Sustainable procurement’s evolution
Sustainability is a moving target and staying informed on environmental trends and projections is key, says Stacy Gregg, procurement manager II for the State Fiscal Accountability Authority at the South Carolina Department of Procurement Services.
Many states and cities already have mandates and goals for sustainable procurement programs. “It is important, however, that procurement professionals are leading their entities in the discussion and planning for these efforts,” Gregg (photo at right) says.
It’s hard to predict when new sustainability targets might bubble to the surface, Gregg adds. “As we have witnessed in recent years, social expectations may change rapidly and without warning,” Gregg says.
As stewards of public resources, public purchasers should be prepared to make adjustments when needed, Gregg explains. ”When legislators respond to the concerns of their constituencies with new requirements, policies or laws, including sustainability requirements and goals, we must be prepared to follow.”
New global standard in the works
ISO 20400, a global standard “Sustainable Procurement – Guidance,” from the International Organization for Standardization, will be released by the end of March. It will provide guidelines for organizations, including governments, which want to integrate sustainability into their procurement processes.
Agencies will use ISO 20400 as a guide, says Josh Jacobs, Technical Information and Public Affairs Manager at UL, the independent, not-for-profit product safety testing and certification organization. Jacobs also serves as chair of the US Mirror Committee for ISO 20400.
“Organizations will be able to use this standard to audit to. So an agency will be able to have an expert come in and say ‘Here is where you are deficient, here is where you could do better and here is where you are doing well in.’”
Dennis Murphey, Chief Environmental Officer for Kansas City, Mo., believes the Trump Administration will implement changes in environmental policies that could influence sustainable procurement. As a city staffer, Murphey promoted the adoption of KC’s sustainable procurement ordinance. “It is crystal clear that federal government priorities will refocus on greater reliance upon fossil fuels and away from any emphasis upon a continued expansion of renewable energy sources,” Murphey tells Government Procurement. He adds that it’s still unclear whether the new administration will support energy efficiency programs.
Murphey (photo at left) offer this sobering conclusion: “So, while the federal government prioritizes looking in the rear view mirror of the past rather than through the windshield of the future, other countries —China in particular — will step into this void and exploit the economic opportunity to be the leading producer of solar energy systems and the country that deploys renewable energy to the greatest extent.”
Murphey predicts that drinking water will be under the microscope in 2017. “We have seen — and I believe will continue to see — a greater emphasis upon clean water initiatives at the local level. The Flint Mich., water crisis revealed a significant public health threat that is much more widespread than we realized prior to the crisis in Flint.”
Murphey says drinking water quality is a priority for his city’s water department, “and has provided free testing to homeowners who may have concerns about the quality of water from their taps, based upon the stories regarding Flint.”
Public Policy Changes
Green purchasing policies in government are evolving, say Bob Perkins, Procurement Manager in Ada County, Idaho (photo on right). He says government entities that haven’t adopted some form of green procurement program by now will do so through policy initiatives. “Those that already have will likely start to morph their green policies with social and economic policies. What we may likely end up with in the future is an evolution of those factors that lead to an overarching commonsensical policy for government agencies,” Perkins explains. That policy, he adds, may speak to sustainable practices with an eye towards social stewardship and dollar leveraging. “In other words, smarter decisions that lead to responsible buying.”
Perkins outlined a few examples of social procurement policies: “They might include preference for small disadvantaged businesses, such as a Minority or Women Business Enterprises (MBE/WBE), or it could be seeking certification from suppliers that the products/raw materials they are selling were made in the USA.” Perkins says we are likely to see more of these made-in-USA certification programs during the Trump Administration years.
Perkins offers the following potential supplier certification conditions and goals:
–That the product did not come from known countries where sweatshop or child labor exists; or
–That the product was acquired from a rehabilitation program that helps the disabled by providing job opportunities.
Procurement based on sustainability is transitioning, says Darin Matthews, Director of Procurement and adjunct faculty at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “Traditionally, sustainable purchasing has been about environmental purchasing – procuring recycled paper, etc. A new trend is emerging to include an expanded concept of social responsibility.”
Matthews (photo at left) says many organizations incorporated sweatshop-free and social equity concepts in their solicitations in the past, but the social equity aspect is also expanding to include supplier diversity. “On the west coast, there is a trend to also include LGBT-certified business enterprises in the inclusion of diversity of suppliers, which may be generally accepted in California but controversial in other areas of the country.”
A variety sustainability of trends are apparent, says Julia Wolfe, Director of Environmental Purchasing in the Massachusetts Operational Services Division. Wolfe sees:
–A greater focus on specific areas like green energy, green fleets, green electronics, green cleaners and green furniture;
–A greater emphasis on clean water initiatives and purchases;
Wolfe says, “Due to drought conditions in Massachusetts, we, like many other states, are working to identify products with water conservation attributes.”
–A growing trend in targeting specific chemicals of concern for alternatives in products – such as flame retardants, chlorine compounds, quaternary ammonium compounds, and chemicals with neonicotinoids;
— A growing trend towards using third-party-certified products that incorporate environmental and health criteria.
Green focus increases
The National Association of State Procurement Officers (NASPO) has seen a greater focus on green procurement in the past year, says Christine Warnock, Chief Procurement Officer of Washington State. She also is a member of the NASPO board of directors.
According to the 2015 NASPO Survey of State Procurement Practices, 30 responding jurisdictions have implemented a green purchasing program; a 14 percent increase compared to 2014.
Sustainability is a key component of state procurement, Warnock (photo at right) says. Green purchasing programs are mandated by state statutes in 17 jurisdictions; encouraged for all bids in 10 states and for some bids in another 15 states. “Currently, 15 states publish a report on their green purchasing activities,” Warnock tells Government Procurement.
NASPO’s Green Purchasing Technical Assistance Fund provides financial support to states for green purchasing best practices and programs. “Through this fund, state central procurement offices are eligible to apply for NASPO funds,” Warnock says. She says the funds can be used to support professional services for green purchasing initiatives, including education and training for central procurement office and user agency staff.
More cities and counties will formalize their sustainability goals, predicts Elizabeth Beardsley, senior policy counsel at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The council works with government, member businesses and allied organizations to support policies and programs that advance greener buildings and communities.
“We expect to see more local governments develop purchasing policies that aim to operationalize their local goals, including sustainability and carbon goals,” Beardsley says. She notes that 129 cities have joined the Compact of Mayors, and therefore are pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, assess climate vulnerabilities of the city and develop an action plan.
These local climate action and related sustainability plans may provide focus on purchasing related to the city’s objectives, Beardsley adds. She offers the following examples of potential sustainability goals and behaviors in cities: reduce carbon from energy use, reduce water use, increase renewable energy generation and use, increase sustainable sourcing of materials and increase recycling and producer take-back of electronics and other products.
Local governments’ e-procurement systems may be one of the most significant technological applications to advance green purchasing, says Nicole Darnall, a professor of Management and Public Policy at Arizona State University. “These systems can be adapted to include information on eco-labeled products. They also can assist with tracking the implementation of green purchasing behaviors, which is important to the success of a green purchasing policy,” Darnall (photo below at left) adds. She notes that if a city can measure its green purchasing practices, it is more likely to manage and promote these practices further.
With Donald Trump in the White House, could changes in federal government priorities affect sustainable procurement programs? Darnall says most definitely. She tells Government Procurement that some local governments receive technical assistance from federal agencies to expand their green purchasing policies or embed them more deeply into existing purchasing processes. “Cuts in these funding streams could significantly impair local governments’ green procurement efforts, especially initiatives that are more innovative and that otherwise would be too risky or costly to implement on their own.”
There’s no shortage of guides, resources and training programs on sustainable purchasing. NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement (NIGP) is currently working on the development of an introductory level sustainability course. NIGP offers a “Sustainable Procurement Practice” publication here:
The following webinars are available through the NIGP Store. NIGP members can download them for free:
1. Intro to Sustainable Procurement: Saving Green by Going Green
2. Sustainable Purchasing: The Strategic Planning Secrets
The National Association of State Procurement Officers (NASPO) has produced an online Green Purchasing guide that includes general and state-specific resources. It offers guidance on how to draft and implement a green purchasing policy, and how to measure and market successes in green purchasing. An interactive map that features green purchasing profiles for states with such programs or activities is available here.
“The Buck Starts Here: Sustainable Procurement Playbook for Cities,” is a resource that was issued last year. The publication is suited for sustainability directors and city teams interested in launching or strengthening sustainable purchasing efforts. It includes analytical tools, best practices, implementation tips, and recommendations to help cities prioritize and then pursue sustainable purchasing opportunities. The Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN) was the lead author of the Playbook. A total of 19 cities aided in its development. RPN is an international network of buyers dedicated to socially responsible and environmentally sustainable purchasing. Go to this site for details.
The Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC) recently launched a sustainable purchasing training program. The program aims to enable organizations, including governments, to develop and manage a strategic sustainable purchasing program on an ongoing basis. Go here for details:
The Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support and recognize purchasing leadership that accelerates the transition to a prosperous and sustainable future.
Public purchasers in the market for sustainable products can use proprietary data sources to speed the process, says Ben Vaught, director of Onvia Exchange (photo at right). “These buyers can save a significant amount of time in the process to craft a bid or RFP spec by leveraging searchable government purchasing databases, such as the Onvia Exchange, to quickly learn from their peers who have already purchased equivalent solutions.” Onvia Exchange is at this site.
The Urban Sustainability Directors Network offers a variety of tools, says Kansas City’s Dennis Murphey. More than 135 municipal sustainability directors from across the U.S. and Canada belong to the network. The network offers case studies, collaboration, and other technical assistance to promote best practices in sustainable procurement by local governments, Murphey says. Go here to get started.
Arizona State University’s Nicole Darnall and co-authors are now researching sustainable procurement trends in state and local government. Go here for details.
Michael Keating (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor for American City & County and the GPN web site. He’s written about the government market for USA Today, IndustryWeek, Industry Market Trends and more than 100 other publications.