Article Features Mark Leary

Making It Easier to Buy Green

Mark Leary is executive director of the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

The Golden State is becoming much greener. Government offices throughout the state are finding it easier to buy green products, thanks to the efforts of the California Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Task Force, a collaborative effort led by the California Integrated Waste Management Board and state Department of General Services, along with 20 other state agencies.

Anyone who has browsed an office product catalog knows how overwhelming it can be to select needed office supplies that are environmentally friendly. Ideally, a buy-green product needs to perform well, be affordable and then meet sometimes daunting criteria of environmentally friendly checks and balances.

To make buying green easier, the task force, backed by more than 100 state scientists and experts, offers a tool called the EPP Best Practices Manual. This comprehensive guide covers 42 major product categories and can connect users with valuable resources. Information is available both as a quick overview and a more de tailed information source for specification writers. The document is online at (the index of products covered is listed onscreen in the right-hand column).

When looking for green products, the manual can help determine what features make an item environmentally favorable. The manual also provides guidance on whether the product is available through a state contract or from the Prison Industry Authority (PIA). If it is, green procurement can be simplified.

California code allows local agencies to participate in state procurement efforts, including agreements for goods, information technology and services. Local agencies can work with suppliers awarded these contracts without further competitive bidding.

As more green products are added to state contracts, local government entities will find these contracts can help turn their workplaces green. School districts, community colleges, water districts, transportation agencies, cities and counties in California can all purchase through state contracts. The state’s large purchasing and negotiating power can benefit all public entities.

State contracts are increasingly becoming as buy-green as possible. To view a list of such products available on a state contract or from the PIA, visit

Products that are available through state contracts include:

  • Certified computers (desktops, laptops, monitors) and printers (those with Blue Angel certification are also Energy Star certified);
  • High post-consumer content papers; and
  • Hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles.

In the near future, PIA will offer Green Seal-certified cleaning products.

The full list is online at For more details on purchasing through a state contract, visit

Developing Standards

In addition to its efforts to “green up” governmental procurement contracts, the state participates in national forums for creating environmental standards and certification. Work is under way to develop environmentally preferable standards for products, which can result in product eco-labels. Such standards take several years to develop with input from a variety of stakeholders across the nation, including manufacturers, non-government organizations, government agencies and others. Once developed and implemented, these guidelines can make any office workplace a hub of green activity.

Some environmental standards may in clude criteria for product performance and other key characteristics. For example, products that don’t work well quickly become waste, and that can disqualify them as being environmentally preferable. Additionally, environmental standards may address product longevity, product design, recycled content, reuse and manufacturer take-back, along with other criteria such as reduced toxins or hazardous substances, improved energy and water efficiency and more. Price and availability are also considerations in designing an effective standard.

In California, we are seeing more standards that use a flexible point structure combined with tiers of bronze, silver, gold or platinum to designate the most environmentally preferable products. Against this kind of criteria, a product must score highly to achieve recognition. The standards ideally are verified by a third party to ensure the integrity of the certification, but in some cases a self-declaration with a system of audits or other reviews can provide suitable oversight.

Environmental standards and their labels let the marketplace drive change and can be a powerful tool. They send a message to manufacturers and consumers about what is green, and make green products easily identifiable. Standards, labels and messages also make it easier for work places to ask for green products.

Currently, products with environmental standards and certifications in the United States include computers (desktops, notebooks and monitors), carpet, paint, cleaning supplies, furniture, office paper and many others.

The Post-Consumer Stage

Engaging the item’s manufacturer in taking responsibility for the product at the post-consumer stage is emerging as another trend in buying green. Extended producer responsibility can be found in take-back programs, offered either by the manufacturer directly (for example, mailers for old inkjet cartridges) or through a third party (battery recycling, for example).

Scott Cassel, executive director of the Product Stewardship Institute, describes extended producer responsibility (EPR) as the next frontier for the solid waste professional. “We need to keep more products out of the waste stream and EPR is the way to do it,” he says.

Whether the cost of managing a product is included in the purchase price or in a waste management fee, businesses have to compensate for such expenses. But being responsible for the item at the end of its service life creates incentives for manufacturers to design products that are less harmful to our environment because the burden of waste management must be accounted for. Manufacturers with products having the lowest end-of-life costs will be able to transfer those savings into lower prices, which benefits all of us. When that day comes, those offices that are not green will be the ones making headlines in California.

Buying Green and Staying in the Black

The U.S. Communities Going Green Purchasing program is the one-stop source for public agency access to a broad range of environmentally certified products and services. Whether it’s office supplies, paper or toner, lighting and electrical, Energy Star-rated appliances and computers, Green Seal-certified janitorial supplies, recyclable carpet and flooring, ergonomically correct office and school furniture, environmentally sound playground and recreational equipment, hypoallergenic safety equipment or environmentally sensitive roofing products and related services, the U.S. Communities team of suppliers provides it all at deep discounts.

U.S. Communities, sponsored by the League and California State Association of Counties, was formed by local government public agencies and five national associations representing local and state governments. Its goal is to provide a national cooperative purchasing program that offers publicly solicited contracts to all public agencies nationwide. Since its inception, U.S. Communities has saved local and state agencies more than $735 million cumulatively, and more than $150 million in 2006 alone.

With 15 contracts offering thousands of environmentally certified products to cities, counties, schools, special districts, state agencies and nonprofit organizations, U.S. Communities provides strategic sourcing solutions for government. The program is free to public agencies, has no minimum spending requirements and provides a significant procurement tool in the toolbox of local government.

For a list of products offered through U.S. Communities, visit Public agencies can gain access to these products by visiting, registering to participate and requesting information from their preferred suppliers.

For more information on this and other U.S. Communities offerings, contact Connie Kuranko, program manager; phone: (925) 942-2930 ext. 210; e-mail:

Additional Resources

For more “buying green” information and resources, visit the Institute of Local Government website at .

This article appears in the August 2007 issue of Western City
Did you like what you read here? Subscribe to Western City