By Daniel Schemer, January 2010
The practice of Green Purchasing isn’t as prominent in public knowledge as something like recycling or reducing carbon emissions. Often referred to as Ethical Consumerism, it’s focus is on purchasing alternative products that help contribute to resource conservation, minimizing consumption habits, reduction of pollutants and hazardous chemicals, and overall concern for the moral implications associated with their production. This is all the while making sure these products are equal to or better in function, health, and cost than their less environmentally conscious counterparts.
Abiding by recommendations from the Sustainability Assessment, preference is given over Environmentally Preferable Products (EPP) thanks to the campus’s Green Purchasing Policy, drafted by The Office of Campus and Community Sustainability last spring. At UMass Dartmouth, this concern for EPPs manifests in the campus’s purchasing and usage of computers, office supplies, janitorial equipment, building materials, food, lighting fixtures, and all other kinds of technology. “The policy, as it is written, is a set of decision-making guidelines and a bunch of points as to what kind of criteria a person would look at when trying to purchase Environmentally Preferred Products,” said Tom Paine, who drafted the policy for UMass Dartmouth.
A primary factor in determining proper green purchasing is through a product’s life cycle analysis, the examining of its environmental, social, and economic effects throughout its lifetime; this variable shows that the cheapest price doesn’t necessarily mean the best value. The externalized costs of clothing from third-world sweatshops, such as pollution, low worker wages, and hazardous working conditions, do not affect the monetary price in stores because these costs are displaced on the originating community. Life cycle analysis factors in this harm, both environmentally and socially, in order to determine what products are most sustainable and morally responsible.
Though not formally implemented as binding campus policy, the guidelines and principles in Green Purchasing have been used by the Administration, Facilities, and various Departments for smarter purchasing decisions. An example would be the conversion of all cleaning products to Green Seal-certification, which means they’re biodegradable and free of hazardous chemicals that may get flushed into the sewers or seep into groundwater. Another example is the use of recycled paper for printing in computer labs. Further recommendations from the Green Purchasing Policy include acquiring Energy Star-certified appliances, replacing all lighting fixtures with new energy efficient lighting, using remanufactured toner cartridges for all printers and copiers, purchasing low-flow faucets and toilets, using paints and adhesives with low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC), higher standards for food purchasing and preparation, and the replacing of disposable plastic and paper cups with reusable drinking containers.
The biggest concerns right now with the Green Purchasing Policy are getting the word out, selling the idea, and educating the campus population. “Because there is no formal policy or authority, it’s all on a voluntary basis; it becomes like preaching to the choir,” said Tom Paine. Faculty and staff training workshops were offered last year for espousing the criteria and recommendations for EPPs, as well as the principles surrounding green purchasing. The idea for 2010 is to continue outreach efforts by offering these workshops and increasing promotional efforts. Mr. Paine also adds that an enforced policy might work counter to sustainability’s principles and goals. “When you force things on people they will find it abrasive. We don’t want any negative light at all. It’s all about showing alternatives in a positive light and explaining why they’re better.”
The Green Purchasing Policy can be found and downloaded at The Office of Campus and Community Sustainability’s website, www.umassd.edu/sustainability.