Working Partner Update: Community Purchasing Alliance, Washington DC

Based in Washington, DC, the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) leverages the buying power of its member community organizations to lower operating costs while supporting vendors committed to a greater social purpose. CPA is owned entirely by its members, which include religious institutions, charter schools, and other nonprofits. Together, CPA helps these organizations realize that by working together they can advance their commitments to social and environmental values while also improving their bottom lines.

CPA started as an electricity-buying group in 2011. It has since grown to more than 100 organizations and helps its members save around 15% on their electricity bills by purchasing at fixed group rates that include 100% renewable energy and a rebates. The fixed rates help members with greater budget predictability and the clean energy component aligns with their sustainability principles. CPA expects 30 to 40 new religious congregations to join this program in the fall. They hope to soon help members more closely track their utility usage to determine additional ways to save money.

Members expanded their cooperative purchasing to waste and recycling pick-up, because of the significant cost savings potential in this area. CPA signed contracts that will save 25%, or $96,000 in the upcoming year, for the 45 participants in this program. Information was collected on the current practices of dozens of members to inform the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. They found members were being significantly over-charged to have their trash collected and on top of that had little recourse in their service agreements. For example, one church was paying $2,300/month for the same level of service that is now being provided for $490/month. CPA created its own service contract within the RFP but allowed respondents to propose changes. The RFP offered additional points for local, minority-owned companies that paid its workers living wages and used transfer stations and materials recycling facilities that share these values. This year, CPA selected two local companies that together employee 250 local residents as the winning vendors.

Other cooperative purchasing programs include installation of solar panels, copier leasing, office supply purchasing and payroll services. CPA also has a discount program with nine ACE Hardware stores in which members receive 10% off any item and 25% off bulk purchases. CPA estimates that, on average, members save $6,000/year by participating in the electric, trash and recycling, and supplies purchasing programs. This savings stays local and enables the nonprofit members to continue serving the community while staying committed to their social and environmental values. CPA believes the model will become self-sustaining once it reaches 180 members in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Once the concept is proven, CPA aims to work with partners to replicate the model in cities across the country.

Contact Information: Web page; contact person Felipe Witchger,

This article authored by Megan Loeb and Neil Seldman

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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Recycling and Economic Growth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and is a member of ILSR's Board of Directors.

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