Leading the Way: Bright City Providence Moves Towards Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

October 24, 2019
Bright City Providence Moves Towards Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

Purchasing decisions at the local, state and federal levels account for over 20% of the US GNP, or $3.9 trillion dollars. Environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) - that is, the purchasing of products and/or services that have a lesser impact on human health and the environment when compared with competing projects and/or services that serve the same purpose - can drive the market toward more sustainable products while improving public and environmental health.

The City of Providence’s Purchasing Department, in collaboration with their community-based partner, Clean Water Action, set a goal to purchase healthier furniture and healthier janitorial supplies. “We are excited to explore environmentally preferable procurement practices because they align with our Sustainability Goals and themes of leading by example,” says Alex Berdick, Procurement Strategist for Providence, RI.

Why furniture? Furniture is an unexpected reservoir of toxic chemicals. These chemicals can migrate out of furniture and accumulate in dust. This dust affects the quality of our indoor air and allows chemicals to find their way into our bloodstreams. Key chemicals of concern in furniture are flame retardants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fluorinated compounds (PFAS), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and antimicrobials. These chemicals are not needed in these products for fire safety or functional purposes, and some of these chemicals are strongly linked to developmental toxicity. In some cases, these chemicals cause health problems for those initially exposed and for future generations who may never be directly exposed to the chemical.

How does EPP impact a city’s bottom line? Hundreds of environmentally preferable products - from office paper to janitorial cleaners, electronics, transportation and landscaping products - are competitive in terms of quality, while costing the same or less than comparable conventional alternatives, over the product life. Many of these products use less energy, water, fuel and other resources, saving additional money. For example, the City of Santa Rosa, CA, transitioned to an environmentally preferable transmission lubricant. The lubricant requires less frequent changing, resulting in a savings of about $25,000 for the City in annual labor costs.

How can your City green its procurement? The Ecology Center and Safer States developed a Sustainable Procurement Roadmap with sample policies and strategies for implementation. Both the Center for Environmental Health and the Responsible Purchasing Network are available for one-on-one technical support.

Would your City benefit from similar actions? Or, is your City interested in being part of the Bright Cities program?

To discuss this and anything else, please contact Bright Cities Program Director, Kyra Naumoff Shields at knaumoff@hbbf.org.

Authors' Names & Affiliations
Johnathan Berard, State Director, Clean Water Action Rhode Island 
Rebecca Meuninck, PhD, Deputy Director of the Ecology Center
Judy Levin, MSW, Pollution Prevention Director at the Center for Environmental Health
Kyra Naumoff Shields, PhD, Bright Cities Program Director