Four Steps to Greener Purchasing

By Laura L. Barnes

In my last post, I wrote about ways to make your building more efficient and save money. This time, I want to focus on other purchasing decisions you make when you buy supplies for your library. Rethinking your purchasing can reduce your costs, help to create markets for products made with recycled material, and reduce the use of toxics in your building.

  1. Include environmental factors as well as traditional price and performance considerations part of the normal purchasing process. Planning ahead can reduce your waste disposal costs and use of hazardous chemicals, improve employee health and safety, and reduce material and energy consumption. Develop a green purchasing plan. CalRecycle has a list of examples and NASPO’s Green Purchasing Guide has detailed instructions for developing a green purchasing program.
  2. Emphasize pollution prevention early in the purchasing process. Review purchase specifications and contracts to see if they contain environmental performance standards or requirements. For example, if you use a cleaning service, request that they switch to less hazardous cleaning supplies. The Green Libraries LibGuide has a list of green product guides and certification bodies. Purchase appropriately sized lots to minimize waste. Purchase in bulk where feasible, but small quantities for shelf life/dated materials.
  3. Examine multiple environmental attributes throughout a product’s life cycle and compare relative environmental impacts of different products. Think about the environmental impact of the product’s production, use, and disposal. Buy recycled office consumable products (paper, pens, etc.) and Energy Star certified office equipment. Consider buying reusable utensils, plates, and cups for meetings. Rethink your promotional items.
  4. Base purchasing decisions on accurate and meaningful information about environmental performance. Don’t fall for greenwashing. Make sure that environmental claims about products are specific. Look for specific amounts (recycled content, a certain percentage less packaging). Terms like “eco-friendly” and “environmentally friendly” don’t mean anything unless they also provide more specific information. Degradable products don’t save landfill space. It does matter if you’re composting, but not if you’re throwing them away after one use. Look for green labels like EPA’s Safer Choice, EnergyStar, EPEAT (for electronics), and WaterSense. Use product guides to help you make decisions.

Work with your current suppliers to locate more environmentally friendly products. Test the products over a few months to assess efficiency, quality, and user friendliness. Document what does and doesn’t work, so you can continue to improve. Finally, encourage your patrons to start thinking about what they buy. Create displays about the environmental impact of consumer culture. The Green Libraries LibGuide includes a list of books about the environmental impact of consumer behavior. Screen The Story of Stuff and lead a discussion afterwards. You can not only make an impact on what your library purchases but also how your community thinks about consumption.

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