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Buying sustainable is changing the game

September 30, 2015

Often driven by top-level officials, sustainability and green purchasing is expected to continue to grow according to recent Government Procurement (GP) e-surveys of public buyers.

In fact, about 62 percent of respondents to a recent GP Green Purchasing survey predicted that their agency/organization would be more active in green purchasing in the next two years.

Several respondents to that survey were contacted about their sustainable/green purchasing, including Ron James, Senior Contract Officer-Procurement & Contracts at Radford University in Radford, Va. He says his university has created several green and sustainable initiatives. For example, the school recycles plastics and paper in campus offices. Dorm renovations include recycling mattresses and furniture.

“Our facilities maintenance team is installing energy-efficienct lighting, installing plants that require less water and fertilizer and using green cleaning products,” James says. “Our facilities construction operation has several buildings that are LEED-certified, and our two buildings currently under construction will be LEED-certified.” This link takes you to the Radford University Sustainability web page.

James says environmental requirements have changed the way his department buys products as well as the kinds of products his group buys. “When my office does a solicitation for many services and products, we request information such as recycled content, green-approved products, sustainability efforts, etc. Our scoring matrix gives points for potential vendor’s sustainability and green initiatives.”

James believes environmental and sustainability requirements are leading to changes in cooperative purchasing programs. He cites an example in his own state. “Virginia has a group of colleges and universities that have joined together as the Virginia Association of State Colleges and University Purchasing Professionals (VASCUPP). This group of 11 institutions all support green and sustainability initiatives similar to Radford’s.”

The VASCUPP site has a cooperative contracts section and a database of cooperative contracts. VASCUPP is based in Charlottesville, Va.

Texas public purchasers are relying more on recycled products, says another survey respondent, Kerry Doucette, Director of Strategic Sourcing at Houston Community College. The institution currently uses recycled paper and toner cartridges, and participates in cooperative agreements through purchasing cooperatives. Doucette says he sees signs that the sustainability movement is going strong. For example, he says vendors frequently approach his agency with new product offerings that meet recycled content requirements.

There can be a mutual tension between maintaining financial efficiency and buying environmentally friendly products, says Michael Eugene, Chief Operations Officer at the Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla. “Whether it’s alternatively fueled buses, paper made from recycled content or compostable cafeteria plates, going green also has to be good for business [and government].”

Eugene says procurement officers can play an integral role in assisting managers to examine the total cost of going green to seek the ideal balance of reducing costs while also improving the environment.

On the subject of being sustainable through cooperative buys, Eugene offers this qualifier: “Cooperative purchasing program can help if they strategically assist to leverage economies-of-scale for green solutions to drive costs down. If they are just transaction mechanisms to expedite the contracting process, I don’t believe they would be as effective.”

The changing of the guard in public procurement will lead to more sustainable practices, says John Adler, Vice President, Procurement at the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) agency. “Just my opinion… as millennials begin to take over the workplace, there will be greater focus on green and sustainability,” says Adler, who has been with DART for nine years. It seems millennials are much more in tune with the environment and smart enough to do something about it.”

Michael Keating is Senior Editor at Government Product News, an American City & County sister brand.
Michael Keating | Government Product News

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