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How to Ensure Sustainability in Government Purchases?

How to Ensure Sustainability in Government Purchases?

Undoubtedly, there is a growing trend towards #sustainability. We consistently observe that in various areas, there is a desire to be more sustainable, more empathetic towards the planet and communities. From individuals reducing the use of plastic by carrying reusable water bottles, coffee cups, and shopping bags, to those opting for plant-based diets or choosing eco-friendly transportation, the examples are endless. However, little is said about what governments can do to be more sustainable, especially in the realm of government procurement where there is immense opportunity. In this blog, we introduce 6 steps that governments can follow to ensure sustainability in government purchases and in their communities. 

First of all, we need to understand that governments play a pivotal role in shaping societal norms and values - e.g. anti-smoking campaigns, marriage equality legislation, or diversity and inclusion programs. By adopting sustainable procurement practices, they have the power to pave the way for a more environmentally responsible future. 

Robin Carnahan, Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration, said: As the world’s largest buyer, we have a responsibility to lead by example and accelerate the move toward buying clean.” Did you know that the U.S. federal government is the single largest consumer in the world, spending more than $630 billion on products and services each year? Just imagine the impactful influence that the U.S. wields!

So, the big question is: How can governments become more sustainable? How can they harness government procurement processes to become a bit more sustainable each day?


  • Incorporate Green Procurement Policies
  • Governments should implement and enforce policies that prioritize environmentally friendly products and services. They should consider factors such as energy efficiency, recyclability, and reduced environmental impact in procurement decisions. For instance, they can implement a policy that requires a certain percentage of purchased office supplies to be made from recycled materials, promoting sustainability in everyday operations.

    In the U.S. the Sustainable Products and Services procurement rule, a proposal through the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council, strengthens existing sustainable products requirements by directing Federal buyers to purchase sustainable products and services to the maximum extent possible. The Environment Protection Agency’s Federal Purchasing Recommendations include thousands of American-made products and services that address energy or water efficiency, perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals reduction or elimination, bio-based content, recycled content, ozone-safe substances, and more.


  • Support Local and Sustainable Suppliers
  • Another way of ensuring sustainability in government purchases comes with giving preference to suppliers who follow sustainable practices and are located within the region. This encourages the growth of local businesses and reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation. For example, governments can prioritize sourcing produce from local farmers who follow organic and sustainable farming practices, reducing the environmental impact associated with long-distance transportation.

    Peter Smith, Manager Director at Procurement Excellence Ltd. mentioned: “I do find that looking to use more ‘diverse’ (in the widest sense) and socially conscious suppliers—minority owned, smaller firms, social enterprises—can be a quick win that might even save money and build a more resilient and flexible supply chain, too.”

    Our platform stands out as a straightforward means of addressing this issue. By choosing Glass Commerce, government buyers ensure that all their small purchases are made from local, small, and diverse businesses. With Glass Commerce, connecting the world's major consumers with the drivers of local economies has never been easier.


  • Utilize Eco-friendly Products:
  • Government buyers can actively seek out and purchase products that have been certified as environmentally friendly, looking for eco-labels and certifications that validate a product's adherence to sustainability standards.

    For instance, they can choose office furniture made from sustainably sourced materials or with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, ensuring responsible forestry practices. When it comes to assessing local government performance and commitment to the use of eco-friendly products, the City of Santa Monica, California, stands out as an example. In all Requests for Proposals (RFPs) issued by the city, vendors are obliged to provide all copies printed on recycled and/or tree-free paper, employing double-sided printing for maximum resource conservation. Furthermore, vendors must adhere to guidelines that dictate the recyclability of report covers or binders, while discouraging the use of plastic covers or dividers. In addition to these specifications, vendors are expected to exercise discretion in submitting only essential attachments or documents explicitly requested, thereby minimizing the use of paper for superfluous elements such as separate title sheets or chapter dividers.


  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:
  • Government should promote a circular economy by prioritizing products that can be recycled or reused. Additionally, they should consider implementing waste reduction measures and supporting suppliers that prioritize sustainable packaging.

    For example, they can introduce a program that encourages employees to use reusable water bottles and utensils, reducing the need for single-use plastics and minimizing waste. Continuing with Santa Monica's case, the City’s Green Procurement Policy places a strong emphasis on eco-friendly packaging, as it plays a pivotal role in minimizing waste and reducing the environmental impact associated with products used throughout the city. 

    Santa Monica’s government encourages its suppliers to embrace eco-friendly packaging solutions, including recyclable, compostable, or reusable materials. This proactive stance not only diverts non-recyclable waste from landfills but also aligns with the city's overarching goal of achieving zero waste.

    Furthermore, the City Council approved a revision to the 2007 Non Recyclable Plastic Food Service Container Ordinance to expand plastics banned to include all single-use plastics for prepared foods, including straws, lids, utensils, plates, bowls, trays, containers, stirrers, cups, and lid plugs. Also, the city extends its commitment to eco-friendly packaging to events and programs, seeking vendors and partners who share its vision of sustainability and prioritize eco-friendly packaging choices.

     

  • Monitor and Report Environmental Impact:
  • Every government should establish mechanisms to monitor and report the environmental impact of procurement activities. You can not change what you do not measure. This involves tracking metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions, resource consumption, and waste generation associated with purchased goods and services.

    A way of doing this is by regularly assessing the carbon footprint of transportation services contracted by the government and publicly reporting the results to showcase the commitment to sustainable procurement. For example, Colorado plans to cut 12.7 million tons of carbon emissions from transportation by 2030, relying on low- and zero-emission vehicles for nearly half that reduction.

     

  • Engage in Sustainable Innovation:
  • Another way of ensuring sustainability in government purchases is by encouraging innovation among suppliers to develop and provide sustainable solutions, which means fostering collaboration with vendors who are committed to continuous improvement in sustainability practices, driving positive change in the market.

    For example, government agencies can collaborate with technology vendors to procure energy-efficient office equipment, such as computers and printers, contributing to reduced energy consumption and lower environmental impact.

    If you're a government buyer, these 6 steps toward a more sustainable future, where government procurement plays a pivotal role, invite you to take action. Seize the purchasing power you hold and contribute your part towards a sustainable public procurement process that is environmentally friendly and mindful of the legacy we leave for future generations.

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