BUSINESS MANAGEMENT: Eco-Friendly Shopping Helps Close the Loop

Although the waste industry knows how important it is to close the loop, how many work to accomplish it?

Thanks to a user-friendly report released by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) WasteWise division, Washington, D.C., starting an environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) program can be relatively simple.

The WasteWise update, “Environmentally Preferable Purchasing,” provides several examples of how companies can develop EPP programs, implement them and assess their effectiveness, as government agencies now are required to do.

Setting up an environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) program, either in your own business or by encouraging organizations in your municipality to participate, can help companies more easily purchase recycled-content supplies, minimize energy consumption, reduce the use of toxic chemicals and save money, the report says.

For instance, the Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), a New Jersey-based utility company, now buys recycled-content products and works with vendors who buy back unused paint. The partnerships PSEG has formed with its vendors have allowed the company to save money and reduce waste. PSEG has saved more than $2 million by “streamlining its purchasing process and reducing the number of its chemical suppliers from more than 270 to nine,” the update states.

WasteWise named PSEG the 1999 Program Champion based on its solid waste reduction.

Other businesses are also experiencing success with single-attribute EPP programs, where one factor, such as energy-efficient lighting, is the goal. Once companies feel comfortable in one area, the EPA strives to help these businesses expand their EPP programs.

“We're trying to build upon those single-attribute programs and really encourage purchasers to look across the lifecycle of products and services and think about those that have the greatest environmental impact,” says Julie Shannon, chief of the EPA's prevention integration branch in the office of pollution prevention and toxics.

The WasteWise Update describes several environmental benefits that stem from eco-purchasing programs, including:

  • Reducing materials consumption;
  • Providing a useful outlet for recycled material;
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Conserving energy and water; and
  • Reducing the presence of environmentally toxic materials.
  • In addition to environmental rewards and economic benefits that stem from decreasing purchasing and disposal costs, EPP programs also improve public relations. Cleaning up the environment and conserving natural resources generally generates good publicity and can lead to more business.

    “In markets where price competition is intense, environmental performance can be the differentiating factor that influences consumers' purchasing decisions,” the report says.

    Herman Miller, a Zeeland, Mich.-based furniture manufacturer, says his company increased its competitive edge by establishing an EPP program. The company conducts lifecycle analyses (LCAs) on its manufactured products to track their environmental effects. This, in turn, helps the company choose materials and production processes more wisely.

    But the LCAs also “reassure customers that the products they purchase are environmentally sustainable” — resulting in improved customer relations and increased company sales, Miller says.

    The report recommends businesses that want to develop an EPP program appoint a “green team” to review purchasing, research new products, educate employees about new purchasing procedures, monitor and publicize program successes, and provide ongoing evaluation and adjustment of company-wide EPP goals and policies.

    Goals could include:

  • Recycled-content percentages;
  • Toxic materials content;
  • Use of renewable resources;
  • Chemical releases;
  • Waste generation (solid, hazardous, air emissions, etc.); and
  • Energy- and water-efficiency ratings.
  • Once the green team identifies the goals, EPP efforts should reach all areas of company purchasing, such as ordering office supplies (paper, compact discs, pens, pencils and plastic supplies) or green cleaning (where chemical cleaning products are chosen because of their environmental friendliness and because they do not harm worker health and safety).

    For example, in 1999, Yellowstone National Park's EPP efforts included purchasing cleaning agents less likely to cause worker respiratory distress and eye and skin irritation. The park also reduced the number of cleaning products it uses from 150 to nine, using more environmentally conscious products.

    To help an EPP program succeed, companies should also track their progress. This helps businesses measure program goals, which can be documented to encourage staff members and management.

    For more information, visit or call WasteWise toll-free at (800) EPA-WISE (372-9473). E-mail [email protected].