Evolution of Green Procurement in Federal Government

The Carter Administration ushered in the green government procurement movement with the passage of the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery

Act (RCRA). RCRA mandated that all paper purchased by the government contain 30% recycled content. It took quite a while for agencies to comply with this requirement, but by the end of the Clinton Administration, use of paper with recycled content was widespread [9].

Shortly after coming into office in the early 1990s, the Clinton administration began what would become a series of federal efforts to reform government procurement. Beginning with Executive Order (EO) 12873, entitled Federal Acquisition, Recycling and Waste Prevention, the federal government turned its attention to green procurement [11]. Through this executive order, the position of the Federal Environmental Executive was created within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The role of the Federal Environmental Executive is [CaMS1] to encourage improved federal environmental stewardship through the creation of environmental management systems within federal agencies and through the incorporation of environmental concerns in daily operations of federal agencies. To assist the Federal Environmental Executive with responsibilities, four full time staff persons were drawn from the Department of Defense (DOD), General Services Administration (GSA), EPA, and one other agency [CaMS1]. The Federal Environmental Executive's main tasks were to develop a plan to encourage the use of recycled and environmentally preferable products across the federal government, to develop a plan for implementing "an economically efficient federal waste prevention, energy and water efficiency programs, and recycling programs" within each federal agency [11].

EO 12873 instructed agencies to consider a variety of factors before planning for, designing, or acquiring any products or services. These factors include the "elimination of virgin material requirements; use of recovered materials; reuse of product; life cycle cost; recyclability; use of environmentally preferable products; waste prevention.; and ultimate disposal.." [11]. The order instructed agencies to consider these matters for all procurement and in the evaluation of contracts.

EO 12873 extended provisions of Section 6002 of the (RCRA), which required EPA to create guidelines for procuring agencies so that their procurement practices would maximize energy and resource recovery. Section 6002 of RCRA referred to all procurement agencies but restricted purchasing items to those exceeding $10,000. RCRA required that those agencies develop an "affirmative procurement program" (or APP), which was to ensure that items composed of recovered materials were purchased to the maximum extent practicable. RCRA established guidelines for "paper and paper products, vehicular products, construction products, transportation products, park and recreation products, landscaping products, and non-paper office products" [12]. EO 12873 expanded the function of affirmative procurement programs by requiring for all agencies that 100% of purchased products meet or exceed the EPA guidelines for resource recovery. Failing this, the procuring agency was required to provide a written justification that such a product was not available at a competitive price or in a timely fashion. EO 12873 also instructed agencies whenever possible to rely on electronic documents, double-sided printed documents, and use of recycled paper. The executive order also instructed agencies to review and revise federal and military specifications and standards to enhance procurement of products made from environmentally preferable or recovered material [11].

Under EO 12873, agencies were required to report their compliance annually to the Federal Environmental Executive and through that office to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). To speed the adoption of affirmative procurement programs, EPA was instructed to produce guidance on designated items that are or can be made with recovered materials and what constitutes an environmentally preferable product. Agencies were also required to set goals for waste reduction and procurement of recycled and environmentally preferable products. EO 12873 specified that all future contractors must comply with the order and that current contracts should be modified to allow compliance where feasible [11].

On September 29, 1995 the EPA published Proposed Guidance on Acquisition of Environmentally Preferable Products and Services (60 FR 189). This guidance, developed as called for by EO 12873, suggested seven guiding principles:

■ Principle #1 (Pollution Prevention): Consideration of environmental prefer-ability should begin early in the acquisition process.

■ Principle #2 (Multiple Attributes): Environmental preferability is a function of multiple attributes.

■ Principle #3 (Life-cycle Perspective): Environmental preferability should reflect life-cycle considerations to the extent feasible.

■ Principle #4 (Magnitude of Impact): Environmental preferability should consider the scale (global versus local) and temporal aspects (reversibility) of the impacts.

■ Principle #5 (Local Conditions): Environmental preferability should be tailored to local conditions where appropriate.

■ Principle #6 (Competition): Environmental attributes should be important factors in competition among vendors.

■ Principle #7 (Product Attribute Claims): Agencies should examine product attribute claims carefully [13].

EPA proposed several pilot programs to test the adequacy of these principles. The first of these was the three-year collaborative effort with the General Services Administration (GSA) to identify environmentally preferable cleaning products. The pilot began before the executive order in 1993, with the goal of identifying cleaning products with reduced human health and safety impacts for use in federal buildings. After the issuance of EO 12873, the pilot was modified to test the guidance issued under the executive order [10].

The cleaning products pilot revealed a great number of complexities associated with selection of environmentally preferable products. One of the issues that emerged was whether EPA should issue a list of products that it approved. The cleaning products pilot showed that an "approved products list" was not always the best way to go about selection, since the importance of specific attributes can vary based upon local circumstance. In the cleaning products pilot, for instance, it became clear that communities with adequate water treatment plants might be more concerned with air emissions from cleaning products, while communities with inadequate water treatment plants might be far more concerned with impacts on water quality from cleaning product use. To accommodate a variety of local priorities, the pilot adopted a compromise approach. Products that met certain threshold levels for lack of toxicity would be identified by a "green dot" on a list of all products. Each product was further described by a product attribute matrix. The matrix allowed assessment of product performance on specific criteria, including skin irritation, bio-concentration properties, air pollution potential, containing fragrance or dyes, reduced/recyclable packaging, and minimization of exposure to concentrated product. The matrix allowed users to pick among features that met their community's needs best, while the "green dot" approach provided for ease of selection [10].

The method eventually adopted and incorporated by GSA in its Commercial Cleaning Supplies catalog incorporates both approaches tested in the pilot. GSA identifies products that meet toxicity and biodegradability standards separately under the heading GSA's Biodegradable Cleaners/Degreasers. Manufacturers of the products provide specific information for the matrix of product attributes. This two-pronged approach allows users to select the product that most effectively meets their needs [10].

In September of 1998, the Clinton Administration again issued an executive order addressing the issue of green procurement. EO 13101, entitled Greening the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition strengthened and expanded EO 12873. EO 13101 required that each executive agency incorporate recycling and waste prevention into its daily activities. Perhaps one of the more important aspects of this executive order was the recognition of the need to expand the market for recycled products to make them cost-effective. This executive order instructed agencies to create a market for such products by becoming consumers themselves. The order stated:

It is the national policy to prefer pollution prevention, whenever feasible. Pollution that cannot be prevented should be recycled; pollution that cannot be prevented or recycled should be treated in an environmentally safe manner. Disposal should be employed only as a last resort [14].

All of these activities, however, were premised by the phrase, "Consistent with the demands of efficiency and cost effectiveness" [14] which appears at odds with recognition of market forces at work with recycled products.

EO 13101 established a Steering Committee on Greening the Government through Waste Prevention and Recycling. The committee was to be composed of the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Federal Environmental Executive, and the Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. In addition, the executive order required that every federal government agency designate an Agency Environmental Executive (AEE).

Working together, the AEEs and the Federal Environmental Executive were directed to produce a Government-wide Waste Prevention and Recycling Strategic Plan and a biennial report to the president on the actions taken by agencies to comply with the order. The Federal Environmental Executive was also instructed to work in coordination with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the EPA, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the GSA to convene a group of procurement managers and state and local governmental environmental managers to work with state and local governments to improve state and local procurement practices. EO 13101 directed EPA to issue final guidance to agencies drawn from the earlier proposed guidance [14]. The document was issued in final form in August of 1999.

The final guidance issued took into account several changes in federal purchasing practices put in place between 1995 and 1999. The first was the acquisition streamlining that resulted as a consequence of passage of the National Technology Transfer Act of 1995. That Act required the federal government to utilize industry standards rather than setting separate government standards. The second was the 1997 revisions to the Federal Acquisition Regulations that incorporated policies mandating the acquisition of environmentally preferable and energy efficient products and services. These changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulations put in place requirements to include environmental considerations in all aspects of acquisition planning, market surveying, describing agencies' needs, evaluating and selecting vendors, and contract administration. The acquisition streamlining that resulted from reforms initiated in the 1990s included the decentralization of purchasing. The extension of the use of credit cards by federal agency personnel (from 10,000 in use in 1989 to 250,000 in 1996) made the statement of clear guidance necessary. No longer were central purchasing offices the only ones with the need to understand the requirements of environmentally preferable purchasing [15].

The proposed guidance issued in 1995 was modified largely as a result of the pilot programs initiated to test its soundness. The changes resulted in the merging of several guiding principles and the addition of one. The final guidance includes five rather than seven principles. A new principle on product safety was added and is now the first principle. This was made the first principle in large part because of comments regarding the fact that the proposed guidance did not fully address traditional purchasing factors. Making this the first principle of the guidance clearly indicated EPAs willingness to balance environmental concerns with traditional purchasing values of safety, price, performance, and availability. Other changes were also made. The proposed guidance principles on life cycle and multiple attributes were combined into one principle. The guiding principles on impacts and local conditions were combined into one to remove the perception of any conflict between the two. Finally, the proposed principles on competition and product attributes were combined and revised to emphasize the importance of having relative environmental information. The final guidance principles, issued in 1999, read:

■ Principle #1 (EnvironmentePrice + Performance = Environmentally Preferable Purchasing): Environmental Considerations should become part of normal purchasing practice, consistent with such traditional factors as product safety, price, performance, and availability.

■ Principle #2 (Pollution Prevention): Consideration of environmental prefer-ability should begin early in the acquisition process and be rooted in the ethic of pollution prevention, which strives to eliminate or reduce up-front, potential risks to human health and the environment.

■ Principle #3 (Life-cycle Perspective/Multiple Attributes): A product's of service's environmental preferability is a function of multiple attributes from a life cycle perspective.

■ Principle #4 (Comparison of Environmental Impacts): Determining environmental preferability might involve comparing environmental impacts. Federal agencies should consider: the reversibility and geographic scale of the environmental impacts, the degree of difference among competing products or services, and the overriding importance of protecting human health.

■ Principle #5 (Environmental Performance Information): Comprehensive, accurate and meaningful information about the environmental performance of products or services is necessary in order to determine environmental preferability [15].

Section 503 of EO 13101 encouraged agencies to establish pilot programs to test and evaluate the principles in EPA's guidance. The executive order required agencies to set up demonstration programs to show how they could incorporate environmentally preferable products into their agencies. Agencies were encouraged to draw on the examples set by prior pilots in developing their demonstration projects. The extensive cleaning products pilot was followed by a series of other pilots. These included a Department of Defense (DOD) pilot to apply green procurement techniques to the letting of parking lot repair and maintenance contracts, an EPA pilot to use green building techniques in the construction of the Ronald Reagan Building and the Research Triangle Park Office Complex, and a DOD pilot using green approaches to the Maintenance of the Pentagon and other DOD facilities [15]. Each of these pilots was useful in providing models for agencies to use in establishing their demonstration programs.

In April of 2000, the Clinton Administration issued EO 13123 emphasizing the importance of reducing the use of energy in the more than 500,000 federal buildings. Energy efficient improvement goals were set by the square foot for federal buildings and agencies were ordered to reduce their energy consumption 30% by 2005 and 35% by 2010. Section 403 of the order encouraged agencies to meet Energy Star criteria where they were cost effective for energy performance and indoor air pollution standards. The order also mandated the use of Energy Star performance ratings for federal buildings. Agencies were required to evaluate their buildings' energy performance and to use the rating to plan building updates and maintenance. The Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) was assigned the task of working with agencies to insure their compliance [16].

Late in the Clinton Administration, three additional executive orders were implemented, each dealing with some aspect of green procurement. EO 13148 sought to improve federal government environmental leadership by ensuring that the head of each federal agency was directly responsible for taking all actions necessary to fully integrate environmental accountability within the agency [17]. EO 13149 specifically sought to ensure that federal government leadership act to reduce petroleum consumption [18], while EO 13150 allowed federal workers to exclude from taxable wages funds spent to commute using mass transit [19].

To date, the Bush Administration has issued only one additional executive order regarding environmentally preferable procurement. EO 13221 ordered executive agencies, when purchasing commercially available off-the-shelf products that use external standby power devices, to ensure that these devices use the lowest possible standby power wattage [20].

The Bush administration has continued the use of the Federal Environmental Executive (originally established by President Clinton's executive order), most recently appointing Edwin Pinero to the post. Under Pinero and his predecessors, John Howard (Bush appointee) and Fran McPoland (Clinton appointee), the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE) works to promote better environmental stewardship across all agencies in the federal government. In particular, the OFEE coordinates and tracks green procurement, waste reduction, and recycling efforts within the executive branch of government. The OFEE works with the OMB and CEQ to promote environmentally sound procurement practices. The OFEE also works with the Department of Agriculture through the "Buy Bio" program to encourage the use of biomass and other renewable sources.

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