GPN reached out to Scot Case to learn ways that green buys fit in the cooperative purchasing framework. Case has been a sustainability and strategy consultant since 1993, including stints at the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) and UL Environment. Below are Scot Case’s views.

GPN: Will environmental and sustainability requirements lead to changes in cooperative purchasing programs and the way public purchasers buy?

Scot Case: I think they already have. It was not that long ago that most of the cleaning products that governments purchased contained all sorts of hazardous chemicals that they no longer contain, because government purchasers insisted on safer products.

Some of the earliest, most successful government green purchasing projects were done as part of cooperative purchases. In the very early days of green purchasing, greener products tended to traditionally be slightly more expensive than traditional products, but when groups of governments got together and pooled their purchasing power, it drove the costs down, and so governments were able to buy high-performing greener products at the same or lower cost than traditional products.

One example that comes to mind is the huge consumer demand for greener cleaning products that we are seeing today. And that huge consumer demand for those products exists because government purchasing cooperatives started buying and demanding greener cleaning products a decade ago. So it was government purchasers that proved it was possible, and then consumers wanted it too.

GPN: Are there other entities in the mix here, such as government office cleaning crews, government office managers and government facility managers? Do they prefer and want green cleaning products as well?

SC: Absolutely. Concerning green cleaning products in the office--If you are sitting in a building all day, you are being exposed to whatever cleaning chemicals that were used to clean the building the night before, so it makes sense to leverage the power of government cooperative purchasing to make sure that those chemicals work safely and effectively.

GPN: As more consumers and governments use sustainable products, and those products become available through cooperatives, will the prices of sustainable products continue to drop?

SC: We will certainly see the prices continue to drop, but there are obviously natural limits to price reductions at some point.

What cooperative purchasing does for more sustainable products is it demonstrates the scale of interest in greener products, that allows manufacturers to take advantage of economies of scale to bring the prices down. So one of the magical things about government purchasing is it’s very, very clear what the governments are looking for, what the performance requirements are, what the environmental requirements are, and a sense of the overall purchasing volume.

And so the cooperative purchases, their larger purchasing volume, sends a very clear signal into the marketplace so that manufacturers can evaluate whether it is going to be profitable to expand their production capacity, and when they do, you find economies of scale that helps bring prices down.

GPN: What kinds of products and services will be covered in future environmental and sustainability initiatives? Is there anything on the horizon you can mention?

SC: I think every single purchase has hidden human health, environmental and social impacts. I think that at some point in the near future, every single government specification will reflect that reality. So nothing is off the table. There are some recent Department of Defense (DOD) procurements that talk about environmentally friendly weapon systems. Consider, for instance, how environmentally safely can the Navy decommission nuclear submarines. That is one example. So the short answer is: everything from paper clips to nuclear submarines.

GPN: Is there a place for a cooperative purchasing organization that focuses on green and sustainable products?

SC: The Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN) focuses heavily on green government purchasing, and they encourage cooperative purchasing initiatives in government. The RPN, however, is not a purchasing coop.

Michael Keating is Senior Editor of GPN, a sister brand of American City & County.