Environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP), also known as ‘green purchasing’, eco-friendly procurement or sustainable procurement, refers to the purchase of products and services that minimize negative impacts on the environment. Sustainable purchasing establishes additional criteria for decision making when acquiring a service or product. One considers not only the cost and quality of a product or service but also the environmental and social impact of that purchase.
Eco-friendly products typically consume less nonrenewable natural resources and/or use resources more sustainably. They also tend to contain less toxins, making them better not just for the planet but for humans as well. Purchasing products that are eco-friendly grows the market for those products and encourages the development of additional products made from sustainable materials and in a sustainable manner. This decreases the strain on nonrenewable resources and landfills.
Even though EPP is great for the environment and for humans, many organizations still hesitate to move in that direction. Below are the top five that I’ve seen in working with organizations for the past 13+ years, and how these can be addressed:
1. Fear Of Change
Switching to a new product or vendor adds an element of uncertainty to daily operations. It’s easier to do things the way they’ve always been done; there is security in knowing the outcome, and introducing something new may result in push-back from colleagues. In addition, changing to a new supplier may mean severing relationships that have been built over the years with an existing supplier, and which may have other benefits aside from the products purchased.
Start with small ticket items, such as office supplies; you can test the waters with your colleagues and ask them for feedback.
Speak with your existing suppliers and see if they offer green alternatives and if not, if they are willing to add those to their stock – you can bet yours is not the only organization asking for them.
Identify new ways to work with existing suppliers, if that relationship is very important to your organization, or develop a plan to phase out that relationship gradually if possible.
2. Price Point Perception
One of the main barriers to switching to more eco-friendly products is the perception that these products cost more. While this was the case in the past, when green product alternatives were scarce, this is much less the case today. New green products are coming on the market every day, and the quality is improving while the price point is dropping as demand for these products grows.
Find or do a more complete price analysis for the product, such as this one for green cleaning products. This will typically show how close the cost of the conventional versus green product. Alternatively, a green product may cost more up front but may last twice as long as the conventional alternative, so by comparison, it is less expensive.
If a ‘green’ product still seems to cost more than the conventional alternative, look at the additional, external costs of the product. For example, a non-toxic product may cost more, but in the long run, it will cost less to transport, store, handle and dispose of than a toxic alternative. In addition, it presents less of a health hazard to staff.
If you have conducted a life cycle and external cost analysis, and the product still costs more, look into partnering with other businesses to place a larger order; this typically will lower the price point.
3. Lack Of A Suitable Green Alternative
Existing suppliers may not stock green products or they may stock only small quantities, which may lead to delays in obtaining the product. In addition, there may be the perception that no suitable green alternative exists – meaning that while there are green alternatives, these may not be as effective or as high quality as the conventional product.
If you’d like to stay with your existing supplier, and know that they have limited quantities of the green products you would like, be sure to order these ahead of time and factor in the delay in delivery time.
Speak with your existing supplier about stocking greater quantities of that product, and assure them that you will be ordering it periodically (if this is the case).
Research the actual effectiveness of the green alternative. While it was true that some green alternatives in the past were not as high quality or effective, eco-friendly products have some a long way. More than likely, there is a green product that meets your needs in terms of quality and/or effectiveness.
4. Ignorance Of The Existence Of EPP
‘Ignorance’ is usually seen as something negative, but it merely means a lack of knowledge or information. While ‘green procurement’ may seem like everyday parlance for some organizations, many smaller and medium sized businesses are unaware of the concept and of the alternatives that are available to them.
If you are looking to implement EPP at your organization, be sure to educate yourself on the jargon – the vocabulary, terms and concepts associated with EPP.
Once you’ve educated yourself, you can share what you’ve learned with your colleagues, as well as educate them on the price and quality of these existing alternatives.
You may need to build the business case over time for switching to EPP, since this will be something new and different – and therefore may not be as easily adopted at the beginning.
5. Not Seen As A Priority
In order to successfully implement EPP – or any project for that matter – it is important to have the support of upper management. In this case, it is also important for the procurement department and/or agents to see this as a priority.
Educate the purchasing agents on the economic benefits of eco-friendly procurement. The environmental benefits are important, but the economic ones are even more so, especially to upper management.
Making the business case for green procurement should also include the brand and PR benefits of being a good corporate citizen; this of course means walking the talk, and being mindful to avoid greenwashing
Many larger organizations are asking their suppliers what steps they are taking to be more eco-friendly; if your organization has contracts with larger organizations, you can make the business case that implementing EPP will position your organization in a more favorable light once these organizations start asking about your sustainability practices.
After having overcome some or all of the above obstacles, and having begun to purchase a few eco-friendly products, you may want to discuss the implementation of an environmentally preferable procurement policy with your procurement agent or department representative.
If you're considering implementing sustainability at your organization, be sure to download our free sustainability checklist that can help you determine what you are already doing and some additional actions you can take.