Greening the Government: Environmentally Preferable Purchasing for State and Local Governments

If you work for a state or local government agency, you may find it hard to believe that the US Federal government went green before it was hip. The signing of Executive Order 12873 in 1993 marked the launch of the EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program (EPP). While procurement for smaller governments can be a nightmare no matter what cooperative purchasing agreements you may have in place, the federal government has the benefit of significant buying power as one of the world’s largest consumers.

This means that the federal government can encourage market demand for all things green by assisting government agencies in their quest to meet green purchasing requirements. The EPA may give “environmentally preferable” the vague definition of “products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose,” but this is far more progressive than what is in place in most cities or states. Still, if you are in state or local government and have an interest in environmental stewardship or energy efficiency, there are a few concrete ways you can work towards establishing an EPP program for your agency.

Implementing an EPP Program: The First Steps

As with implementing any program, you need to know where you are in order to figure out the best way to get to where you want to go. You can perform a formal audit of your department or agency, or even simply take inventory of your current practices. What are you currently purchasing? What dictates what you purchase?

Allow the answers to these questions to help you set policy guidelines with wide-reaching objectives. Is your goal to make your state, city, or county more sustainable? Is it to make employees more aware of environmental issues? Neither of these ideas should be too difficult to market. Kits like NACo’s Green Purchasing Toolkit can help you to clarify these questions as you put together a green purchasing team and figure out your concrete action steps. You want measurable goals that can be widely supported across your organization.

What has a “Lesser” or “Reduced Effect”?

In the process of finding products that do as little harm to users and the environment as possible, you want to be on the lookout for guidebooks and eco-labels. For example, the EPA’s Energy Star program labels a wide range of products and even buildings according to their energy efficiency. Energy Star even advocates for an energy-efficiency procurement policy, which is more specific than the common EPP but could be implemented in a similar way.

The most important step in procuring environmentally-preferable products is perhaps communicating with your vendor. For instance, search the site of whoever is fulfilling your government technology contract to make sure they carry Energy Star or other approved products, and also communicate with your account manager to make sure these products serve whatever base criteria your company agrees upon. These criteria should be standardized and easy to follow. They should also take the lifecycle costs of products in mind. While certain energy-efficient products may cost more initially, they will save your organization money when it comes to energy costs, or may even cost less to maintain than less environmentally preferable products. In the end, a pile of tablets in the landfill are still a pile of tablets in the landfill—it doesn’t matter if these tablets were green if they’re going to need to be replaced in six months.

Document, Document, Document

As you implement you EPP program, make sure you document every purchase and keep tabs on how they actually operate and whether they actually save you money. Keeping accurate records will help you to figure out whether the program has helped both the environment and the bottom line and what kinds of adjustments may need to be made in the future. This is where your measureable goals come back: did you reach them? What will help you reach them in the future?

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