The US government is the world’s biggest consumer and together federal, state and local governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually on goods and services. This purchasing power can be used to promote environmentally friendly products and practices in the economy. Government purchasing can significantly enlarge the market for a producer’s goods as well as set an example to the private sector and individuals to purchase them as well.
In recent years, the federal government and several state and local governments have set out procurement policies intended to minimize the harmful effect on human health and the environment. These policies fall under the general title of environmentally preferable procurement (EPP). The products and services procured under such a policy may include those that 1) contain recycled content, 2) minimize waste, 3) are energy efficient and/or have renewable energy systems, and 4) reduce the amount of toxics disposed or consumed by the user.
Executive Order 12873 on Federal Acquisition, Recycling and Waste Prevention (1993)required federal agencies to purchase “environmentally preferable products.” Former President Clinton issued Executive Order 13101: Greening the Government Through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition on September 14, 1998 that extended the requirements of the previous order, and contained provisions that promote greater compliance.
INFORM has provided ILSR with some rough estimates on how much it costs to set up environmentally preferable purchasing programs. The primary cost is staff time. Typically staff from the public entity’s environmental department serves as a liaison, providing technical and educational assistance to the purchasing department.
The cost to train purchasers about EPP products, depends on how extensive it is. Here are some examples:
- Minnesota developed an EPP Guide for state and local purchasers. It cost $35,000 to print the guide and 25 percent of 7 staff over a period of one year to develop the guide.
- A less costly option for MN has been to integrate EPP into the purchasing process. All purchasers are required to go thru an 8-hour training and obtain state certification. Now a portion of the training focuses on learning about EPP and the products available thru state contracts.
- From 1996 – 2000, MA’s Pilot Purchase Program allocated roughly $40,000/ year to purchase and test new and innovative recycled-content and less toxic products (including such products as plastic lumber used for furniture or delineator posts, less toxic cleaners, rubber hoses, carpeting (made from plastic soda bottles), and bio-based lubricants). A few more details exist on their web site at : http://www.mass.gov/epp/info/pilotprg.htm
In addition, several state and local governments have developed environmental procurement programs.