FAQ - Environmental Purchasing
The following information answers some of the frequently asked questions in Environmental Purchasing.
- What is “environmental preferable” or “green” purchasing?
- What is King County’s environmental purchasing policy?
- How does Environmental Purchasing Program (EPP) fit in with overall sustainability?
- What agency is responsible for implementation of the environmental purchasing policy?
- What are the barriers to environmental purchasing implementation?
- What is “greenwashing” and what can you do about it?
- What “ecolabels” or standards does the county use?
- What types of environmentally preferable products does King County purchase?
- Do environmentally preferable products cost more?
- How do you track and report environmentally preferable purchases?
- How much does King County spend on environmentally preferable products each year?
- How do you reach out to County employees and citizens?
If you have questions or comments, contact the Environmental Purchasing Program at 206-263-9300 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
1. What is “environmental preferable” or “green” purchasing?
Most jurisdictions rely on the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) definition for environmentally preferable, as there is no consensus about what "green" means.
According to the EPA: “Environmentally preferable” means 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. This comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, product, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance, or disposal of the product or service.
2. What is King County’s environmental purchasing policy?
The King County Environmental Purchasing Policy (KCC 18.20) reflects a long-term commitment to the purchase of environmentally preferable products. In 1989, the county adopted its original recycled product procurement policy in response to overburdened landfills and the need to create markets for newly collected recyclables. The policy has been updated over the years to add other environmentally preferable products beyond recycled content. It requires the purchase of recycled content paper, re-refined motor oil and electronics recycling. The policy also requires county agencies to purchase recycled and other environmentally preferable products “whenever practicable.” Read the policy.
3. How does Environmental Purchasing Program (EPP) fit in with overall sustainability?
King County has an overarching Strategic Plan (2010-2014). This plan includes an environmental sustainability goal, including reducing the county's operational footprint. Many of the policies and programs are in place to help meet this goal. EPP works closely with the Climate, Energy and Green Building programs to help achieve sustainability. The county publishes an annual sustainability report.
4. What agency is responsible for implementation of the environmental purchasing policy?
The King County Environmental Purchasing Program, which is located in the Procurement and Contract Services Section of the Finance and Business Operations Division, is responsible for implementation. The program works with staff in agencies to find, test and ultimately purchase environmentally preferable products, and with buyers to specify these products. The Environmental Purchasing Program is required to report annually on the progress of policy implementation. View the EPP Annual Report.
5. What are the barriers to environmental purchasing implementation?
Clients frequently fear that new products will cost too much or fail to meet their performance requirements. The Environmental Purchasing Program helps alleviate these fears by not asking agencies to buy products that don’t work or cost too much. The program engages the expertise of county employees and encourages them to conduct technical evaluations of the cost, performance and practicability of alternative materials and draw conclusions about the usefulness and appropriate application of these products. We do this by highlighting cost savings, standards and specifications, case studies and internal champions and working with them one-on-one to advance the purchase of environmentally preferable products.
The biggest challenge we have faced in development and implementation of the policy has been the scarcity of meaningful standards of environmental preferability. The vast work that lies ahead of us all is defining what "green" means and identifying or developing standards and specifications we can use to ensure that what we buy is really "green," and not just "greenwashing." This challenge was laid out well by Terrachoice in "Seven Sins of Greenwashing" report.
6. What is “greenwashing” and what can you do about it?
“Greenwashing” is the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits or costs of a product or service.
For a start, we can support companies who truthfully represent their environmental qualities. One good approach is to look for widely accepted environmental standards and certifications. Governments and standard-setting bodies have attempted to discourage greenwashing, but the marketing of “green” is at an all time high and confusion reigns. Fortunately, tools are becoming available that we can use to evaluate the truth of environmental marketing claims. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has updated their Guide for the use of Environmental Marketing Claims (2012) and there is the “Seven Sins of Greenwashing” report.
7. What “ecolabels” or standards does the county use?
King County uses existing standards and certification systems whenever possible, such as:
King County policies recommend that agencies observe Energy Star (2010 Energy Plan), EPEAT (Executive Order INF-89AEO), e-Stewards Certification and LEED (Green Building Ordinance) update. The county has also used Green Seal standards for cleaners, Green-e for renewable energy and FSC for paper and lumber, which are supported by policy. We promote adoption of additional standards by county agencies as we are able to identify or create them and seek to engage the expertise of users in their development and testing.
8. What types of environmentally preferable products does King County purchase?
Recycled paper is used for all major government functions, including bus schedules, tax statements, court forms, pet license notifications, business cards, reports, and internal printing. Other purchases include: remanufactured toner cartridges; re-refined antifreeze and motor-oil; ultra-low sulfur diesel; biodiesel; hybrid vehicles; bio-based oils; plastic lumber, compost, shredded wood-waste and tire-retreading services. Read the details in our 2011 consolidated sustainability report.
9. Do environmentally preferable products cost more?
King County strives to buy products that are cost effective, meet performance requirements and are environmentally preferable. These products provide various environmental benefits, including resource efficiency, reduced toxicity, durability, and recycled content. In addition to their environmental benefits, many of these products are more economical than those they replace and perform well. In 2011, the county saved $1.5 million compared to the cost of conventional products.
In some cases, the product simply costs less and in other cases savings are found in avoided purchase costs because the alternative product is more durable. For example: the cost of a remanufactured toner cartridge is less than one-half the cost of a new cartridge, plastic lumber avoids the consumption of virgin timber or old growth lumber, and it costs half as much to retread a worn tire as to buy a new one.
10. How do you track and report environmentally preferable purchases?
Tracking the value and quantities of EPPs purchased as well as the cost-savings and environmental benefits associated with those purchases are the main performance measures of our program. Given the scarcity of meaningful environmentally preferable product standards, we do our best to quantify what we buy by any means that we have available to us. King County tracks quantities and dollar amounts from our vendor reports. We get anecdotal information about trial purchases and projects directly from our agencies. We also use "calculators" to help quantify the climate change impacts and other environmental benefits where appropriate and available, such as the Paper Calculator and the Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator.
We insert a reporting requirement into our bid documents:
Annually, the Contractor shall furnish to the Procurement Services Section usage reports showing a summary of the ordering and/or history of each county agency for the previous contract year. The report must show at minimum, description and total quantity of each item ordered during the period, reporting period, county agency, and total dollars per agency. King County reserves the right to request additional information, if required, when reviewing contract activity.
11. How much does King County spend on environmentally preferable products each year?
In 2011, agencies purchased 60 million dollars worth of environmentally preferable products. Read the details in the 2011 Sustainability Report and Supplemental Purchase Detail.
12. How do you reach out to County employees and citizens?
The King County Environmental Purchasing Program produces educational programs, workshops, trainings, bulletins, and field trips to introduce client-agencies to products we believe might be environmentally preferable, economical, and functional. We also team-up with other local jurisdictions and agencies and inviting staff and vendors to local tradeshows and meetings that highlight green purchasing. In addition, we routinely present King County’s experience as a model for other jurisdictions and organizations, highlighting the tools, techniques, and products employed by agencies.