Connecting state and local government leaders
A Q&A with Christine Warnock, strategic business initiatives manager for the State of Washington.
Green purchasing, like many things “green” may seem hard to define, and even harder to measure. And, like all things green, it may also appear to be a dated concept more popular in theory than in reality. But the State of Washington is clearly demonstrating how green purchasing is innovative, cutting edge and creating financial savings for the citizens of the state.
What follows is a Q&A with Christine Warnock, strategic business initiatives manager for the State of Washington.
NASPO: When and how did green purchasing become an interest to you?
Christine Warnock: In 1994, working as a buyer for the State of Washington, I was assigned commodities that had emerging impacts on our environment. It hit home when I learned of the amazing amount of 2-liter bottles diverted from landfills and used to make recycled plastic picnic tables. The picnic tables were placed in state parks throughout the state. The picnic tables even had a product warranty of 50 years (instead of standard picnic tables that need to be replaced every couple of years because of the wear and tear). This is one of many examples where I saw green purchasing have a profound positive impact on our state. Seeing things like this really grabbed my attention and interest.
NASPO: Was “green” an interest prior to that?
Warnock: For those of us who live in the Evergreen State, a focus on green purchasing is natural. It’s part of our culture. People here have always focused on both economic and environmental vitality—I don’t remember it ever being an either/or choice.
Seeking green options is also part of our purchasing culture in state government, and it’s supported by policy, law and practice.
From a procurement perspective, green purchasing just makes good sense. Buying green pays off—it helps agencies save money and helps Washington State meet top priorities such as fighting climate change, protecting human health and the environment and supporting/creating jobs in green industries.
NASPO: So many things are described as “green.” How can one separate what is real from what isn’t?
Warnock: The bottom line is that green products and practices protect the environment and human health. This can happen in many ways: reducing the amount of waste, reducing and/or eliminating toxic products, energy efficiencies, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, etc. Although separating what is truly “green” versus the hype is one of the complexities that make green purchasing difficult, there are tools and resources to help demystify this issue. Using independent third-party environmental certification programs is the easiest way to contract for green products and services. There are many independent third-party resources available to help with any procurement. The NASPO Green Purchasing Committee is charged with providing those resources and tools for each member state. These can be found on NASPO’s website.
NASPO: How have the green purchasing efforts in Washington paid off?
Warnock: Green products help government avoid costs throughout their useful life. This is through savings in energy and water use, maintenance, and durability. Here are some examples:
- Fuel and biodiesel. DES monitors changes in the biodiesel and fuel markets and works to provide competitively priced biodiesel fuel products, such as B5 Rack, that keep current with agency needs and the marketplace. As an example, from 2009 to 2014 biodiesel purchased by Washington agencies increased by 514 percent (2009 = 200,000 gallons, 2014 = 1,028,000 gallons).
- Vehicles. The State of Washington has developed and manages a multi-year contract that ensures alternative fuel and fuel efficient vehicles are available to government. The contract also has multiple energy efficient vehicles in each category in an attempt to provide fleets with the most fuel efficient vehicles possible that also meet their needs. The state’s fleet program has over 4,000 vehicles currently in service—of which approximately half are alternative fuel or zero emission vehicles (currently 29 are fully electric vehicles).
- Scrap metal collection and recycling. The State of Washington developed and manages a contract for the management, supervision, equipment, and collection units necessary for the removal, disposal, and sale of publicly-owned scrap metal. The scrap that is picked up and recycled is a mixture of steel, sheet metal, tin, miscellaneous hardware and non-ferrous metal resulting from the routine operation and maintenance of state property; which is diverted from a landfill.
- Recycling services, electronics and spent lighting. The State of Washington developed and manages a contract for recycling electronic and spent lighting materials, which protects public health and the environment from the hazards of improperly disposing of dangerous and hazardous waste.
- The Department of Enterprise Services’ Surplus Program. It reports that in the past two years (2013 & 2014), Washington has recycled 664 tons of metal, 419 tons of wood, 403 tons of electronics, and 75 tons of paper/plastic/cardboard. Overall the amount of material sent to landfill has decreased by 42 percent when comparing 2013 (2415 pounds) to 2014 (1396 pounds) data.
- Vehicle glass repair and replacement. The State of Washington has developed and manages a nationwide cost for vehicle glass repair/replacement where recycling is a major factor in sustainability and cost avoidance. The contractor, Safelite Auto Glass, is on pace to recycle 28,392 tons (2 times the weight of the Washington State Capitol Dome) of used glass nationwide. This glass is used in many different industries like fiberglass insulation production. The proceeds from the recycled glass offset the transportation costs and also lower the cost of finished product to customers. This program prevents this material from going to local landfills.
- Tire retreading services. The State of Washington has developed and manages a contract for tire retreading services, which include low rolling resistance tires. The tire retreading and wheel refurbishing services are intended to prolong the life of the tire/wheel and results in fewer materials being used in the transportation industry and lowers the lifetime acquisition cost for the state customers.
- Traffic paint. The State of Washington developed and manages a number of traffic paint contracts, which offer Low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), non-flammable, water clean-up (waterborne) traffic paint. The state has purchased $16.5M in waterborne paint versus $1.3M in solvent based paint over the past four years. Low VOC traffic paint represents 80 percent of traffic paint purchases. Washington uses EPA standards to reduce heavy metal concentrations.
NASPO: Do you think the state’s purchasing actions toward being green has a spinoff effect in other areas? Could you describe these?
Warnock: Green purchasing and efforts to make government processes more lean and efficient go hand-in-hand. One of Gov. Jay Inslee’s goals for the citizens of the state is an efficient, effective, and accountable government. This means fostering a lean culture that drives accountability and results for the people of Washington. This is measured by a number of leading indicators specific to resource stewardship.
In addition, green purchasing creates more jobs. Purchasing local products translates into more manufacturing jobs for Washington State and the Pacific Northwest. For example, government demand for recycled content paper has helped create a strong market incentive for Washington paper mills to invest in paper recycling technology and process innovations that create jobs.
NASPO: What are some of the most innovative things that states can do that they might not be thinking about?
Warnock: Here are 3 quick tips:
- 1.) Do your homework. Research the industry, products, and trends can be the best way to understand the market and how much of an influence can be made using green products.
- 2.) Don’t be afraid to ask and try. When developing a procurement or considering a contract, don’t be shy about asking for aggressive green goals and trying new innovative approaches to obtain green products/services. Establishing a good working relationship with the vendor community is a key element to creating an environment that is open to innovative approaches.
- 3.) Small efforts often add up to make a very large difference. In fact, even one procurement professional can make a substantial difference. An example is our state’s Asphalt Bulk Products contract. The contracts specialist, who manages this contract, worked with the contractor and primary user, the Washington State Department of Transportation, incorporate a meltable packaging material that replaced the traditional packaging material, reducing cost and environmental impacts.
NASPO: What other advice could you give other procurement officials about the best ways to incorporate green purchasing throughout their state?
Warnock: Be innovative when you can, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel when you don’t need to.
There are so many proven efforts underway that can be replicated in other entities/organizations. Looking at existing efforts that work well will help you gain insight.
Also, always look for overall best value. The best value approach looks at more than price, it’s also about finding the best fit for state needs and “doing the right thing” for human health, the environment and the state economy. This includes a proactive approach to green purchasing.
Christine Warnock is the Washington State Director for the National Association of State Procurement Officials, is a member of the NASPO Board of Directors and chairs NASPO’s Green Purchasing Committee.