By Michelle Wyman – Executive Director, International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, USA (ICLEI-USA)
Eighty percent of Americans now live in cities. By 2050, 90 percent will. Cities are also where most of the energy derived from fossil fuels is consumed, where economic and political power is concentrated, where decisions that are felt everywhere are made. That’s why cities are the places that have the most direct and effective access in the effort to reduce global warming pollution and pioneer sustainable development.
Cities across the country and, indeed, around the world are demonstrating their commitment to sustainable development and climate protection through “green purchasing” initiatives, also known as “sustainable purchasing” or “environmentally preferable procurement.” Doing so also reflects the cities’ commitments to fiscal responsibility, social equity, community and environmental stewardship.
U.S. cites large and small can exercise their significant buying power to have both a direct impact on the market because of the volume of products and services they procure and an indirect impact by spurring similar action across the private sector. They do so while also increasing their bottom line. The growing emphasis on green purchasing presents unprecedented opportunity for the business community.
Think about all the local government facilities in your city: courtrooms, city halls, office buildings, police and fire stations, recreational facilities, parking lots, and libraries. Consider their computers, photocopiers, refrigerators, fax machines and lighting, heating and cooling needs. Cities also deal in landscaping, catering, conferences and meetings as well as vehicle fleets.
If cities choose to make all of their buildings, products and services “environmentally friendly,” it’s dizzying to consider the widespread and long-lasting benefits for our lives today as well as those of our children and grandchildren and for the business community. It’s estimated that replacing 500 incandescent exit signs with ENERGY STAR versions would save $25,700 a year and $208,300 life cycle on maintenance and energy costs and 119 and 1,190 tons of carbon emissions, respectively.
There are plenty of important lifestyle changes that people can and should be making on an individual basis, but the impact of even simple changes at the city level can quickly multiply by the thousands and beyond. Together, U.S. state and local governments spend more than $385 billion on goods and services and billions more to power those products. For cities embarking on a path to slash carbon emissions, purchasing greener, more energy efficient products and services can make a huge difference. It’s estimated that by specifying energy efficiency in purchasing policies we could cut energy costs in half, not to mention significantly reduce global warming pollution.
Cities aren’t just viewing green purchasing as a one-time cost savings; they are calculating the direct and indirect costs for the full life cycle of products. It’s about how we create, use and dispose of the products. Seattle’s Environmentally Responsible Purchasing Policy directs departments to consider life cycle effects from: pollution, waste generation, energy consumption, recycled material content, depletion of natural resources, and the potential impact on health and nature. This opens even more windows for local governments and for business.
Not only can local governments pack a financial punch at the point of purchase, they can shift the market in favor of energy efficiency. Adopting a formal policy of green procurement sends a message to manufacturers, service providers and the market as a whole: “We’re demanding green products and services. You must supply them.”
Here in the U.S., plenty of cities are establishing or ramping up sustainable purchasing policies.
The city of Chicago passed its own standards for energy-efficient buildings, the Chicago Standard, and the writing was on the wall that new construction and major renovations must achieve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
Same thing for Austin, Texas, which in 2000 passed a resolution requiring all public projects larger than 5,000 square feet to be LEED certified.
In Denver, which has launched the “Greenprint Denver” initiative to further encourage sustainable purchasing and other green practices, the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building was built in 2002 to Energy Star qualifications to consolidate 40 agencies and provide the city government with a number of energy saving measures. In addition, Denver voters approved a $378 million bond in May, 2005 for the creation of a new justice center, which will be built to LEED certification standards. New York City has earned the nickname “the Big Green Apple” by switching all of the traffic signals to energy-efficient lighting (LEDs), saving $6 million a year, and replacing about 200,000 refrigerators in public housing with energy-efficient versions, saving $7 million a year. Cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, and Houston, Texas, are greening their municipal vehicle fleets by adding more fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles.
By making green choices, local governments can encourage citizens and businesses in the community to follow their lead. After the city moved further along the green spectrum, the private sector in New York quickly followed suit, with green building design becoming the new status symbol. Landmarks of the sustainable building craze include the Conde Nast Building at 4 Times Square, the residential Solaire in Battery Park City and the Hearst Tower.
Of course, making sustainable purchasing choices also enhances the sheer quality of life in communities. It provides direct health benefits for city employees as well as less global warming and air pollution, all of which makes these cities cleaner and safer places to live, work and raise families. Taxpayers can also rest assured that their money is being spent in an efficient manner. As the head of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, which is planning a “green” Olympics, said recently, “Sustainability isn’t just about buying recycled paper - it’s about using purchasing power to do some good.”
It’s easy to see why sustainable purchasing practices have taken hold in so many cities.
At ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, we work closely with more than 240 cities in the U.S. and more than 800 around the world working to improve the global environment through local action. We provide resources, tools, and technical assistance to help local governments measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their communities through our Cities for Climate Protection ® (CCP) campaign. We are engaged with ENERGY STAR, a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy designed to alert consumers to more energy efficient appliances and equipment. Through this partnership and our work with cities designing sustainability and climate protection plans, we strongly encourage cities to go green when possible.
As more cities sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (which commits a city to the Kyoto target of reducing emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012) and join the CCP, there will be a surge in demand from local governments for green products and services that will help them meet their emissions reductions goals.
The sustainable purchasing movement has grown leaps and bounds in the global market as well. In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg committed public authorities to “promote public procurement policies that encourage development and diffusion of environmentally sound goods and services.”
ICLEI is a partner in Promoting an Energy Efficient Public Sector (PePS), working with 40 municipalities in Mexico to make green purchasing choices. Mexico’s government sector energy conservation activities began in the early ’90s and have burgeoned into perhaps the broadest government end-use program in the world, impacting hundreds of government facilities. The country’s energy management agency, CONAE, an ICLEI partner which houses our Mexico office, provides a strong example of how limited resources can be leveraged into enormous savings. The Administración Pública Federal (APF) program, for example, is a lighting initiative that has resulted in audits and retrofits in almost one thousand Mexican government buildings.
ICLEI-Canada also serves on the North American Green Purchasing Initiative (NAGPI) steering committee that works to coordinate green purchasing activities, engage other stakeholders and pool information and resources. ICLEI-Europe is leading a collaborative, continent-wide effort on sustainable procurement. This is an extensive effort that includes trainings and workshops, surveys and research, and multi-country partnerships. We recently co-hosted the sixth EcoProcura ® conference in Barcelona, Spain, where 360 delegates from 53 countries gathered to provide a mechanism for dialogue between the private sector and the public sector to advance sustainable product innovation and further promote a market for sustainable products and services.
Despite the enthusiasm for sustainable purchasing, plenty of challenges remain. City staff who ultimately implement these policies require proper training as to the merits of green purchasing and the options available to them. Agencies shouldn’t feel pressured not to procure a more expensive product or service if, when you calculate the associated use and disposal costs, it will actually save the city money. This underlying philosophy – saving money, saving energy, creating better communities – must also become part of the culture within local government.
As with many policies, the scope of local government purchasing makes it inherently difficult to monitor and enforce. Some governments are addressing this through permanent mechanisms and tools in municipal management to ensure unwavering implementation, effective monitoring and continual improvement. Competing laws and bureaucracies can sometimes stand in the way, raising questions as to a city’s authority. A more centralized system might allow policing of purchasing and blocking undesirable products.
Some vendors and businesses claim they are excluded by green purchasing policies. In reality, they are entering a market of great possibility. Rather than harming industry, sustainable procurement is a market-based tool which provides incentives to stimulate innovation and improve the sustainability of production patterns. As the international regulatory framework and consumption patterns change in the context of current events and demands, sustainable procurement provides an opportunity for companies offering innovative solutions to find markets for their products and to develop further.
The most well-known example is Wal-Mart which announced in the fall of 2005 that it plans to increase fuel efficiency in its truck fleet by 25 percent over three years and doubling it within 10 years; reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent in seven years; reduce energy use at stores by 30 percent; and cut solid waste from U.S. stores and Sam’s Clubs by 25 percent in three years. Wal-Mart is also now the biggest seller of organic milk and the biggest buyer of organic cotton in the world and is working with suppliers to figure out ways to cut down on packaging and energy costs. Wal-Mart is taking such profound steps because it’s good for the environment, and their investments represent revenue increases and a positive presence in local communities.
The EPA recently ranked Wells Fargo & Co., which uses some 550 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy to light up its financial centers each year, the top buyer of “green” power in the country. The financial giant is among 40 Fortune 500 firms that have committed to doubling their renewable energy purchases this year.
There is clearly a new level of awareness about global warming – President Bush gave it credence in his State of the Union address the day after 10 CEOs from the likes of Duke Energy and General Electric called on the government to address the problem – and a burning desire on the part of the world’s citizens to take action now to curb global warming pollution. This is a desire that only burns hotter with every day. People are making changes in their daily lives and demanding that their elected officials – at the local, state and federal level – make changes on a larger scale.
Local governments have an invaluable role to play in promoting the use of green products, services and buildings. The great thing about green purchasing is that cities don’t have to start from scratch or move toward these goals in isolation. By working together, cities can learn from each other and send powerful and consistent signals to the market. Government organizations find that green procurement policies reduce overall costs, offer significant opportunity to use materials, resources and energy more effectively, improve employee health and stimulate markets for innovative new products and services. With sustainable purchasing, cities can set the pace and lead the way as they have done in so many other aspects of climate protection and sustainable development.
Michelle Wyman is Executive Director of ICLEI-USA
Promoting an Energy Efficient Public Sector
North American Green Purchasing Initiative
ICLEI-Europe’s Sustainable Procurement Program
EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Procurement Program
EPA and DOE’s ENERGY STAR Program
ENERGY STAR’s purchasing and procurement information
Center for a New American Dream’s Procurement Strategies Program