Procurement based on sustainability is transitioning, says Darin Matthews, Director of Procurement and adjunct faculty at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “Traditionally, sustainable purchasing has been about environmental purchasing – procuring recycled paper, etc. A new trend is emerging to include an expanded concept of social responsibility.”

Matthews (photo at left) says many organizations incorporated sweatshop-free and social equity concepts in their solicitations in the past, but the social equity aspect is also expanding to include supplier diversity. “On the west coast, there is a trend to also include LGBT-certified business enterprises in the inclusion of diversity of suppliers, which may be generally accepted in California but controversial in other areas of the country.”

A variety sustainability of trends are apparent, says Julia Wolfe, Director of Environmental Purchasing in the Massachusetts Operational Services Division. Wolfe sees:

--A greater focus on specific areas like green energy, green fleets, green electronics, green cleaners and green furniture;

--A greater emphasis on clean water initiatives and purchases;

Wolfe says, “Due to drought conditions in Massachusetts, we, like many other states, are working to identify products with water conservation attributes.”

--A growing trend in targeting specific chemicals of concern for alternatives in products – such as flame retardants, chlorine compounds, quaternary ammonium compounds, and chemicals with neonicotinoids;  

-- A growing trend towards using third-party-certified products that incorporate environmental and health criteria.

Green focus increases

The National Association of State Procurement Officers (NASPO) has seen a greater focus on green procurement in the past year, says Christine Warnock, Chief Procurement Officer of Washington State. She also is a member of the NASPO board of directors.

According to the 2015 NASPO Survey of State Procurement Practices, 30 responding jurisdictions have implemented a green purchasing program; a 14 percent increase compared to 2014.

Sustainability is a key component of state procurement, Warnock (photo at right) says. Green purchasing programs are mandated by state statutes in 17 jurisdictions; encouraged for all bids in 10 states and for some bids in another 15 states. “Currently, 15 states publish a report on their green purchasing activities,” Warnock tells Government Procurement.

NASPO’s Green Purchasing Technical Assistance Fund provides financial support to states for green purchasing best practices and programs. “Through this fund, state central procurement offices are eligible to apply for NASPO funds,” Warnock says. She says the funds can be used to support professional services for green purchasing initiatives, including education and training for central procurement office and user agency staff.

More cities and counties will formalize their sustainability goals, predicts Elizabeth Beardsley, senior policy counsel at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The council works with government, member businesses and allied organizations to support policies and programs that advance greener buildings and communities.

“We expect to see more local governments develop purchasing policies that aim to operationalize their local goals, including sustainability and carbon goals,” Beardsley says. She notes that 129 cities have joined the Compact of Mayors, and therefore are pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, assess climate vulnerabilities of the city and develop an action plan.

These local climate action and related sustainability plans may provide focus on purchasing related to the city’s objectives, Beardsley adds. She offers the following examples of potential sustainability goals and behaviors in cities: reduce carbon from energy use, reduce water use, increase renewable energy generation and use, increase sustainable sourcing of materials and increase recycling and producer take-back of electronics and other products.