Green purchasing policy
Businesses wield tremendous power in the marketplace due to the frequency and volume of their purchases. After all, offices require significant amounts of energy, water, paper and other supplies and equipment to run efficiently. As companies—large, small, and in between—develop green purchasing policies that increase demand for earth-friendly products and services, suppliers will strive to meet that demand by shifting production to environmentally sensitive goods.
What offices buy
Ironically, the introduction of email (as well as a 600 percent increase in printer accessibility) has caused office paper use to increase 40 percent. Per capita, Americans use six times more paper than the world average.
US sales of computers, another office must, topped 62 million units in 2004, a figure that has been growing at rates of at least 8 percent per year. The rapid expansion of the personal computer industry carries enormous implications for energy use, hazardous waste issues, and human health. The production of computer parts such as microchips, for example, requires higher quantities of water, fossil fuels, energy, toxic chemicals, and elemental gases than any other industry. This manufacturing process creates exorbitant amounts of waste. Further, once these computers become obsolete and are thrown away or replaced by newer versions, they create an additional source of waste.
Pencils and pens
Even office mainstays as small and low tech as pencils and pens have an impact. Worldwide, between 14 and 15 billion pencils are produced a year, enough to circle the globe more than 62 times. And 1.6 million single-use pens are thrown away annually in the US, destined for landfills.
The manufacture of office furniture uses wood, metal, and plastic. Foam cushioning for chairs is a form of polyurethane (part of the urethane family of chemicals) that can contain many toxins, including (but not limited to) VOCs, formaldehyde, and benzene.
Kitchen appliances and supplies
Refrigerators, common in office kitchenettes, use more energy than any other kitchen appliance. With their high electricity consumption, refrigerators also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The average refrigerator in 2002 created 1,832 pounds of CO2 per year. And that coffee percolating in the break room coffee machine, part of the 400 million cups drunk every day in the United States alone, also has eco-effects. Alongside tobacco, coffee is treated with more chemicals in the farming process than any other product farmed for human consumption.
Power to change
Business purchasing decisions can strongly influence environmental conditions worldwide by shaping which materials are used in various office products and in what quantities, how much energy and water is needed for production, and how products are distributed. In addition, business purchasing decisions help prod the market toward greener alternatives and innovations. Unfortunately, only 40 percent of all US businesses have purchasing policies that specify the proportion of recycled materials to be purchased.
Questions to get you started…
Developing an environmental purchasing policy for your office is a crucial step toward smooth implementation of sustainable purchasing practices. To help you get an idea of your company’s green supply strengths or weakness, run through the questions below.
- Does your company use products that are reusable or contain reusable parts (rechargeable batteries, refillable pens, etc.)?
- Does your office use products that are recyclable (uncoated paper because it's more easily recycled than coated, printer cartridges that can be recycled, etc.)?
- Is your company currently using products made from recycled materials (paper with high recycled content, pens or carpet made of recycled plastic, etc.)?
- When purchasing computers and other products that require electricity, does your company buy ENERGY STAR products when available?
- Is your company purchasing office furniture, electronics, and other items that are long lasting? Research the lifespan of various options before buying to ensure that you choose the most durable possibility. Every new product requires new resources, and likely energy and water, to produce. By choosing options that will last longer, you save natural resources and prevent additional waste from entering landfills and waterways.
- When you buy new big-ticket items, does your company purchase longer warranties so that when they break down, they can be fixed rather than replaced?
- benzene: A flammable solvent used to make many products, including detergents, nylon, paint, furniture wax, lacquer, resins, and oil (although its use in many other household products was banned in 1978).
- formaldehyde: A flammable reactive gas belonging to the VOC family of chemicals. It is widely used in personal care products, building materials, insulation, and home furnishings.
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air, VOCs are emitted by thousands of products, including paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, and furnishings.
- Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) - Greening Advisor
- GreenBiz - Buying Recycled
- GreenBiz - Buying Green: Harnessing Large Scale Procurement Power
- North Lankshire Council - Green Office : Purchasing
- City of Portland Office of Sustainable Development - Green Office Guide: A Guide to Greening Your Bottom Line Through a Resource-Efficient Office Environment
- ForestEthics - Business Guide to Paper Reduction: A Step-by-Step Plan to Save Money by Saving Paper
- Financial Times - Strong mobile sales boost global PC shipments
- The Green Guide - Product Report: Computers
- New American Dream - Pencils and Pens: Get the “write” stuff
- Green Seal - Choose Green Report: Office Supplies
- Energy Information Administration - End-Use Consumption of Electricity 2001
- Rocky Mountain Institute - Cool Citizens: Everyday Solutions to Climate Change
- Inkling Magazine - Coffee: Friend or Foe?
- Green Seal - Choose Green Report: Office Supplies