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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.

Sir Bransons Climate Challenge to Sea Cargo Shippers- Carbon Accounting Successes & New Tools

7 Dec

In prior posts I have discussed the importance of transportation and logistics as critical elements in anchoring a sustainable supply chain (see separate posts here and here).  Last week I discussed the key linkages between supply chain sustainability and climate change.   No comes a bit of encouraging news from the Cancun Climate Summit (COP16), still in progress through this week.  A free internet database was announced over the weekend, the focus of which will list the energy efficiency of almost every ocean-going vessel, in a scheme designed to reduce shipping emissions by nearly 25%.  This effort is important not only because it recognizes shipping and transport as a backbone” of commerce, but because of the value of transparency in enhancing supply chain efficiencies.

“By eco-labelling clean and dirty ships, we hope to change the mindset in shipping and begin making gigaton-scale reductions in emissions,” said Peter Boyd, director of Carbon War Room.  The Carbon War Room was a co-founded by Sir Richard Branson.  Using publicly available data on the engine size and CO2 emissions of nearly 60,000 ships, exporters and importers, as well as holidaymakers on cruises, will be able to choose between ships that run on cleaner fuels and have other technologies designed to reduce environmental “loads”.

The initiative, called Shippingefficiency.org, rates ships on a scale from A to G in a similar fashion to ratings given to fridges or washing machines. According to the site, the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) ratings for an individual ship are calculated by assessing the values for that ship to overall average values for all ships of that type (e.g. bulk carriers) and to other ships of a similar size within this type. It will “allow supermarkets, oil and mining companies, food importers, retailers and manufacturers” to specify that their goods are sent from point to point by the least polluting ships.

The “Dirt” on Sea Shipping…

The shipping industry has been challenged for decades to find ways to efficiently deliver the majority of goods from point of manufacture to point of use.   Ocean transport carries more than 90 percent of the world’s traded goods and contributes between 3 percent and 4 percent of global emissions.  Shipping has been slow to address carbon emissions, choosing to focus on containment and control of other critical pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)[1]. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body that governs shipping, the industry has an opportunity to make substantial money by reducing the first 250 million tons of its CO2e.[2]

Shipping has a number of inherent institutional issues that hamper demand for widely available fuel-efficient technologies.  For instance, the worlds shipping fleet has been driven for years by engines designed to burn the cheapest, dirtiest “bunker” fuel, passing on the cost. Nearly 15% of the world’s ships account for about half of all the industry emissions.  In addition, most shipping lines traditionally pass on most of the fuel costs to charterers, providing few incentives to build more efficient ships (often referred to as the “landlord and tenant scenario”).  In addition, shipyards worldwide always charge an often cost prohibitive premium to operators for new designs and technologies

Also, its shipping-attributed pollution can pose serious human and environmental health risks.  For instance, particulate matter emissions from ships have been reported to contribute to an estimated 60,000 premature deaths annually (with most deaths occurring near coastlines in Europe, East Asia, and South Asia), as reported in a 2007 study published in Environmental Science & Technology.

…and What the Industry is Doing About It

Mr. Branson’s announcement in Cancun adds another initiative to the increased attention being paid to the transport industry in managing pollutants, including greenhouse gas emissions. As I recently noted in a recent post on shipping and logistics, Inbound Logistics Magazine earlier this year released its Top 50 Green Partners listing earlier this year.  Eight of the companies and organizations listed were ocean carriers.  These appear to be true leaders in implementing improved operational practices designed to lower the environmental impact of their operations.

Also, back in the early 2000’s, the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) launched the Clean Cargo Working Group (CCWG). The group consists of over 60% of the leading multinational manufacturers (shippers) and freight carriers and forwarders (carriers).  The group is dedicated to” integrating environmentally and socially responsible business principles into transportation management”.  Unlike the new EEDI rating, the CCWG methodology is the only existing standardized approach to calculate CO2 emissions for ocean going container vessels. The data is put in the form of emissions factors to enable shippers and liners calculate carbon emissions in a consistent manner.  This allows trade routes to be compared. In addition, the CCWG annually benchmarks member lines’ environmental performance, further increasing focus and reducing environmental footprint.

Other collaborative efforts that cover other transport modes include EPA’s SmartWay Transportation Partnership, Ecological Transport Information Tool, and the GreenShip Project.  Each of these and other transportation-focused groups have made strides in developing tools and methods for different parts of the sector.

Case Studies

Reducing emissions is technically feasible using current technology, and, in the case of efficiency measures to reduce fuel consumption, can contribute cost savings that make it economically attractive with appropriate financing of upfront costs. Of those emission reductions, the first approximate 25% of reductions could be achieved “profitability”, according to the IMO GHG Study.

Big Players Getting it Done: At a transportation conference convened this past summer by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Lee Kindberg of Maersk Lines (one of the top 50 Green Partners reported by Inbound Logistics) reported that “… vessels are becoming more energy efficient and reducing emission. This is due to technologies, operations, the speeds we operate at, and the vessel sizes as there definitely are economies of scale. …Since 2002 [Maersk] reduced our CO2 emissions per container per kilometer by 20% and set a goal of an additional reduction of 25% by 2020.  In addition Kindberg indicated that the company was switching to a distillate fuel instead of the heavy fuel oil, resulting in sulfur oxide emission reductions of 95%, particulate matter emission reductions by 86% and the NOx emissions reductions by 6% to 12% depending on the vessels.  Reducing ship speeds, reducing ship drag, or ballast water optimization and treatment systems has also increased ship efficiencies along with improvements in ship procedures, crew training and performance measurement using independent third party environmental certifications like ISO 14001.

The Little (Hybrid) Tug That Can: Major cargo seaports are also collaborating with companies to introduce new technology to comply with stricter air quality regulations.  The world’s first hybrid electric tugboat, Foss Maritime’s Carolyn Dorothy which works in Southern California’s San Pedro Bay at the Port of Long Beach, California, emits 73 percent less soot (tugs are known high soot contributors), 51 percent fewer nitrogen oxides and 27 percent less carbon dioxide than a standard tug of comparable size.  The tug also can claim improved fuel efficiency and a quieter operation, all contributing to a lower environmental footprint.

Conclusions/Food for Thought

This past weekend’s announcement at Cancun and the slew of industry cross-sector, multi-modal collaborations are encouraging.  Whether it’s sea shipping, air cargo, rail or road transport, all modes play a vital key to solving part of the climate change puzzle.  As Maersks Kindberg stated this year at the FHWA conference, “We have to keep in mind that it’s the total lifecycle footprint that matters. Transportation is often only a small part of the total …If you focus on improvements and actually incorporate the carbon impact into business decisions, you can actually make real progress on both and perhaps also improve your business.’

It’s clear that all the nodes of a supply chain (from design to manufacturing and from point of use to end of life) and all the modal components in between want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Businesses are stepping up to the challenge.

As we head into the final week of climate negotiations at Cancun, are the world’s climate negotiators up to the task?


[1]According to the Carbon War Room, the shipping industry is the largest emitter of NOx and is also one of the largest emitter of SOx.  It’s been estimated by the IMO that demand will increase, and CO2e emissions from ships will reach 18% of all manmade Greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 under “business as usual”.

[2] The IMO GHG Study 2009 estimates that eco-efficiency technologies could reduce CO2e emissions from shipping by between 25% and 75% with substantial monetary advantages.

In Supply Chain Logistics Management, There’s a Reverse Gear–and It’s Green–Part 1

7 Oct

I Love Logistics. That is the new brand “That’s Logistics” ad from UPS– and I love it. Why? First, because it’s a catchy ad and it made me smile. But also, because in the jingle, there’s a line: “carbon footprint reduced, bottom line gets a boost, that’s logistics.” This phrase should be a subtle reminder logistics and supply chain professionals that there is a bottom line angle to towing the “green” line. Read on and you’ll see why.

Today, consumers and authorities expect manufacturers to reduce the waste generated by their products. Therefore waste management has received increasing attention. Enactment of new environmental laws in the past several years—such as the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directives—are forcing companies to plan how they will retake possession of goods from end users at the end of a product’s life cycle. But in the face of these regulatory drivers though, being sustainable and environmentally responsible at the reverse supply chain arena is a complex issue. In the international and domestic marketplaces, laws and regulations have been implemented to regulate how manufacturers, collectors, recyclers, refurbishers and material processors should behave in an environmentally responsible manner. Recent movement in the area of electronics recycling and competing approaches for electronic waste management also underscores the challenges of reverse logistics to assure safe, responsible and ethical movement of end of life, post consumer goods

Putting a New Face on Reverse Logistics

Reverse logistics isn’t anything new. The field of study and application of reverse logistics in the supply chain space has at least a 40-year evolutionary history. What is new, though, is the intersection of reverse logistics with social and environmental issues.

Let’s start with a definition or two. Where primary distribution is the flow of products or goods from its origin to the place or point of consumption; reverse logistics involves a secondary channel flowing in the opposite direction. It can comprise such diverse transactions as returns, recalls, and waste management. At this point the product reaches the point of end of life when it consumes its intended value. A traditional definition of reverse logistics comes from Rogers and Tibben-Lembke[1]:

”The process of planning, implementing and controlling the efficient, cost-effective flow of raw material, in-process inventory, finished goods and related information from the point of consumption to the point of origin for the purpose of recapturing or creating value or for proper disposal.”

A less traditional view now being taken more seriously from a sustainability perspective is:

The process of collecting used products and materials from customers to be reused, recycled, or upcycled into other products. This process treats these materials as valuable industrial nutrients instead of disposed of as trash. This is the complement to the traditional supply chain, [logistics] and distribution system used to produce and deliver products to customers. Sustainability Dictionary

This definition supports the realization of a true “closed loop supply chain.” Closed-loop supply chains emphasize the importance of coordinating the forward with the reverse streams. This underscores certain aspects of the cradle to cradle (C2C) concept advanced by McDonough and Braungart[2] and the idea of “extended producer responsibility.” And that is precisely why supply chain and logistics professionals can take a move or two from the C2C playbook and apply their trade–in reverse.

To follow the goods during from design to end of life management then creates many advantages to manufacturers and to end users in the secondary market, such as:

  1. Increasing the types of services to the customer and added revenue streams;
  2. Tracing the life of the product and gathering information related to the life of the product;
  3. Maintaining contact with the customer contact for longer periods of time, thereby increasing brand fidelity;
  4. Managing the activities of recovery in definite periods;
  5. Stimulating up-selling;
  6. Checking the state of the sales or returns in real time

In Part 2, I will present some compelling case studies that demonstrate the value-added characteristics of reverse logistics. Then I will offer up some tips on key questions you might ask to get started on reverse logistics planning and implementation, and who should participate in the process


[1] Going Backwards: Reverse Logistics Trends and Practices Pittsburgh: RLEC Press, 1999

[2] Cradle-to-cradle design: creating a healthy emissions strategy for eco-effective product and system design, Michael Braungart, William McDonough, Andrew Bollinger , Journal of Cleaner Production 15 (2007) 1337-1348