Fighting Global Warming: Government Purchasers Play an Important and Growing Role
President Bush talked about taking action to combat the “serious challenge” of global warming in his most recent state of the union address. The U.S. Congress is holding hearings to determine how the country should address the issue. Military planners at the Department of Defense are analyzing how global warming affects national security issues. Several states and more than 375 U.S. cities have established targets for reducing their emissions of global warming pollutants. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently announced fighting global warming as its most important priority. Large private sector companies, including Wal-Mart, BP, General Electric, PG&E, DuPont, and others, are building global warming mitigation and contingency plans into their long-range strategic planning.
After decades of debate, global warming is now recognized as fact. The earth is getting warmer and human activity is the primary cause.
Global Warming Overview
The Earth’s atmosphere includes a layer of gases that trap the sun’s warming energy much the same way as the glass in a greenhouse traps heat. For most of the Earth’s history, the greenhouse gases trapped just enough of the sun’s energy to create a moderate temperature that allowed life to thrive.
With the dawn of the industrial age, humans began significantly increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases by burning fossil fuels like coal and oil to operate factories, generate electricity, and power automobiles. Burning fossil fuels releases significant volumes of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases. Other human practices, including certain industrial practices, raising large numbers of cattle, and cutting down large numbers of trees, are also increasing the percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
As the concentrations of greenhouse gases increase, temperatures slowly begin to rise. The rising temperatures affect weather patterns, increasing hurricane strength, storm intensities, and other severe weather events. It also increases sea levels, modifies growing seasons, alters animal migration patterns, and increases extinction rates.
Role of the Purchasing Community
Every purchase has global warming impacts. The impacts begin with the selection and collection of the raw materials. They continue with the oil used to transport the raw materials to the factory, to transform the raw materials into the product, to transport the product to the end user, to operate the product, and to remove the product when it is no longer useful.
Some products have fewer global warming impacts than others. Products made locally generally have less of a global warming impact than similar products made further away because of the shorter transportation distances. Products transported primarily via ship or rail have less of a global warming impact because they are more fuel efficient transportation methods than the same products transported via truck or plane. Plant-based products generally have less of a global warming impact than petroleum-based products of similar size and weight shipped similar distances.
Products manufactured in a solar- or wind-powered factory have less of a global warming impactthan similar product manufactured in a factory powered by oil or coal. Energy-efficient products, because they consume less energy when they are used, also generally have less of a global warming impact.
While time consuming, it is possible to calculate the global warming impacts of a product by quantifying the impacts of every component used to make the product and calculating the impacts of the transportation mode and shipping distances throughout every phase of the product’s lifecycle. It requires calculating impacts from the raw materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use, and ultimate disposal.
Tesco, a European supermarket chain, is beginning a program to provide a global warming rating for everything it sells. The chain is creating an index to measure the “carbon footprint” required to produce, package, and transport each product in its stores. Consumers can then include the carbon footprint along with price and product quality when making purchasing decisions.
While still in its infancy, organizations are beginning to develop certification standards for climate neutral products—products that do not contribute to global warming. The Climate Neutral Network, www.govinfo.bz/6774-214, for example, recognizes products meeting its “climate cool” criteria. Interface Inc., a floor covering manufacturer, was one of the first to have one of its products recognized.
As more and more organizations begin actively addressing global warming, professional purchasers will be asked to evaluate the global warming implications of each purchase.
Climate Friendly Purchasing
Many common purchasing practices, such as specifying energy- or fuel-efficient products, are already helping efforts to reduce the global warming threat. A few organizations are adopting more aggressive ways of measuring and reducing their global-warming impacts. Some of the most common and emerging practices are highlighted below.
Carbon offsets allow an organization to invest in projects designed to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions as a way of offsetting their current emissions. Nike, for example, developed a program with Delta Airlines to offset the global warming pollution associated with Nike employee air travel. Nike and Delta invest in efforts like projects to improve the energy efficiency of local Oregon schools. The reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the schools are used to offset the emissions created by employee travel. Other carbon offset programs include financing solar or wind energy projects, helping less fortunate communities improve energy efficiency, or planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide. A variety of state and local governments have included carbon offsets as a potential way of reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions.
Buying more energy efficient products is an important way many governments are reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The City of Portland, OR, has been tracking its greenhouse gas emissions associated with its electricity purchases and seeking ways to reduce the impacts since 1993 when it became the first U.S. city to launch a global warming action plan. In 2001, the city replaced all of its traffic lights with more energy-efficient LED lights cutting energy use by 4.9 million kilowatt hours and reducing its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2,300 tons of carbon dioxide. In addition to cutting its traffic light energy use by 80 percent, the LED lights save the city $500,000 annually.
Many state and local governments already regularly require products to meet the U.S. government’s Energy Star criteria , www.govinfo.bz/6774-216. Energy Star registered products significantly reduce energy consumption, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
On January 24, President Bush signed an executive order mandating all federal agencies to improve energy efficiency (See below).
One of the most important defining characteristics of a green building is improved energy efficiency. As a result, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building rating system, www.govinfo.bz/6774-217, devotes significant points to the energy efficiency of a building. More than a third of all states and dozens of local governments now require that all new construction meet the LEED criteria. President Bush’s new executive order requires federal agencies to use green building practices.
The EPEAT green computer standard, www.govinfo.bz/6774-218, includes energy-efficiency requirements that help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of products when they are being used. EPEAT also requires products to be designed to be easily disassembled and recycled, which helps further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Federal agencies are now required to buy EPEAT registered products.
To further reduce global warming impacts, Dell Computer recently announced a program allowing its customers to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from operating its products for an additional fee of $2 to $6. The fee is used to fund a carbon offset program.
Hybrid Electric and Other Alternatively Fueled Vehicles
Automobiles account for 20 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emissions. Any effective effort to reduce global-warming impacts requires reducing vehicle emissions. Vehicles powered by alternative fuels like compressed natural gas, ethanol, or biodiesel are important steps in the right direction. The City of Portland, OR, promotes alternative fuels. It even requires its garbage collection contractors to fuel their trucks with biodiesel.
Additional climate benefits are available with hybrid electric vehicles. Many scientists and engineers also remain hopeful that hydrogen powered fuel cells will soon be available and able to further reduce global warming impacts.
While many government agencies have already purchased flexible fuel vehicles capable of running on alternative fuels, because of limited availability or additional costs, very few are actually using the alternative fuels to power the vehicles. Governments appear to have greater success reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and saving money with hybrid electric vehicles.
According to a list maintained by the Center for a New American Dream, more than 4,000 hybrid
electric vehicles are in use by government fleets. They are being purchased for use in 35 states.
Others are also switching to hybrid electric vehicles. Some large delivery fleets, including FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service, are evaluating hybrid electric vehicles.
For additional information on the financial and global-warming benefits of hybrid electric vehicles, the U.S. Department of Energy offers an online calculator allowing organizations to compare different vehicles www.govinfo.bz/6774-219.
Recycled Content Products
Buying recycled-content products reduces greenhouse gas emissions because it is significantly less energy intensive to manufacture something from recycled materials than from virgin materials. A White House report calculates that global warming carbon emissions from producing a ton of recycled steel, copper, glass, or paper is 4 to 5 times less than producing the same material from virgin sources. Manufacturing recycled aluminum products produces 40 times less global warming emissions than making those products from virgin aluminum.
Buying recycled content paper helps reduce global warming because making new paper out of old paper reduces the need to cut down trees. Trees absorb and store the carbon that is contributing to global warming. Just as importantly, manufacturing new paper from old paper requires significantly less energy than making paper from trees, which means significantly fewer emissions of global-warming pollutants.
The Environmental Defense Paper Calculator, www.govinfo.bz/6774-220, allows purchasers to compare the global warming and other environmental impacts of their paper purchases. Buying 1,000 tons of 100 percent recycled content paper in place of 1,000 tons of virgin paper, for example, eliminates 2 million pounds of global warming pollutants from the atmosphere.
Electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to global warming. Approximately 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States result from burning coal and other fossil fuels to generate electricity. In an effort to reduce their global warming contributions, many organizations are switching some or all of their electricity purchases to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, or low-impact hydro.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Program, www.govinfo.bz/6774-221, provides detailed specification, purchasing, and supplier information for organizations interested in buying renewable electricity.
Organizations using EPA’s resources are invited to join as program partners. The program currently includes almost 700 green power partners buying 7.3 billion kilowatt hours of “green” electricity. Partners include 7 states, 14 federal agencies, and 59 local governments.
The world’s scientists have identified global warming as the most important issue facing human society. As business leaders and politicians begin addressing the issue in a more coordinated fashion, purchasing officials will be increasingly called upon to use their expertise to help reduce the global warming impacts of routine purchasing decisions. It looks like things will be heating up in purchasing departments across the country very soon.
About the Author
Scot Case is the founder of Responsible Sourcing Solutions, a consulting firm that helps organizations create value by integrating human health, environmental, and social considerations into strategic planning, purchasing, and other critical business decisions. He can be reached at [email protected]
Impacts of Global Warming
A United Nations report released in early February presents global warming as the most important issue facing humanity. Some of the global warming impacts predicted in the report including the following:
- Rising Temperatures – The average global temperature is expected to rise 2 to 12 degrees with the most likely scenarios predicting rises of 3 to 8 degrees.
- Rising Sea Levels – Sea levels are expected to rise by 7 to 23 inches by 2100 threatening islands and coastal cities. An additional 4 to 8 inches is possible if the polar ice sheets collapse, which many scientists are predicting.
- Increasing Storm Intensity – Warmer air and water temperatures are expected to increase the destructiveness of hurricanes and other storms.
- Changing Weather Patterns – Heat waves are expected to increase in number and intensity.
Rainfall is expected to increase in some places and decrease in others, increasing the dangers from both droughts and floods.
President Bush Issues Executive Order Requiring Green Purchasing
On January 24, 2007, President Bush issued Executive Order 13423 Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management. The Executive Order requires federal agencies to continually improve their environmental performance.
It mandates a variety of environmental practices, including:
- Improving energy efficiency and reducing global warming greenhouse gas emissions.
- Obtaining at least half of mandated renewable energy purchases from new renewable sources.
- Improving water efficiency.
- Buying biobased, environmentally preferable, energy- and water-efficient, and recycled-content products.
- Reducing hazardous material purchases and disposal.
- Constructing energy-efficient “green” buildings.
- Improving vehicle fuel efficiency.
- Buying EPEAT registered “green” computer products.
A copy of the executive order is available on the White House Web site: www.govinfo.bz/6774-215.
Call for Case Studies
Is your agency examining the global-warming impacts of routine purchasing decisions? Does your purchasing department already have a global warming policy? If so, Government Procurement will inform readers of global-warning policies in future issues. Send relevant information to Scot Case at [email protected]