Sustainability at Various Levels

At the level of global intergovernmental organizations, the United Nations has set up several departments tasked to address sustainable development and sustainable procurement. The U.N.'s Environment Programme (UNEP) includes a sustainable procurement component. The following definition for sustainable procurement is provided by the UNEP:

Sustainable Procurement Schemes: Sustainable procurement is the process in which organizations buy supplies or services by taking into account, the best value for money considerations such as, price, quality, availability, functionality, etc., environmental aspects, the lifecycle of products, and the social aspects such as poverty eradication, international equity in the distribution of resources, labour conditions, and human rights [11].

UNEP mentions that the inclusion of sustainable development principles in procurement practices is already a reality in a number of countries, such as Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, the United States and South Africa.

Another U.N. department, the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNESA) maintains the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The website for this division of the U.N. provides a link to national information related to sustainable procurement [12]. In 2004, a website for UNESA CSD provided various specific links to national and international organizations involved in sustainable procurement. By 2005, as mentioned above, the website for the UNESA CSD was more sophisticated, with many more links to national information, indexed both by country and by organization [13].

Using the "National Information" page of the UNESA CSD website [12] and selection of "United States," links are provided for the U.S. Government Sustainable Development Partnerships, which includes additional links to various programs. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program (EPP) and Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) Program; the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a Federal Energy Management Program; the Energy Star Program is a government-backed program (e.g., EPA and DOE); and the U.S. executive branch has the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE). These programs address various aspects of sustainable development.

In brief, the EPA's CPG program aims to promote the use of materials recovered from solid waste whereby the EPA is required to designate products that are or can be made with recovered materials, and to recommend practices for buying these products. The EPA's EPP is a federal-wide program that encourages and assists Executive agencies in the purchasing of environmentally preferable products and services. The EPA's website offers definitions for the EPP terms and concepts, and provides a number of tools and case studies to help make environmentally preferable purchasing more tangible [14].

An examination of the U.S. OFEE's website provides some indication of how the U.S. government views green purchasing:

Green purchasing includes the acquisition of recycled content products, environmentally preferable products and services, biobased products, energy- and water-efficient products, alternate fuel vehicles, products using renewable energy, and alternatives to hazardous or toxic chemicals. The White House Task Force on Waste Prevention and Recycling, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), assists Federal agencies to promote the acquisition of recycled content, environmentally preferable, and biobased products; non-ozone depleting substances; and products containing alternatives to certain priority chemicals. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and EPA assist agencies to implement the energy-related purchasing requirements, including the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles and alternative fuels. The General Services Administration and the Defense Logistics Agency, as central sources of supply, are key to making the Federal green purchasing program successful [15].

Note that this definition of "green purchasing" does not address squarely "sustainability". Indeed, in 2004, the OFEE's website link for "sustainability" merely stated "Under Construction". However, now the term "Sustainable Environmental Stewardship" appears, as does an explanation of "sustainable development":

What is "sustainable environmental stewardship" and how does it relate to sustainable development? First, sustainable development is a concept with many definitions that vary not only across national borders, but also over time. Suffice to say that at its core, most definitions concur that the essence of sustainable development includes the advancement of societies in a way that balances the social, economic, and environmental needs of current and future generations.

We define sustainable environmental stewardship to include those concepts, strategies, tools, practices, and approaches that lead to environmental improvement in a manner that is sustainable over time, considers the long term effects as well as the shorter term, more immediate effects, and that contributes positively, even if indirectly, to the social and economic condition [16].

An organization known as the Government Purchasing Project (GPP) claims to be "dedicated to protecting the environment and human health through market-based strategies" and purports to work "to encourage the government to use its immense purchasing power to promote safe, cost-effective, energy-efficient, and environmentally-sound products" [17].

The GPP website includes links to "Federal Government Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policies," to Canada's "Green Procurement" policy, to various "State Government Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policies"

(CA, DE, GA, HI, IN, MA, MN, NJ, NC, OH, OR, PA, TX, VT and WI) and to various "Local Government Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policies". Under this latter heading, the GPP website lists seven cities or counties; however, only two use the word "sustainable" in their policy title: the City of Austin, Texas ("Sustainable Purchasing") and the City of Santa Monica, California ("Sustainable Purchasing"). Others do include "sustainable" in subheadings.

The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation website provides a listing of governments and organizations having "green procurement" initiatives [18]. This listing includes the states of California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Vermont, the cities of Austin, Phoenix, Santa Monica and Seattle and the county of King in Washington State. Considering the distinction between "green" and "sustainable," one can expect that the listing of "sustainable procurement" initiatives would be smaller.

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