Pennsylvania's deep roots in the green purchasing community are about to blossom into another green renaissance. Under the leadership of Governor Edward G. Rendell, Pennsylvania is renewing focus of its nearly $2 billion in purchasing power toward buying more environmentally preferable products.

"Green purchasing is vitally important to Pennsylvanians in many ways," says Department of General Services Secretary James P. Creedon, whose agency is taking the lead. "Not only does green purchasing protect our environment and preserve it for future generations, it is yet another way we can help in job creation."

Back in 1988, Pennsylvania first emerged as a clear leader in the green purchasing field when a Commonwealth recycling law, Act 101, required Pennsylvania agencies to meet tough recycling goals. It also required agencies to buy recycled-content products and included a 5 percent price preference on green purchases.

The Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS), working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), built an impressive program to meet the Act 101 purchasing requirements. It included adopting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recycled content recommendations, adding recycled-content requirements to many state contracts and maintaining a list of recycled-content products available to state agencies.

Over the next two decades, as green purchasing expanded beyond its initial focus on recycled content, Pennsylvania also incorporated considerations such as energy and water efficiency into its green purchasing program. With increased political interest in bio-based fuels and renewable energy, Pennsylvania also began using its purchasing power to support those initiatives.

Revamped green procurement policy

As the rest of the country catches up with Pennsylvania's early successes, the Commonwealth is relaunching its green purchasing efforts. Over the past several months, purchasing officials have revamped the Commonwealth Procurement Handbook to include additional green procurement requirements; developed new tools to ensure buyers are considering the environmental impacts of their purchasing decisions including a new website dedicated to green procurement; and designated a Green Procurement Manager to coordinate the effort.

Pennsylvania's revamped green procurement policy clearly defines the renewed emphasis on going green. The policy acknowledges the positive impact the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can make on the environment and human health through its procurement decisions. The policy states: "It is the intent of the Department of General Services to integrate environmental considerations into every aspect of procurement."

Most significantly, the policy requires an environmental preference screen before every solicitation to determine the "availability and competitiveness" of environmentally preferable alternatives.

The resulting contract carries only the environmentally preferable options if they are available and price-comparable to competing products. If the environmentally preferable alternatives are available and practical, but not necessarily price-comparable, the contracts include both the traditional and clearly identified environmentally preferable options.

In addition to reinforcing the Commonwealth's historic strength buying recycled-content products, the policy also emphasizes the importance of considering additional environmental attributes, including:

  • maximizing post-consumer and total recycled content

  • minimizing waste

  • conserving energy and water

  • reducing toxic material use

  • promoting reusable and recyclable products

  • minimizing global warming pollution (greenhouse gas emissions)

The policy also requires expansion of lifecycle costing to include environmental and social impacts in addition to consideration of traditional total cost of ownership. Purchasing agents are also required to maximize their green purchases as a percentage of total purchases, and agencies must prepare annual reports documenting their green purchases. Suppliers are encouraged to provide annual reports documenting the sales and environmental benefits of the Commonwealth's environmentally preferable purchases.

New procurement tools

To facilitate the rapid adoption of the new policy requirements, the Office of Procurement is developing a detailed Green Procurement Guidance. The April 2009 draft includes a questionnaire to be completed as part of every solicitation. It will help purchasing officials identify the relevant environmental issues to consider as part of the mandatory environmental analysis.

The form must be completed by the Commodity Specialist and signed by the Commodity Manager for every bidding opportunity. It includes space to identify environmentally preferable features available within the product or service category. It also leaves room to note any price or performance differences.

In addition, the form asks purchasers to identify any reputable third-party certifications such as EcoLogo (www.ecologo.org) or Green Seal (www.greenseal.org) or self-verification standards such as ENERGY STAR® (www.energystar.gov) or EPEAT (www.epeat.net).

The Commonwealth provides a list of frequently cited environmental certifications and standards as part of the updated Department of General Services' Green Procurement web page. The list is available at www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/green_procurement/5247/suppliers/491345#certifications.

Like other successful environmentally preferable purchasing programs, Pennsylvania has designated a Manager of Green Procurement. Paul Wolf, an 18-year veteran of the Bureau of Procurement, was appointed in April. He is currently busy documenting the various ad hoc environmental purchasing practices throughout the Commonwealth, identifying and sharing best practices, coordinating green purchasing training for purchasing officials, and coordinating with suppliers.

"It's going to be a challenge," Wolf says, "but we have significant senior management support and a wonderfully talented and dedicated purchasing staff. I can't wait to see what we accomplish."

Sample green purchasing initiatives

There is a variety of green purchasing efforts already under way in Pennsylvania. A few noteworthy purchases include:

Thirty percent of Pennsylvania's state government electricity use comes from renewable energy sources, of which 10 percent derives from new wind power and the remaining 90 percent from existing biomass. According to Secretary Creedon, Pennsylvania's purchase of renewable electricity, which will soon increase to 40 percent, reduces pollution compared to conventional power sources while also positioning Pennsylvania better financially. "As the green power market expands and creates more competition in the open market," he explains, "green power costs are expected to decline while conventional power rates are expected to increase over the next few years."

In 2008, Pennsylvania purchased 49,841 computers meeting the EPEAT green computer standard. All of the purchases met at least the EPEAT Silver rating with 25 percent of them meeting the highest EPEAT Gold rating.

Since 2004, Pennsylvania has reduced its electricity use at state-owned buildings by 18 percent, saving taxpayers $2.2 million a year. The reductions are possible because of the strategic use of energy savings contracts (ESCOs) that improve the energy efficiency of a building without upfront costs to the Commonwealth. The energy-savings contractors fund the initial costs and are compensated from the resulting energy savings, which are split between the contractors and the Commonwealth.

Pennsylvania recently updated its commercial item description for carpeting to require all carpet to be certified to the NSF-140 (2007) carpet standard at a minimum Gold level. Proof of certification must be on file with DGS.

Its remanufactured furniture contract saves Pennsylvania taxpayers thousands of dollars every year by supplying modular office furniture that has been completely disassembled, repainted, refinished and reused.

Scot Case has been researching and promoting responsible purchasing issues for 16 years. He is vice president of TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, which manages the EcoLogo program. Contact him via e-mail at scase@terrachoice.com or in Reading, Pa., at 610-779-3770.

Read about how Pennyslvania's green purchasing expertise extends beyond the Department of Procurement.

A little help from friends

Pennsylvania's green purchasing expertise extends beyond the Department of Procurement. Like successful green purchasing programs elsewhere, Pennsylvania's purchasers are supported by experts from other departments, including:

Governor's Green Government Council, which is co-chaired by Secretary Creedon and John Hanger, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. The office is staffed by Jeff Olsen, who has been working on green purchasing issues within Pennsylvania for 10 years.

Commonwealth Agency Recycling Office, managed by John Rarig. The office has been promoting recycling, including the purchase of recycled-content products for 20 years.