Can a contract manager save the environment?

Can a contract manager save the environment?

August 25, 2015John Adler photo


Watching the mustard-colored ribbon of water heading relentlessly toward the Grand Canyon reminded me again of the many bad things we do to our environment and our uncoordinated effort to reverse the damage and global warming. Come on, folks! Ice is melting at the polar caps and the sea level is rising.

In Executive Order 13693, President Obama recognized the important role of government in reversing the impact of climate change through procurement leadership. “We have the opportunity to reduce agency direct greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent over the next decade while at the same time fostering innovation, reducing spending, and strengthening the communities in which our federal facilities operate.” Included in this executive order is a long list of sustainability directives, including use of ENERGY STAR products, renewable energy, LEED building standards, fuel cell energy systems, reducing potable water consumption, purchasing zero emission fleets, and promoting sustainable procurement.

What better place to start than government? Federal, state, and local governments combined spend more than $7 trillion each year, at least half of that through procurement. That’s almost 90,000 government procurement departments spending $3.5 trillion public dollars. Combined and coordinated, that spending can have a huge positive impact on our environment, drive real innovation in green products and services, and stimulate demand for green products and services in the consumer and business sectors. 

By combining and coordinating this spend, we can make a real environmental impact. While Executive Order 13693 provides uniform guidance for federal agencies, each state and local government operates under its own procurement code with differing guidance, if any, on green procurement practices. Of the states responding to a recent National Association for State Procurement Officials (NASPO) survey on green procurement:

  • 55 percent of 34 states have a formal green purchasing program,
  • 88 percent of 32 states include green requirements in certain solicitations, 
  • 83 percent of 24 states require green specifications for certain commodities and/or services, and
  • 47 percent of 20 states allow a price premium or allow a preference for green products/services. 

Green spend data was not available for local governments. 

We are doing something but it is definitely not enough. This is where our professional associations need to take the lead. Sustainable procurement and reversing global warming must be a high-priority goal for each of our professional procurement associations. Sustainable procurement was featured in several NCMA World Congress sessions. NASPO has an executive-level Green Purchasing Committee, and among its many green initiatives, publishes the NASPO Green Purchasing Guide. The National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) has a “Green Resources” page that links to a number of publications and groups, including The Responsible Purchasing Network and National Association of Counties.

If there ever was one opportunity that demands the combined resources of the professional associations that represent public procurement, it is green procurement. Now is the time for our respective associations to combine our efforts and make green procurement our top priority!

John O. Adler, CPPO, is procurement vice president for Dallas Area Rapid Transit. He is the former Arizona state procurement director and has almost 40 years’ experience in government contracting. He is an Arizona State University graduate and co-author of two procurement textbooks.