Sustainable buying organization helps governments acquire green products
The Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN) is a San Francisco-based global organization of buyers (including government procurement officials) dedicated to socially responsible and environmentally sustainable purchasing. “Many local governments (including cities and counties) are members of RPN. Typically, we work together on a targeted sustainable purchasing initiative and then share the results with other members of our network,” says Alicia Culver, executive director.
RPN helps local governments develop and implement sustainable purchasing policies aimed at protecting the health of their employees and the local and global environment. The group also supports businesses that offer safe and efficient products and services. A voluntary 15-member steering committee of procurement stakeholders advises RPN, which includes officials from government, industry, educational institutions, standards-setting organizations and related groups. Of the 15 committee members, seven are affiliated with procurement departments in local or state government and one is with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Challenging events in 2020-2021 have influenced the RPN’s work. “This past year, in response to the pandemic, we focused our efforts on helping local governments to implement new green cleaning programs that standardize their use of certified low-toxicity cleaning chemicals and safer disinfectants,” Culver explains. Those cleaning and disinfecting chemicals are free of ingredients that can cause asthma, such as bleach.
Tight city and county budgets have been a factor in the RPN’s recent work. “Amidst budget cutbacks, we have been helping many of our members to undertake sustainable procurement projects that save money and support local businesses. This includes targeted initiatives to purchase computers, lighting equipment, appliances and vehicles that are highly energy efficient,” Culver notes. The RPN is also helping its public- and private-sector members reduce their consumption of single-use plastics, foodservice ware and batteries.
Cooperative contracts can play a role when agencies need to buy disinfectants and many other products, Culver says. “Across the U.S., local governments can often buy disinfectants off state government contracts. They can buy pretty much any product through them. Typically, states have cooperative purchasing programs that allow local governments, school districts, universities and nonprofits to buy off their contracts.”
Culver says Massachusetts is a leader among states that offer cooperative contracts covering green cleaning solutions. The Massachusetts offering is “FAC85: Environmentally Preferable Cleaning Products, Programs, Equipment and Supplies Statewide Contract.” It is a multi-state contract available to Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont in cooperation with the lead state of Massachusetts. Other states are eligible to join FAC85 at any time.
Local government buyers need to make sure that the procurement contracts they are considering feature environmentally preferable products. “Every single product—and there are over 10,000 products in Massachusetts’s cooperative contract for cleaning products—have been screened to ensure, if it is a cleaning product, that it has third-party certification, such as Green Seal or Safer Choice from the U.S. EPA. So, in Massachusetts, they have made sure that all those products that are being offered are green so that when a local government buys off the contract, that they are getting legitimate green products,” Culver explains. She adds that local governments need to do their homework to obtain best prices on certified green products available through cooperative purchasing entities.
Culver believes that green cleaning and disinfecting solutions will remain important as government facilities reopen as the pandemic winds down. “It is relatively easy to kill the coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19. Local government facilities managers look to the federal EPA’s List N to find products that destroy the coronavirus (COVID-19).”
Cities and counties need to make sure that the cleaning products that they are considering also kill staphylococcus bacteria and other germs that have been around a long time, Culver says. “So local governments need a plan—they need to look at what they are doing. And today there are some safer disinfectants that don’t cause asthma. Bleach causes asthma, for example, so if people are boosting their use of bleach, they could be exposing their staff and facility occupants to chemicals that cause asthma.” She adds that research is ongoing to try and figure out which disinfectants don’t cause asthma, but still kill all of the organisms people need to be concerned about.
Going green, saving money
A new factsheet developed by RPN, the State of Maryland’s Department of General Services and the Maryland Green Purchasing Committee, titled “Saving Money by Buying Green,” spotlights tips on how to conserve cash by purchasing green products. A webinar also is available for viewing.
Want to become an RPN member? Read about member benefits and how to join.
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County. Contact him at [email protected]