible to the public, while occupants and visitors will not see an HVAC system during their time in the building. That lack of visibility makes it more difficult for maintenance professionals to communicate the value of the project.

“Maintenance personnel must justify their proposals in ways that other departments, such as IT (information technology), often don’t have to,” Hammond-Creighton says. “It’s imperative to document and showcase the environmental and cost benefits in ways that cannot be ignored.”

Change can be disconcerting, so green-purchasing decisions might require a little selling upfront. When changing procedures or equipment, technicians might tell maintenance staff, “but we’ve always done it this way.” Managers can eliminate this statement by communicating upfront the reason something is changing and the financial and environmental benefits the change will produce. If the change is major, a test with a focus group can help others involved experience the benefits and understand the advantages.

Occupant Support

In many commercial and institutional facilities, occupant input can have a major impact on green-purchasing decisions. In higher education facilities, for example, managers and others involved in the decision making can include students and faculty in the process, and this involvement can be an excellent teaching tool.

“A student may hear in the classroom that a system, such as cogen, is a good environmental choice, but it may not be appropriate in all instances,” Hammond-Creighton says. “Maintenance personnel have an opportunity to help train the next generation of environmental leaders by partnering textbook and classroom learning with the realities of daily and long-term operating decisions. The person who oversees or runs a building’s system is an experienced resource when it comes to green purchasing, and capturing that knowledge and communicating it to students is a wonderful opportunity.”

Ralph Maier, chief procurement officer at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, advocates measuring the results to sell the benefits of green purchasing.

“This year, we are establishing a baseline so that in future years, we can measure the benefits of our sustainability decisions against a documented starting point,” he says. “It’s part of selling the value of green decisions.”

For example, addressing the effectiveness and related environmental benefits of boilers and chillers on the university campus is a major business initiative, Maier says, adding the university’s current and ongoing research in this area will enable officials to make informed decisions when buying new equipment or upgrading existing systems.

Partner with Suppliers

Support for green-purchasing programs goes beyond involving the managers, building occupants, and others involved in the decision-making process. Managers also can work with suppliers to outline the program’s goals.

“There is no single solution or approach to a green program,” says Jo Ann Murphy, director of purchasing at the University of Pennsylvania. “One key to success is to work with suppliers and to ask the right questions when looking for green products and equipment, such as doors, paint, carpet and dish washers.”

The university does not mandate the use of environmentally preferable products (EPP) but makes EPPs available as much as possible. Managers must ask suppliers the right questions to make informed decisions, including:

•Is the product certified as an EPP by a reputable third party?

•Where and how is the product manufactured, packaged and shipped?

•What is the product’s recycled content, if any?

•What is the warranty?

Focus on Energy Efficiency

The Legacy Healthcare System, which provides health care services in the Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., metropolitan areas, has received numerous awards for sustainable and environmental leadership. The organization’s focus on recycling, waste reduction and facility management contributes to a business approach that has significant environmental and financial implications.

“Energy efficiency dwarfs everything else in terms of both cost savings and positive benefits to the planet,” says Tom Badrick, Legacy’s sustainability coordinator. To improve energy efficiency, Badrick says managers should, “focus on HVAC systems, washers and dryers, lighting, and other equipment as a main component of a green-purchasing program.”

Managers can purchase Energy Star-rated appliances or other third-party-certified equipment. They can use lights with energy-efficient ballasts or low mercury content. They can replace lamps in groups rather than individually. And managers can invest the necessary amount of money in tools and products, such as air filters, to perform regularly scheduled maintenance on building systems.

Legacy’s environmental program began more than 15 years ago. Today, the institution’s comprehensive program involves stakeholders at all levels. Green teams within the organization focus on environmental friendliness and include representatives from many departments and occupations.

The teams develop strategies to address facility and operational issues, including recycling, landscaping, product purchasing, and energy use and reduction. The teams meet monthly to establish their own ideas and translate those ideas into goals with action steps. The teams share those goals, the actions that follow and the subsequent results with the entire organization.

Water Savings

Recycling programs and green-purchasing initiatives implemented at many health care organizations address the packaging of products delivered to the facility. But water was the focal point of recycling efforts at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The center completed its recycled-water project in 2006, and the project created immediate savings. The organization partnered with the San Antonio Water System to use recycled water, rather than water from the Edwards Aquifer – a groundwater system that serves the needs of almost 2 million customers in South Central Texas – for cooling-tower makeup and landscape irrigation. The project required the installation of special pumps, including one large rooftop unit for the cooling tower. As part of the project, the campus installed purple-colored lines that indicate the transportation of recycled water. The money the center saved in buying recycled rather than fresh water paid for the project almost as soon as it began operating.

The recycled-water project, as with many projects at the health science center, required communication between the maintenance department and building occupants. All hospitals must limit downtime, so maintenance staff must collaborate with and communicate needs to major departments before work begins. This step enables users to buy into the process and better understand the needs of maintenance personnel.

“Our maintenance staff is very production oriented, as are their counterparts at other institutions,” says Dr. Michael Charlton, the center’s assistant vice president for risk management and safety. “People need to understand that maintenance, especially on a system, cannot be completed without coordinating a sometimes intricate schedule.”

Check the Lights

As Legacy does, the health science center focuses on energy efficiency. In 2000-2001, the institution partnered with a vendor to replace the ballasts and fluorescent lights with higher-efficiency products. The vendor completed relamping at virtually no cost to the institution, based on long-term cost savings.

Another lighting retrofit implemented at the center involved specifying exit signs with light emitting diode (LED) lights. Installing LED lights provides the required illumination at a fraction of the cost of traditional incandescent lamps, Charlton says.

Green purchasing need not be expensive, but it does require a significant investment of time, especially in the startup stage. Managers can improve the odds of success by involving stakeholders on a variety of levels and communicating the environmental and economic benefits in clearly articulated and quantified ways. Showing the impact on the bottom line, as well as the environmental benefits of green purchasing, will help managers build and sustain long-term support for green programs.

Case Study: A Higher Education in Green

When the University of Miami wanted help becoming more environmentally friendly, the question really became, what could Green Seal™ do to help this institution go greener?

Like many organizations, local governments, businesses and academic institutions, the University of Miami already recognized the importance of good environmental stewardship and had committed to taking a leadership role. With its GreenU program, it set a university-wide goal of increasing sustainability through the procurement of environmentally responsible products and environmentally sound maintenance and operations procedures in new and existing buildings.

The university called on Green Seal two years ago to help identify areas in which it could improve energy efficiency, reduce toxic exposures, maximize natural resources and increase conservation efforts. Green Seal conducted a six-month evaluation, including onsite visits and interviews with staff and management, in which it thoroughly audited the facilities and provided recommendations.

Using checklists of criteria developed for similar clients, Green Seal evaluated the university’s green progress in areas such as purchasing, lighting, electronics, custodial operations, landscaping, roofing, parking, pest control and recycling.

Green Seal also identified the university’s existing strengths to help maximize resources and assets that would help it reach its sustainability goals, such as its highly efficient and effective purchasing department. Likewise, Green Seal identified areas of leadership — such as its conservation initiatives in lighting and electronics — that placed the university ahead of the pack.

In many instances, Green Seal found areas in which the university could both improve sustainability and save money. For example, improving the efficiency of heating and cooling systems and reducing energy use by maximizing natural resources saves money and lowers environmental impacts.

From identifying native plant species that would help conserve landscaping resources to recommending environmentally preferable architectural paints, Green Seal provided the university with a range of opportunities to achieve its goals.

Finally, Green Seal provided the university with recommendations for training programs that would enable campus staff to achieve continuous gains in environmental sustainability in all areas. Expanded employee training programs are essential for conserving resources, improving efficiency, reducing potentially hazardous exposures to products, such as cleaning chemicals, and enhancing employee pride.

Armed with a thorough assessment of the progress it already had made and the detailed steps needed to complete the process, the university was well positioned to meet and exceed the highest of environmental standards.

— Information provided by Green Seal



Green Seal™ is a non-profit, third-party certifier and standards-development body dedicated to transforming the economy and safeguarding the environment. Founded in 1989, Green Seal is the largest US-based ecolabeling organization, and its standards and criteria are referenced on more requests for proposal and purchasing guidelines than any other multi-attribute label.

A Green Seal Certification Mark means a product or service has gone through a stringent process, proving it has less impact on the environment and human health. Green Seal uses a life-cycle approach, and it awards certification after rigorous evaluation, including an onsite visit. The seal means the product works at least as well as others in its class and has been evaluated without bias or conflict of interest.

The Green Seal Institutional Greening program aids institutions in greening their purchasing, operations and facilities management. The World Bank, Los Angeles County, the Pentagon and others have sought Green Seal’s help in becoming more sustainable.





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  posted on 4/1/2008   Article Use Policy

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