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Growing a Green Procurement Plan

Implementing an environmentally preferable purchasing program doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are 9 steps to success

By Renee L. Shroades   Green

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The nation’s institutional and commercial facilities are more interested than ever in environmentally friendly products and services. And in response to the market’s demands, manufacturers have expanded their product lines by adding new offerings that seek to address facilities’ need for green.

Consider paints and cleaning products. These two product categories offer the biggest variety of choices, says Carl Smith, chief executive officer and executive director of Greenguard Environmental Institute.

“The range stretches from products that are not good for the environment at all to products that manufacturers have devoted a lot of energy and science to make them as green as possible,” Smith says.

For managers, this expansion has created new opportunities to help their organizations minimize their impact on the environments, but they also have created more work. Chief among these challenges is developing a procurement plan for products and services maintenance technicians use regularly. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of green product offerings, as well as setting specific procurement goals, is critical for managers developing an environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) program.

Tracking Trends

Manufacturers of almost every kind of product are addressing the needs of the green movement in their products.

“We’ve seen some tremendous improvements in the overall environmental quality of some products, such as furniture, window treatments and wall coverings,” Smith says. “Carpeting has seen some huge strides in sustainable products.”

Today’s carpets feature more recycled content and curtail emissions, and they are made using lower levels of fossil fuels.

The demand for green products also has led to the development of technologies that either use alternative energy or use less traditional energy.

“I’ve seen a lot of people interested in biodiesel and alternative fuel,” says Debra Taevs, project manager for Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention. This interest has led to more options for grounds care equipment. The lighting industry also has made significant advances in energy efficiency through the use of compact fluorescents and solid state lighting, or LEDs.

Many manufacturers also are paying attention to where their products end up after their useful lives end.

“Paint is still a huge solid-waste issue for municipalities across the country,” Taevs says. Although many manufacturers of virgin paint have made their products more environmentally friendly, many organizations have huge amounts of unused paint that they must dispose. Paint-recycling organizations enable managers to reduce their disposal costs while also minimizing the amount of paint in landfills.

Some suppliers also are offering more recycled paints.

“Purchasing recycled paint is one way you could make an EPP decision and immediately save 50 percent or more of your paint budget,” she says.

In the past, color consistency was a major issue for makers of recycled paint. Today, some recyclers offer a variety of colors and mix it in large batches so managers can buy everything they need from one batch to achieve color consistency for an entire painting project.

Watch the Words

Given the widening spectrum of green products and services, managers must be very careful in weighing the promised benefits of these offerings. The spike in the demand for green materials has led some manufacturers to oversell the environmental benefits of their products.

“Too often, manufacturers use the words natural, organic or some other generic phrase to describe their product in hopes of positioning it as green,” Smith says. “But in fact, there is no supportable data that distinguishes their product at all in the marketplace. We tell managers to find independent information that confirms if the product they’re considering is greener or more sustainable than other products that serve the same purpose.”

False claims can frustrate managers specifying products and services.

“I think a lot of people see a green claim to a product and they don’t really believe it,” Taevs says. “Because they don’t know how to figure out if it is a legitimate claim of environmental preferability, they kind of give up on attempting to differentiate between a good product and a bad product.”

Steps to Success

Managers can use the following steps to further ensure the long-term success of an EPP program.

GET HIGH-LEVEL SUPPORT. Too often, managers try to develop and implement a green-purchasing program by themselves or only for their departments.

“You’ll have much better success if you get someone on board from upper management who can give your efforts credibility and force within your organization,” Taevs says.

PUT IT IN WRITING. Establish a company policy formalizing the organization’s commitment to buy green products.

“The organization’s commitment should be something in writing that gets distributed to all employees,” says Jeffrey Burke, executive director of the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable. All affected parties — particularly the purchasing department — should be part of creating the policy and understand its long-term goals and benefits.

DEFINE EPP. A green-purchasing policy should contain a clear definition of EPP.

“I think a lot of people don’t have a clear understanding of EPP,” Taevs says. Managers might want to start with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s definition, which describes EPP as products and services that have a reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared to competing products and services that serve the same purpose.

Managers then can fine-tune their definition. For example, they might want to define eligible EPP products as those that are more durable and less hazardous, conserve energy or water, or that are made from recycled materials, Taevs says.

They also might consider the contents of the product. For example, products made from plant-based materials generally are more environmentally friendly than those made from non-renewable resources. They also can look at the product’s end-of-life impact and look for products made from biodegradable materials.

MAKE SURE IT PAYS. Most companies that have successfully implemented a green-purchasing program are using a triple bottom-line approach, Taevs says. Under this strategy, managers consider the environmental and social benefits of products and services, as well as their financial benefits.

“You don’t need to give up anything you were always asking for in your products, such as efficiency and cost, but you also have a criteria that encompasses some environmental aspects,” Taevs says.

WORK WITH SUPPLIERS. Managers should talk to their suppliers about their EPP efforts and ask about green alternatives.

“In a lot of cases, suppliers can offer products that might have more recycled content or less toxicity or save more water than their traditional counterparts,” Taevs says.

In some cases, these discussions help drive product development. Suppliers will tell researchers at their company that customers are asking for greener product options. As a result, these companies will research ways to make their products more environmentally friendly as a way of driving sales and profits. Discussions about green alternatives also should continue as new products become available.

“Don’t rely on what you have done in the past to get you to a greener future,” Burke says. “Continue to ask your suppliers for greener alternatives. Sometimes, managers purchase a product that they consider green, and over a period of time it might not be as green as it used to be.”

For example, a product might contain a chemical that environmental experts eventually realize is harmful to the environment.

CREATE A GREEN TEAM. Managers should identify individuals in their departments who are interested in the issue to research green product alternatives.

“Maybe you have a contract coming up for a certain product, and you ask them to check it out and see if there is another product that is better environmentally,” Taevs says.

This strategy can help managers establish a corporate culture around EPP that goes beyond maintenance and engineering departments, she adds. It also can spark discussions among staff members about other steps they can take to make their departments and organization more environmentally friendly and foster more commitment to the organization’s green-purchasing goals.

START SMALL. EPP programs can cover an array of products, services and related issues. As a result, managers might be overwhelmed in seeking to start a green-purchasing program. It might be easier for them to begin the process by focusing on one goal, such as buying products that use less packaging.

“If a contract is scheduled for renewal, they could start with just looking at the options for that one particular product,” Taevs says. “Try to achieve a little success and build from there.”

TRACK THE RESULTS. To ensure continuing support, managers should track the success of their green-purchasing efforts. These figures might include reductions in energy, water or chemical use.

“When possible, managers should show the results of their efforts in terms that are meaningful,” Taevs says. For example, many organizations offer calculators on their web sites that can help managers calculate greenhouse gas emissions, trees saved, or amount of material diverted from landfills.

“Maybe you went from virgin to 10-percent recycled paper,” Taevs says. “The calculator will tell you how many trees you saved.”

Finding time to properly use these resources might be difficult for some managers, but these steps are essential in helping staff, as well as the organization as a whole, understand the department’s accomplishments and in encouraging future green efforts.

GIVE KUDOS. “Recognition is a great way to get people excited,” Taevs says. “Let’s say you try a new product and save 100 trees or 8,000 gallons of water. Give your staff recognition for this effort and make them proud.”

Getting greener doesn’t have to be difficult. Managers don’t have to perform in-depth research or know about complex chemical formulations to come to conclusions, Smith says.

“If the product has a smell, you can use your own gut to determine if it is emitting a lot of fumes and will have an impact on the environment,” he says. Such observations can have significant benefits.

“Studies show that show greener operations have a payback for organizations,” he says. “The payback is not just in cost, but in things like absenteeism, worker comp claims, and allergy issues.” And managers should always look for improvement opportunities.

Adds Smith, “I believe being green is continual improvement process. There is always a bar being raised. It is a nirvana that you might not fully achieve, but you’re always taking strides in that direction.”

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  posted on 4/1/2007   Article Use Policy

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