Tag Archives: clean energy

It’s Time to Find a Harmonized Solution to the U.S. Government’s Green Purchasing Challenge

17 Jun

In a recent article by  Tracey de Morsella (editor of the Green Economy Post (GEP)), the Federal Acquisition Regulations Council (FARC) released an interim rule on green procurement at the end of May, 2011.  The draft rule specifically says that Federal agencies must:

“leverage agency acquisitions to foster markets for sustainable technologies and materials, products, and services. The head of each agency shall advance sustainable  acquisition by ensuring that 95 percent of new contract actions,  including task and delivery orders, for products and services, with the  exception of acquisition of weapon systems, are energy-efficient  (Energy Star or Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP)-designated),  water-efficient, biobased, environmentally preferable (e.g., Electronic  Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)-registered), non-ozone  depleting, contain recycled content, or are non-toxic or less toxic  alternatives, where such products and services meet agency performance  requirements.”

According to the GEP article, the effort was “spearheaded by the Defense Department, NASA and the General Services Administration, and part of the Obama administration’s campaign to lead by example in sustainable purchasing. The interim policy also requires all federal contractors to support the government’s goals in environmental management, and includes new requirements for electronic or other paper-saving methods for submitting documents required by contracts.”

The interim rule on green procurement it is a follow-up to President Obama’s 2009 executive Order EO 13514 which requires agencies to meet a number of energy, water, and waste reduction targets, including:

  • 95% of all applicable contracts will meet sustainability requirements;
  • Leverage Federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies to foster markets in these sectors.
  • Advance sustainable acquisition

This is a great development for the Federal government.  Not only does EO 13514 drive new markets but requires government agencies to 1) define sustainable acquisition and 2) track sustainable contract actions and …get this…3) educate the acquisition workforce.

The GEP article notes that “the effects of President Obama’s Executive Order have been rippling through the federal government purchasing community for a while.”  The article summarizes efforts by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which issued its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims,  Also the  U.S. EPA is evaluating its role in evaluating products across their entire lifecycle, including “defining criteria for more sustainable products, generating eco-labels and standards and verifying products meet green standards “

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has also initiated its GreenGov program, primarily focused on identifying products and practices designed to reduce the governments environmental (specifically carbon footprints).  As I noted in an article this past winter, according to Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, “The Federal Government purchases $500 billion in goods and services annually, so you could say the Federal supply chain represents an enormous opportunity to support a clean energy economy”.  Participating companies will share their experiences to help GSA develop a phased, incentive-based approach to developing contracting advantages to companies that track and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions.   This process appears to be glacial in its pace, compared to the light speed pace of technology development in countries like China.

As the GEP post noted,  GSA is developing and evaluating green technologies and practices in several areas including: electronics stewardship, innovative building technologies and greening the supply chain. These latest activities by GSA are in addition to individual efforts that the Departments of Energy and Defense, NASA, USDA and Department of Agriculture have been implementing for many years.

On the surface this sounds all good, in fact, great.  But there are some underlying systemic issues related to the timing of the FARC interim ruling, and industry groups and procurement agencies are scratching their heads.

Left Hand, Meet Right Hand.

In response to the FARC interim draft rule , several industry associations requested that  the government , specifically the FARC to stop issuing rules that change federal procurement policy without first considering public comment.

Even though the “interim rule” is based on directives within executive orders (like EO 13514) from 2007 and 2009, the organizations (including members of the Council of Defense and Space Industry Associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (no surprise), Professional Services Council and TechAmerica) came out and stated that increasing reliance on “interim rules” is a misuse of the “urgent and compelling” circumstances those rules are supposed to be issued under.  The groups asked that the FARC withdraw the interim rule and republish it as a “proposed rule”, allowing for public comment.

The FARC maintains that the interim rule only mandates what previous executive orders, laws and sustainable programs have asked agencies to do and should not impact the agencies economically.  But that may not be the case.

While many of the agencies that I mentioned above are well on the way to responding to the previously issued Executive Orders (and I applaud them for their efforts!), they appear to be doing this in different ways- which may inadvertently find some suppliers being able to respond to one agencies tender processes and not to another.  It only took me a few moments to “Google” “government + green purchasing + requirements” to find remarkably outdated and variably detailed documents from Federal agency to Federal agency, some going as far back as the Year 2000!  Even a report from the Congressional Research Service from April 2010 indicated that “The federal approach to green procurement is arguably largely piecemeal and fragmented.” Also, it would appear that agencies may still lack consensus on product “green” performance standards, which is clearly a part of the EO 13514 mandate

There is little in the way of specifics behind the statement that they must be “energy-efficient, water-efficient, bio-based or non-ozone depleting, and are certified as environmentally friendly, contain recycled content, or are nontoxic or less toxic than alternative products.”  And it’s this lack of specificity and consistency among agencies that vexes small and large businesses alike.

“ there appears to be significant ambiguity about which type of green product or service agencies should procure in situations where multiple types could meet their needs. For example, the FAR requires agencies to acquire recovered-content products instead of biobased ones when both types would meet agency needs.  However, no similar guidance exists for the other types of preferred products and services discussed in this report. That leaves agencies without guidance in determining whether, for example, they should procure Energy Star or FEMP-designated products, or recovered-content or environmentally preferable products.” Green Procurement: Overview and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service 7-5700,  R41197 www.crs.gov

Why am I not surprised at the discontinuities that exist within Federal government (he asked rhetorically)?  Even President Obama alluded these redundancies and inefficiencies in his January State of the Union address. According to a Government Accountability Office report released in January, the U.S. government has more than 100 programs dealing with surface transportation issues, 80 for economic development, 47 for job training, and 17 different grant programs for disaster preparedness, 15 agencies or offices handle food safety, and five agencies are working to ensure the federal government uses less gasoline.  Really?!  Inefficiencies are wasteful…plain and simple.  This is no way to run a government let alone a business.  And let’s face it, government is BIG business.

 Training, Training, Training

What’s also concerning to me is that agencies may not have not adequately trained procurement staff that are prepared to implement detailed operational related to the “interim rule”.  I also am concerned that federal acquisitions staff  lack the technical training on green supply chain management to make informed choices beyond how to price and negotiate a contract.  As a matter of fact the CRS report states that “…certain requirements, most notably those involving environmentally preferable products, may be difficult for the existing workforce to implement because agencies must consider multiple attributes of products when determining which product to purchase.”

According to Neal Couture, President of the National Contract Management Association (which represents public and private contracting officers), “Contracting people that I talk to have received very little training in the area of sustainability”.  Additional cases in point, as described in a recent Federal Times article:

  • The Federal Acquisition Institute, which provides training for the federal acquisition workforce, offers no courses specifically addressing green procurement. The Defense Acquisition University (DAU) offers an optional, two-hour course devoted to the Defense Department’s Green Procurement Program.
  • Leslie Deneault, program director for acquisition services at DAU, said there are optional courses available that cover the many legislative actions that affect acquisitions.
  • Professional Services Council executive vice president Alan Chvotkin said contractors and government officials may find it hard to get needed products and services that meet environmental standards, possibly due in part to other contract specifications that often limit local sourcing or small business participation.
  • Program managers who write the requirements will need to know to which environmental standards certain products and services should be held, according to Mr. Couture said.

And you think one interim rule is going to straighten the green purchasing issue out?  There’s got to be a better way, and it may be found within the private sector.

Collaborative Cleantech Partnerships Rising to Meet the EO 13514 Mandate

One organization that is taking the initiative in responding to the interim rule on green purchasing and EO 13514 is the Clean Technology Trade Alliance, based in Bremerton, Washington.  According to Mark Frost, the Executive Director of the organization, the CTTA provides the ultimate partnership between business and environmentalists by creating a market-based reason to become sustainable and operate with efficient, environmentally responsible products and services. In addition, the technologies and products associated with CTTA members fit nicely into the Federal government’s EO 13514 vision for sustainable and environmentally preferable products.

The CTTA mission is to drive the expansion of global clean technology by connecting buyers with sustainable solutions. One part of this mission that fits squarely into the Federal government procurement model and most recent FARC interim rule is identifying and verifying clean technology solution providers for business and government. Since it’s essential to validate the extent of sustainable practices of member businesses, the CTTA is getting ready to roll out an independent review process to validate clean tech solution providers.  In doing so, the CTTA will reviewing each organizations operational processes and products and giving them a score based on defined criteria, using life cycle, product foot print, energy and multi-resource consumption and efficiency factors, etc. This review effort has the opportunity to become a market driver that moves companies to meet the highest “green and clean” technology standards in order to be more profitable and competitive. The CTTA also provides the means to discover clean technology solutions that will enable these companies to improve their score and profit from their efforts.

In addition the CTTA assists its members in 1) making commercialization of products easier with a trained sales force, that provide members qualified leads, and facilitating distribution lines for both established and unseasoned products; and 2) developing synergies between businesses that create new technologies, open new markets and discover new efficiencies. Those who collaborate with the CTTA receive a single point of contact to find clean technology business solutions, and most importantly a market reference point for making clean technology purchasing decisions.

The CTTA is uniquely positioned to provide the Federal government with a single, unbiased, point of entry for identifying and vetting clean technology solutions. First the basic identification and reporting service is a no cost service. Second if the CTTA does not have a member, or several members, that can provide the solution they will conduct a search to identify potential solution providers and conduct a basic survey to provide an initial vetting for the requestor. Third if the solution exists they will find a provider, if it does not they can work with companies to develop the solution if there is a sustainable market. The CTTA is a membership-driven organization, recruiting new members and servicing existing members- this is how the CTTA grows. Mr. Frost states that providing services to customers like GSA, the DoD, NASA, Boeing and others allows the CTTA to recruit small and mid-sized business members and is another example of the business synergy the CTTA pursues.

What Can Be Done to Harmonize Green Procurement?

The CRS report raised many of the questions about the efficacy of legislative initiatives or federal rulings that came to my mind in the months since I participated in a GSA GreenGov Summit in Portland, so I figured I’d just repeat just a few of them here:

  • What, if any, are the most useful and appropriate policy goals for green procurement?
  • Are the means by which different green-procurement preferences, programs, and other initiatives have been established the most appropriate for meeting policy goals?
  • How effectively are agency implementation and performance of green procurement being assessed?
  • How successful are current programs and initiatives at meeting policy goals?
  • Are policies on the acquisition of green services sufficient?
  • Are the preferences and the methods of implementing them sufficiently harmonized and integrated?
  • Are there significant gaps in the various federal preferences for types of green products and services?
  • Are there implementation methods not currently used by the federal government that should be considered?
  • Is training of procurement officials sufficient?

Until these questions are fully explored, I suggest the Federal government hold off on finalizing its interim rule and consider the collaborative private sector example being implemented by the CTTA.  In a perfect scenario, the White House should instruct representatives from the GSA, OMB, DoD, DoE, USDA, EPA, and Agriculture (and others) to come together in one place, at one time.  Attendees should also be invited from the private sector too- the best brains in the science, engineering and design of clean technology, standards development, policy, manufacturing and procurement/material acquisition.

In systematic and structured manner, they can hammer out a viable, results driven framework for sustainable sourcing and procurement.  This in turn (I am sure), will promote new technologies and drive the creation of new “green economy” markets….without all the confusion and lack of harmony.

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A Year After the BP Oil Spill- a Slow Recovery, Continued Risk Management Challenges

25 Apr

A year ago last week, and for months afterward, we were bombarded with horrible images of potentially catastrophic proportions.  The Gulf Coast was under siege from the Deepwater Horizon blowout and resultant spill.  Dead or dying waterfowl and sea life haunted our dreams.  Tourists scooped up tar balls from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Pensacola, Florida.  Round the clock news coverage of the economic devastation was heaped unexpectedly on the gulf coast.   Cleanup crews deployed nearly useless 20th century solutions to a 21st century problem.  Hapless oil executives spun their stories and federal government agencies did too little, too late.  And the problem kept growing while the oil kept spewing from the blown out well, miles below the surface.

Risk Control Lacking

Just after the spill occurred, I wrote a piece on the lack of risk management protocols  and oversight that matched the nature of the work and how it was inevitable that this type of event would occur.

“I have no doubt that there has been a central breakdown in process risk management, commonly used by organizations to establish procedures to safely manage the greatest of uncertainties of its daily operations.  This means that if a company is going to drill a mile under the Gulf of Mexico, they should FIRST make certain that all possible failure scenarios are identified, evaluated, tested and implemented, before that first barrel of oil is extracted…While it’s vital that 24 hour protocols be applied to day-to-day activities that may be a threat to environmental well-being, unforeseeable events involving human error or equipment failure must be managed too… inadequate steps have been put in place to 1) evaluate “worst case” impacts associated with catastrophic failures of equipment or systems; 2) establish policies and program to mitigate short and long-term environmental risk factors and 3) assure that there are financial cushions (cleanup and reclamation bonds, for instance) that continue to hold those liable before they can run or hide.”

Spring turned to summer and finally on July 15, 2010 the leak was stopped after it had released about 4,900,000 barrels of crude oil, the well was capped.  But the troubles were far from over and as I reported shortly before the well was finally capped, recovery takes time. When writing about the possibilities of a rebounding gulf coast (both ecologically and economically), I spoke of resiliency, the “structural issues” that appeared in the oil exploration, approval and development process, and the steps needed to nurture a full recovery.

The current, devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill and ecological crisis in the Gulf of Mexico presents a great set of uncertainties and human-induced risks not realized before in terms of scope and magnitude…Ecosystems are dynamic and ever-changing.  This changing dynamic flow continues its natural cycles and fluctuations at the same time that it continues to recovery from impacts of spilled oil.  As time passes, separating natural changes from oil spill related impacts becomes harder to distinguish.  So time will tell, and after the well is finally plugged (and it will be plugged) and the last drop of oil spills, the long term ecological “rebound” will begin.

Then the fingers started pointing, lawyers got involved, congressional testimony began and yielded few results.  Few companies claimed immediate responsibility nor were they held accountable.  BP said that they would pay “all legitimate claims”.  But that promise seemed hollow to those immediately affected, and the restitution payments flowed like the oil drifting on the surface of the gulf waters.  The status of claims paid can be found in this interview with U.S. Claims Administrator Ken Feinberg, but in a nutshell roughly 25% of the $20 billion set aside by BP has been paid out.

Government Call for Better Risk Management

On January 5, 2011, White House National Commission convened to review the oil spill released a final report detailing faults by the companies that led to the spill.  The report noted that “Better management of decision-making processes” within BP, Halliburton and Transocean (the three key players in this ordeal), “better communication within and between BP and its contractors” and “effective training of key engineering and rig personnel” would have prevented the blowout.  The panel also noted a key breakdown in communicating with government agencies, which did not have “sufficient knowledge or authority to notice these cost-cutting decisions”.

The record shows that without effective government oversight, the offshore oil and gas industry will not adequately reduce the risk of accidents, nor prepare effectively to respond in emergencies. However, government oversight, alone, cannot reduce those risks to the full extent possible. Government oversight … must be accompanied by the oil and gas industry’s internal reinvention: sweeping reforms that accomplish no less than a fundamental transformation of its safety culture. Only through such a demonstrated transformation will industry—in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster—truly earn the privilege of access to the nation’s energy resources located on federal properties.

Economy and Ecology- Rebounding…Slowly

Flashing forward to this last week, on the economic side, only seven of the 34 deep water rigs operating at the time of the explosion are in operation (due to the moratorium that was put in place by the Obama Administration last year).  Following the sunset of that moratorium last fall, it’s been reported that off shore production may ramp up to about 15 or 20 by the end of the year, meaning the addition of the thousands of oil industry and related service jobs that have been lost since the spill.  A Wall Street Journal article last week highlighted the struggles that small businesses (small marinas, seafood restaurants, commercial fish operations etc) have had in the past year.

A BBC report last week noted that “scientists have warned that it is too soon to attempt to offer a considered assessment on what impact the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest of its kind, has had on the Gulf of Mexico’s wildlife.   In short, they said, nature did not work in such a way that the full picture will present itself within just one year.  It’s clear that given the rate of recovery from the Exxon Valdez spill over 20 years ago that more data will be needed in the years ahead to assess the full extent of the ecological damage done.

But Dr. Jane Lubchenco (Administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric) believed that reports of systems recovery suggest that the health of the Gulf is “much better than people feared”, but the jury was out about what the end result would be.  According to some reports, signs 60 pounds of tar balls still wash ashore daily along the 33-mile stretch of beach that runs near the Interstate 65 corridor near Orange Beach, Ala..  Meantime, one thing I can tell you is that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was plugging gulf coast seafood big time last week on National Public Radio and elsewhere.

Not Out of the Woods, More Work Needed

Progress toward requiring safer drilling, protecting natural resources and compensating victims has been uneven at best.  As reported in an Op-Ed last week, “Without the reforms fully in place, the administration is plunging ahead despite the well-documented inability of industry and government to prevent accidents in deep water. For starters, the federal government needs a better understanding of how operating rigs under the intense pressure of deep water can cause blowout preventers — the so-called last lines of defense — and other critical equipment to fail…. There also should be a more complete picture of whether rig operators have the assets — people, vessels, know-how, and money— to respond to a spill.”

The Op-ed also stated “The Federal government needs a better sense of the risks of offshore drilling and a better process for sharing that analysis with other agencies — the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency — that play a key role in any emergency response.”  For instance,  the newly created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has added only 4 new inspectors (now at 60) to cover more than 3,500 drill rigs and platforms in the Gulf.  New monies allocated by Congress may alleviate that serious oversight deficiency, but it will take time, training and education to get new inspectors up to speed.  Meanwhile, inspection and oversight is spread too thin and the oil industry appears to be in no rush to help fund additional inspectors (especially at the same pace they are lobbying at to get more drill rigs operating again in the Gulf).

Photo by alancleaver_2000. (via Creative Commons license)

In the second post on risk that I published last year after the gulf spill, I noted that a continuous risk management process helps organizations understand, manage, and communicate risk and avoid potential catastrophic conditions that can lead to loss of life, property and the environment.  I laid out a typical six-step process to achieve effective risk management and failure mode control.  I also noted ”What will be … fascinating will be the lessons learned and if businesses truly embrace risk management planning and implementation as a central function of business, take it seriously and hold themselves accountable.”

Last week, Bob Dudley the Chief Executive of BP, wrote an opinion letter in the Wall Street Journal.  In the piece, Mr. Dudley indicated that the company was “creating a central safety and operational-risk organization reporting directly to me. This organization has the mandate and resources to drive safe, reliable operations that comply with regulations, and it has the authority to intervene in our operations anywhere in the world. We are also linking the management of employees’ performance and reward directly to safety and to compliance with BP’s standards….We will not use rigs on our projects that do not conform to our standards. We have either turned away rigs or are negotiating for modifications to particular rigs that will bring them up to our standards.”  Dudley also noted that “… around 7% of the world’s oil supplies are coming from the deep water, a total we expect will rise to nearly 10% by the end of this decade. That means we must have better safety technology, more effective equipment and the capability to deal with a blowout in the deep water.”

Summary

The National Commission on the spill and members of industry, academia and Congress have made solid “suggestions” for beefing up the regulatory framework for oil exploration and drilling, including: tougher inspections; higher fees from industry to self-fund more policing programs; greater financial liability for companies that spill into waterways as a means to encourage responsible behavior and to cover accident cleanup and recovery costs.

It appears, looking back, that industry and government have moved in the right direction to address the systemic problems that emerged from the Deepwater Horizon spill and follow-up investigations.  But as the current status clearly shows, I’ve grave concerns about on-going performance and genuine progress in adopting genuine, effective risk management tools, oversight and governance. Until there is 100% assurance that such a system is fully in place, fully staffed, fully operational and with full oversight assurance, I am fearful of a repeat…whether it’s in deep water or in other harsh environments, such as the Arctic.

Meanwhile it’s vital that the U.S. continue expanding the search for alternative forms of land-based fuel and energy and support the funding of alternative, cleaner fuels and greener technologies.