Green Spotlight on Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

Cornerstone speaks with Jenny Carney and Keith Winn

Q: What is Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) and what scope of products and services does it cover?

A:  EPP highlights products or services that have a reduced effect on environmental and human health in comparison with competing products/services that serve the same purpose.  For example, a product might be environmentally preferable because it contains a higher recycled content, is more energy efficient, or contains fewer toxic chemicals than its conventional counterparts.  Also, products that contain single or multiple environmental attributes might be labeled or ranked as environmentally preferred based on standards set by industry associations or consensus-based stakeholder groups.

A wide range of products and services can be covered under EPP, and this range will likely grow as life cycle impacts of products become better understood and higher quality alternatives reach the marketplace. Paper, wood and plastic products; cleaning products and services; paints and sealants; textiles; vehicles; landscape management chemicals; and appliances are examples of items that might be included in an EPP program.

Q: How do purchasing practices affect a company’s sustainability?

A:  Purchasing practices are important to overall sustainability due to the large volume of products and services consumed in buildings, and the many environmental and health impacts of products and services over their entire life cycle (resource harvesting/extraction, processing, transporting, use, disposal, etc.).  EPP can address environmental issues such as air and water pollution, resource depletion, habitat destruction and more.

Because of the role they play, EPP programs can be good strategies for meeting other sustainability goals.  Aligning purchasing strategies with climate protection protocols or ISO 14001 objectives can facilitate achievement of those goals.

Finally, EPP programs are a powerful way to let product manufacturers and service providers know that environmental issues are important to their customers, thereby creating economic incentives for expanding the development of these types of products and encouraging the adoption of sustainability principles up and down supply chains.

Q: How does EPP fit into a green operations and maintenance strategy or into the context of LEED buildings?

A:  Many green operations and maintenance strategies are related to EPP.  An entire category of credits (Materials & Resources) within the LEED Rating System is devoted to addressing the environmental issues associated with the materials brought into buildings.  Out of the 80 defined points in the LEED for Existing Building (EB) Rating System, 11 points are directly related to procurement and another 12 can be earned in part through EPP.  These large numbers reflect the critical role EPP plays in sustainable building operations and maintenance practices.

Q:  What actions can a company take to start an EPP program?

A:  Developing an organizational policy is an important early step for establishing a successful EPP program.  The policy should specify the program objectives, set priorities in terms of which environmental attributes and product/service classes to target, and establish criteria for reviewing potential products and services.

The policy development phase also provides an opportunity for aligning EPP objectives with larger organization goals, weighting the importance of different environmental criteria, and communicating those objectives to procurement officials and key product/service providers.  Establishing a timeline for implementing an EPP program helps smooth the transition by taking into account current inventories and purchasing cycles.

Assessing and cataloging the organization’s current purchasing practices is an essential first step in this process.  Researching alternative products and services is another important early action.  As with any purchasing decision, it is critical to ensure that there is a reliable supply chain and the product performs well.  Also, companies should work with product and service providers to keep abreast of newly available products and services that might meet their EPP objectives.

Jenny Carney, LEED AP, is a program manager at the Leonardo Academy and has spent the past year working on the development of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-EB training workshops and other LEED-EB resource materials, including the recently released LEED-EB V2.0 Reference Guide.  In the past, she has worked in the areas of terrestrial ecology/global change research and environmental program development and management.  Keith Winn is the principal of Catalyst Partners, a business committed to the development and implementation of sustainable design protocols for buildings, interiors and products.  He previously spent 25 years at Herman Miller serving in many leadership roles and as a member of that company’s Environmental Quality Action Team.  Mr. Winn is a founding member and serves on the board of The Institute of Market Transformation to Sustainability.

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