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Global Benefits of Sustainable Procurement

In 1861 before a Painesville Ohio crowd, Lincoln said “I have stepped out on this platform so that I can see you and you can see me, and in this arrangement, I have the best of the bargain.”

We also have the best of the bargain in writing this story of leadership in state and municipal sustainable procurement because visibility and communication are key to helping to end rampant “greenwashing," which is misleading or in some cases, false claims being made about a product’s environmental benefits. In addition to being the biggest barrier to progress on global health and environment, including climate change, greenwashing is unlawful. It’s a violation of municipal, state, and federal truth in advertising laws, including the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Environmental Marketing Guides, which features an unparalleled enforcement record – the government has never lost a case.

Consensus-based sustainable procurement has its roots in 1991 at the first US Green Building Council Board Meeting where life cycle assessment (LCA) standards were initiated to start regulating global supply chain environmental impacts. As a result, the market for sustainable products is growing.

Last year—some 23 years later—the states of Washington, New York, and Minnesota endorsed sustainable procurement based on a consensus standard developed in an American National Standards Institute accredited process. These were landmark events requiring LCA for 10 environmental and health impacts including toxicity – and more.

A consensus-based, democratic approach is used to avoid costly anti-trust and restraint of trade litigation against adopters and standard setters that typically bring progress to a halt.  This consensus approach ensures the protection of fundamental due process and constitutional rights of both interested and affected parties.

There are substantial global benefits to the consensus approach endorsed by the states:

  • A credible minimum level of achievement is demonstrated for manufacturers’ certified products;
  • Progress in eliminating carcinogens, mutagens, teratogens and other toxic chemicals;
  • Greatest weight accorded organic biobased products that include EPA best management practices;
  • Social equity prerequisites;
  • Credit for up to 100% is given to:
    • Reducing 4,000 pollutants (many of them toxic) identified by EPA, UN Environment Program, and Society for Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry;
    • Supporting green-e renewable power & energy waste reduction for manufacturers & suppliers;
    • Supporting greater material reuse; and
    • Using more recycled and biobased content.
  • Independent third party nonprofit certification, since the market does not believe corporate self-promotion claims on environmental product;
  • Manufacturers are legally bound to provide information for the certification that is accurate, not misleading, and qualified professionals are used in compliance with FTC’s Environmental Marketing Guides;
  • Incorporation of over 50 leading product standards including FSC Certified Wood prerequisite;
  • Credit is given for innovation in manufacturing;
  • Credit is given in LEED, LEED Canada, and the Australia and New Zealand Green Building Council’s Green Star rating systems;
  • Support by the US Conference of Mayors for reducing carbon pollution causing dangerous climate change;
  • Reli sustainable manufacturing underwriting standard for manufacturers and retailers measuring increased cash flow, providing cheaper cost of capital, and used for green bonds.

Any product type can be cost effectively certified to participate in the state and local government sustainable procurement preferences. Leveraging certification into continuous improvement and step-wise contracts can be used to provide manufacturers time to improve their products. To maintain the certification within the 3 year cycle, any undesirable traits in finished products, the manufacturing process or the supply chain must be improved to protect public health and environment.

To return to our theme: visibility and communication can break the greenwashing wall by leading to government endorsements, which results in greater markets and commercial success for environmentally sound products.  

Diligence, blood, sweat, and tears from the thousands of professionals involved in developing and approving this consensus approach allowed the Washington, New York, and Minnesota to launch their leading endorsements.

These have the potential to make the global supply chain healthy and address the real environmental—and economic—concerns we face. As Rachel Carson said “the question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.”   

We’re delighted the American Sustainable Business Council has embraced sustainable procurement as a top priority, and look forward to continuing this journey with you.

Susan Inglis is Executive Director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, an ASBC member,  Doug Pierce is an architect with Perkins+Will and Chairman of the sustainable product national consensus committee, and George Vallone is President-Elect of the New Jersey Builders Association.