Procurement is the acquisition of goods or services from contractors and companies. Governments at all levels, as well as universities, hospitals, other institutions and businesses, all engage in procurement.
Considering that the federal government alone occupies 900,000 buildings, uses 800,000 vehicles, employs 2.6 million civilians, and purchases $530 billion of goods and services a year, its procurement practices can profoundly influence market trends: not simply in which products it buys but also in which employment practices it supports. A tremendous amount of procuring – and market influencing -- is also done by state and local governments.
Government procurement can be used to support a more sustainable economy. Using sustainable procurement practices, governments can meet their purchasing needs while supporting small businesses, improving energy efficiency, adopting safer chemicals, encouraging domestic production of goods, and requiring that vendors’ employees receive a living wage. By focusing on products and services from businesses with strong sustainability practices, government can use the market to support forward-thinking businesses, strengthen local communities, spur technological development and help create a strong and vibrant economy.
For these vendor companies as well as for government, sustainability pays. Using sustainable products can make the procurement process more efficient and reduce operating costs. Companies that have modified their business models to include sustainability requirements report that the move has helped improve their operational efficiency. Businesses that adopt sustainable procurement policies also see increased worker productivity and safer working conditions. More cost-effective, safe and productive workplace practices all benefit the company’s bottom line as well as the country’s economy.
Federal agencies and departments are already required to buy products that reduce carbon emissions, waste, and water usage. Ninety-five percent of all federal government contracts include some sort of sustainability requirement. Sustainable procurement policies are also in effect at lower government levels. For example, Santa Monica, Calif. requires that the city choose products with the “lowest and most responsible bid,” incorporating factors such he integrity, character, and reputation of the company. Miami-Dade County in Florida has a policy of buying products that emphasize waste reduction. The state of Washington has created “institutional sustainability” as a core value of all government agencies. Oregon, by executive order, uses the procurement process to eliminate products with chemicals of concern. Minnesota’s state legislature requires use of American-made steel in projects funded by a $1-billion capital investment.
Governments enacting sustainable procurement ordinances and policies deploy their tremendous buying power to reduce environmental and health impacts, support forward-thinking businesses, grow jobs, and build a more sustainable economy.