Section 5: Steps to Developing a Green Purchasing Program


The common issues involved in starting a green purchasing program call for common approaches.  In fact, as you are reviewing sections of this guide that present agency case studies or focus on specific types of environmental initiatives, you will see many similarities in the way experts approach “going green.”  After establishing your statement of intent, there are ten steps almost any green purchasing project would take: 

  1. Find a leader.  In order for your efforts to succeed, your organization needs to choose a point person for green initiatives.  Whether self-selected, elected or appointed, this will be the person for staff to come with questions as well as someone who would be accountable for your organization's progress. 
  2. Build a team.  Regardless of where you start and how good a leader you have, “going green” will require expertise and support of a wide range of company personnel.  Assemble a “green team” of like-minded individuals representing different organizational functions:  facilities management, purchasing, accounting, communications, etc.  End-users know what they need and having a “green team” will help you tap into departmental expertise as well as gain broader support for sustainability initiatives.
  3. Start small.  Inside and outside your organization, you will find advocates for sweeping changes in the way your office operates.  While many of these suggestions will be well-meant, begin your work with simple projects that have a relatively high likelihood of success.  This will help you gain “green expertise” as well as build credibility for your efforts within the organization.  Learn from your experiences and the experiences of others.  Don't reinvent the wheel.  Maintain flexibility and modify your initiatives where necessary.  Keep the initial changes simple and use any temporary “failures” as a learning tool.  When you have changed the buying habits of one person, you have succeeded.  Build on that to go onto the next person.
  4. Establish a baseline/benchmark.  Change is impossible without understanding the way things are.  Consider what you are currently buying and target those items you know have recycled or environmentally preferable alternatives.  Use your green team's expertise to gain access and analyze baseline information and use it to plan your green efforts.
  5. Involve stakeholders.  Some sustainability efforts may not be very visible to your co-workers, but in most cases staff support will be vital for your success.  Whether you are advocating double-sided copying and printing or thinking about changing office temperature settings for weekends and nights, your co-workers will have their own opinions about whether and how these things should be handled.  Don't be discouraged by a few naysayers.  Focus on working with those who are open to providing meaningful feedback and getting involved.  Have departments test and evaluate new products so you don't make the decision for them.
  6. Get management buy-in.  Your efforts will be much more successful if you have the management on your side.  The type of support you are looking for may range from sending out an email/memo to all staff regarding a specific green initiative to adopting an official sustainability policy.  In any event, support from your superiors, expressed publicly, will serve to legitimize your efforts, to educate your co-workers about sustainability and to ensure their support for your work. 
  7. Track progress.  As you are planning and implementing your green initiatives, allocate time and effort for measuring and tracking the changes that take place.  This will keep you on track in project implementation and help you identify possible issues.  Tracking data will also provide a basis for assessing the overall cost savings, health and environmental benefits of your work.
  8. Reward supporters.  Once a green project is complete, be generous in sharing credit for its success.  Use the green team and the support of your management to recognize and reward your supporters, even if their contribution was small.  Such recognition, whether it is done through a personal thank-you letter, public award or additional points in the employee evaluation process, will help you build support for future efforts.
  9. Market your success.  Changing the way an organization functions is no small feat.  Use your tracking data to demonstrate project success to your management, co-workers and to stakeholders outside of the organization.  Take advantage of tools and resources to convert hard-to-understand metrics, such as kilowatt-hours or tons of waste, into vivid equivalents – numbers of cars removed from the road or numbers of trees saved.  Research recognition programs that exist outside of your organization (e.g. City of Cambridge Go Green Awards, U.S. EPA's Environmental Merit Awards, etc.)
  10. Use existing resources and identify a mentor.  However small a green project, it will definitely require additional time and effort.  Share this work within your green team, use the expertise of company departments, but don't forget that there are resources outside of your organization.  These resources that can be used as mentors include current state and local government EPP programs that are well established.  Also make use of trade associations and the business community.

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While it takes an entire organization to implement a green purchasing program, it only takes one dedicated individual with an interest to champion the change to get it started.  Whether you are that lone champion or an organization that is not sure how to start buying green (or perhaps your initial efforts have slowed for one reason or another), begin forming your green team per the steps outlined above and encourage them to undertake a few initial tasks to get your program on track and/or get back in the game. 

Products that will save you money at the point of purchase, or are cost neutral and also address some of the environmental attributes you have prioritized, are considered your low hanging fruit.  These products represent the greatest opportunities for early success.  Over the past decade, common purchasing practices such as specifying energy- or fuel-efficient products, reduced toxicity chemicals for cleaning and requiring minimum standards for post-consumer recycled content are already paving the way for purchasing officials new to the practice.

The following are some easy opportunities ripe for jumpstarting your green procurement programs that have been documented by purchasing leaders such as King County, Washington; Scot Case of TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, the Massachusetts EPP Program and others:
  • Recycled content products. Utilizing materials collected in municipal, business and other recycling programs strengthens revenue markets for those reused materials, reduces the waste stream going to landfills and incinerators and works to create economic development opportunities within the emerging industry.  Products containing post-consumer recycled content (see Glossary) are available for paper goods, plastics, metals, petroleum products, and more.  Such products include office papers and envelopes, packaging, plastic lumber, traffic cones, re-refined motor oil, antifreeze, and toner cartridges, just to name a few.
  • Energy efficient products.  Most everyone is familiar with the U.S. EnergyStar Program as a universal and credible means of verifying a product's energy efficiency.  As of August 2008, the program maintained an estimated sixty standards for products such as copiers, faxes, other office equipment, mail machines, computers, lighting (including traffic lights), appliances, air conditioners, heating and ventilation equipment and more.  Purchasers commonly include requirements in their contract that products meet the most recent EnergyStar standard available in order to reduce their operational costs through reduced electricity consumption and decrease the volume of pollution related to climate change conditions.  (See more about available EnergyStar tools to calculate cost and energy savings and environmental benefits in Measuring and Marketing).
  • Green Cleaning Products.  It is widely understood in today's society that many cleaning chemicals (as many as one out of three according to various reports) are considered hazardous due to their flammable, corrosive or toxic properties, and that they present safety, health and cost concerns in the handling, storage and disposal of those chemicals.  Some of the chemicals may not cause an immediate injury but are associated with cancer, reproductive disorders, respiratory or skin damage and other health conditions.  As a result, many state and local governments and schools are requiring the use of more benign, but equally high-performing green cleaning products and they are requiring such products to meet the standards of third-party organizations like Green Seal or UL EcoLogo. While such products may not have been available even five years ago, there are hundreds now being used by states across the country that not only provide improved environmental and health benefits, but also save money.  (Resource: Green Cleaning for Dummies, S. Ashkin and D. Holly, available for purchase at
  • Green computers and office equipment.  While maximizing energy efficiency remains an important consideration in procuring computers and office equipment, purchasers now are able to examine the environmental impacts that come into play within each phase of the product's life; from the raw materials extraction and quantities of energy and water consumed in the manufacturing process to the end-of-life handling and disposal of hazardous materials in certain components.  Using the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) purchasers can evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes.  Products are required to meet close to two dozen environmental criteria as well as numerous other options.  As of early 2008, federal government agencies are required to procure EPEAT registered computer products and other state and local governments are following suit.  (Details can be found at  UL EcoLogo also offers a similar standard for printers, scanners, copiers and other office equipment.
  • Environmentally preferable papers.  Paper products are included in this grouping, but admittedly they may not always be the easiest low hanging fruit to pluck.  Markets for paper recycling are ever-changing, but paying attention to environmental attributes is particularly important because this industry has such a huge impact on our forests and is one of the largest consumers of water and energy.  Specifying the goal to be 100% post-consumer recycled content paper, processed chlorine free or post consumer recycled content to the highest practicable level is crucial to office paper and envelope purchases as well as complying with the federal standards for recycled content on janitorial and other papers.  Additionally, for less than 100% post consumer recycled content, use post-consumer recycled content to the extent practicable and non-recycled content should not be deried from a sustainably-anaged renewable resource and certified as such through an appropriate third party certification program recognized by the paper industry, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) to the extent practicable.  Depending on the volume of paper purchased and the region of the country, many buyers are able to procure environmentally preferable papers without increasing costs.  Others implement paper reduction strategies such as defaulting all office equipment to duplex, widening margins and encouraging paperless practices to offset any difference in price.  It is also recommended that publications and other printed items use processed chlorine free (PCF) paper to the maximum extent possible.
  • Ink.  Printing shall, to the maximum extent practicable, require the use of water- or vegetable-based lithographic ink, which will reduce the amount of VOCs released into the environment.  Printing should where possible reduce or eliminate the use of color.

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If you are still confused as to where to start when beginning an EPP program, conduct an assessment of your current purchases in all facets of your operations:
  • Purchasing for waste reduction and recycling.  Are you purchasing recycled-content items? Can any of the packaging that came with the products you bought be recycled or returned to the manufacturer for reuse?
  • Take-back should be considered and encouraged for every purchase.  When replacing equipment, work with the contractor during the purchasing process to evaluate available trade-in options regardless of manufacturer.  Encourage programs that include take-back or trade-in, and proper environmental disposal of equipment (including equipment manufactured and sold by others).  Trade-in value/cost of take-back may be determined on an individual basis.
  • Energy efficient office equipment.  Energy efficient products reduce operational costs, reduce electricity consumption and work to cut global warming pollution.  Most likely you are purchasing EnergyStar compliant equipment, but are you taking advantage of the power management features in order to maximize your energy savings?  Have you considered purchasing a multi-function product that may serve to eliminate the need for individual machines?
  • Lighting.  Are you utilizing the most energy efficient products currently available?  Which ones require more stringent recycling efforts to keep mercury and other contaminants out of landfills and incinerators?
  • Cleaning chemicals for interior environments.  Are you aware of greener options for the products you are using?  Are there opportunities to standardize the products you are buying and reduce the total number of individual products purchased?
  • Landscaping products and pest control.  Are you familiar with less toxic and/or organic lawn care techniques and products?  Are you practicing integrated pest management (IPM)?
  • Vehicles and transportation practices.  Do you encourage your staff to use public transportation or carpool?  Is your company's vehicle fleet using ultra low sulfur diesel and/or biodiesel?  Have you considered improving your fleet's environmental performance by requiring higher fuel efficient standards for the majority of the fleet? 
  • Marketing materials.  Are you using recycled content or tree-free paper for your marketing materials?  Is the virgin portion of your paper third-party certified for sustainbility?  Have you considered asking your printer to use non-toxic water-based or soy-based inks for printing?
Talk to your suppliers about the recycled content or other environmentally preferable alternatives that may be available.  Many large manufacturers across various industries advertise the fact that they are implementing sustainable initiatives throughout their operations; requesting EPPs from your suppliers should not be a new idea. If it is, you may want to shop around for another supplier.

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