Governmental Buying Practices and Sustainability

Recently, the staff at Dolphin Blue began questioning the buying practices of our government, and evaluating their overall impact on sustainability.  As more corporations continue to manufacture their goods in foreign countries, many tax-supported agencies have jumped on the “low-cost” bandwagon, creating a governmental bidding system with little regard to sustainability.  To answer some of our questions, we consulted with our in-house expert, Dolphin Blue  Founder & President, Thomas Kemper.

  

How does corporate outsourcing hinder the environmental health and welfare of our economy?

When we support the manufacturing of low-cost goods originating from distant places (i.e. China, Malaysia, Vietnam, India), the costs we ultimately incur are numerous, and detrimental to our natural world, local economies, and to the long-term health of our economy.  Every time a tax-supported entity procures an item provided by giant conglomerates, we continue to chip away at the sustainability of our planet (incurring a heavy carbon footprint), our communities (by eroding the local, regional and federal tax base), and our economies (local, state, and national).  Have you ever wondered why our roads, bridges, highways, school systems, county and state hospitals and park systems are in such disrepair, while the tax-supported jurisdictions responsible for their upkeep and maintenance are screaming that they are broke? How much longer can we continue to provide Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and favorable treatment to our largest corporations, so they can continue providing inexpensive foreign goods to the very tax-supported agencies that are responsible for maintaining the infrastructure and systems that are paid for, by us, the tax payers? As we, the payer of the taxes, continue to see unemployment rise, factories close due to unfavorable treatment, and the degradation of our natural resources’ health (clean air, fresh water, soil quality, forest and food stocks), while our very own taxpayer dollars continue buying cheap, resource-depleting foreign goods, creating a huge burden on the sustainability of our planet.

 

Corporate outsourcing clearly damages our nation’s infrastructure, but how do low-cost supplies produced in foreign countries harm our environment?

Products being procured with no understanding of our environment, affect our human health and global ecosystem in ways we are only beginning to understand.  The use of chemicals, such as chlorine and chlorine-containing compounds, affect the human endocrine system, and compromises the immune system’s ability to do what it was biologically designed to do.  The havoc being wreaked upon the health of our children is a cost seemingly hidden in our out-of-control healthcare system, which continues to grow as the fastest sector of our economy.  I saw this issue arising back in 1994, and made a personal and business decision to provide papers that are processed chlorine free, as well as being derived from 100% post-consumer recycled fiber and made in the USA with Green-e certified renewable wind energy.  Thus, it is incumbent upon all of us, as citizens of our local communities first and foremost, to get involved in the decisions being made by our tax-supported government representatives, and demand that they purchase only socially and environmentally responsible products.

 

Many governmental agencies purchase their supplies at a low-cost from large corporate conglomerates.  How does this practice create an unfair advantage for small businesses of all types?

Many of the corporate giants (whose supplies produce an annual revenue of $15 BILLION and upward ), have the financial ability to provide a catalog with as many as 45,000-50,000 items, of which only 5-10% of those products are actually certified as “green”.   Although Dolphin Blue  has the capability to provide a catalog containing approximately 4,000 items, ALL made in the USA, and ALL made with post-consumer recycled materials, other small businesses are unable to offer such a catalog when a tax-supported entity (municipality, county, state, or federal government) requests pricing from the vendor community.  Consequently, if a small business responds without providing a full catalog, that small supplier is deemed non-responsive to the government agencies’ Request for Quote (RFQ), giving the large giants a tremendous advantage in the marketplace. 

When governmental agencies purchase products and services from corporate giants moving goods globally, with little regard to anything but profitability, the tax-supported entity is doomed and destined for failure.  In my experience, very few government agencies leave the door fully open for those who qualify through the GSA contracting system, where buyers can select goods and services through a “best value” contracting criteria.  While it is regrettable that some agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have granted monopolistic exclusive contracts to some suppliers, a true environmentally conscious buyer will go shopping elsewhere, seeking the products and services truly aligned with the EPA’s stated, charted mission. 

 Is there a “Watch Dog” system in place to monitor and measure the environmental degradation, loss to society, or economic erosion of such “full service” catalog purchasing relationships? 

Unfortunately, there is no program in place to monitor these relationships, and if governmental agencies continue to support the taxpayers who fund its existence, the tax-supported agencies will continue to thrive in the marketplace, while we continue seeing our planet’s health degrade.

 Yes, but don’t some of the larger corporations offer “green” products?

Many “green” items being offered by the giants are not certified for the environmental attributes being claimed, and many of the so-called “green” products are not green at all.  They are usually being shipped many thousands of miles to gain business at a very low invoice expense, which further degrades our planet’s sustainability by imparting a very heavy carbon footprint on the health of our planet.  What might that cost be, to our society, our planet, and, to future generations? We’ve already keenly aware of those costs. We see them around us every day. The longer we bury our heads in the sand, the more devastating the costs.

Additionally, many of the purchasing contracts do not require the products to be made in the USA, thus sacrificing American jobs for a few nickels.  While these large “full service” catalog transactions are rampant among many levels of our government, there are many buyers within these agencies that truly understand the meaning of sustainability (meeting the needs of our generation, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs), and practice responsible procurement methods.  For these buyers, I applaud and acknowledge your pioneering spirit.  Thank you.  You understand that we are all in this together, and without us working together to achieve a sustainable planet, we will only be continuing to paint ourselves into a very precarious corner.  As citizens of our neighborhoods, local communities, country, and planet, we must be good stewards, and be responsible with all items, goods, and services we purchase.  We owe it to our children.

Tom is founder and CEO of Dolphin Blue, an online retailer of environmentally sustainable green office supplies and green printing products.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Mathis Wackernagel, Pioneer of the Eco-Footprint

The concept of a carbon footprint — the amount of the earth’s resources a person or institution is using to function — is a widespread one these days. We use online calculators to find it, buy carbon credits to offset it, and know just what will make it go up and down (air travel is bad; energy-efficient lighting is good).

 This measurement that’s such an integral part of the eco-revolution is courtesy of Mathis Wackernagel, a Swiss-born leader in sustainable research. He was a PhD student at the University of British Columbia when he focused his doctoral dissertation on the concept of an “ecological footprint,” then a novel idea that he developed in conjunction with adviser William Rees. Today he heads the Global Footprint Network, a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and promoting metrics for sustainability.

The group works on a much bigger scale than just calculating the output of an individual person or company — instead, it measures nations’ ecological assets and deficits using about 5,400 data points per country per year. This is the most comprehensive look that we have at how humans are affecting the ecosystem of our planet.

 The importance of this work can’t be overstated. “If you don’t have basic tools to understand the resources we use compared to what is available, it’s hard to avoid ecological bankruptcy,” Wackernagel told Treehugger. And if anyone would know, it’s Wackernagel. After years of looking at the data, he is sure of one thing: We can’t keep living like this.

“Globally, it now takes one year and four months to regenerate what we use within one year. We are in a state of ecological overshoot, on an unsustainable path.”

To make a lasting change, Wackernagel believes we must start building cities more compactly, creating communities that have everything we need on a daily basis and methods of public transportation to get to those places. “The assets we create today can be future-friendly or not,” he told Sustainable Cities. “Future-friendly infrastructure — cities and buildings designed to be resource efficient, zero-energy buildings, and pedestrian or public transit-oriented transportation systems — can enable great lives with small ecological footprints.”

 The former director of the Sustainability Program at Redefining Progress in Oakland, California, and past director of the Centre for Sustainability Studies/Centro de Estudios para la Sustentabilidad in Mexico is working to get the word out on his findings, having authored or contributed to more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and a number of books on sustainability, including Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth and Sharing Nature’s Interest: Ecological Footprints as an Indicator of Sustainability. He’s worked on ecological issues for organizations in North America, Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia, and continues to get out his central message: “The two-word definition of sustainability is one planet.”

 For more information on the Global Footprint Network, click here.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Ray Anderson’s Quest to “Close the Loop”

Most people don’t change overnight — but then again, most people aren’t like Ray Anderson. He was in his 60’s when The Ecology of Commerce, a book by Paul Hawken, fortuitously landed on his desk. The founder of Interface Inc., the world’s largest producer of commercial floor coverings, Anderson thumbed through it, hoping to glean a nugget of inspiration for an upcoming speech he was giving on his company’s environmental vision. What he found was more than a nugget — and way more than something for a one-time-only presentation.

Realizing that working in a sustainable way was not only good for the environment but made good business sense, Anderson asked Interface’s engineers to find out what resources had been stripped from the earth to make the company’s products and ultimately boost the bottom line. For around $800 million in revenue, they had used some 1.2 billion pounds of raw materials, most of it oil and natural gas. Of that finding, he’s said: “I was staggered. I wanted to throw up. My company’s technologies and those of every other company I know of anywhere, in their present forms, are plundering the earth. This cannot go on and on and on.”

Then he did something many other business leaders only talk about: He changed.

It started with Mission Zero, which is Interface’s promise to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by the year 2020. So far, they’re on course to do just that, redesigning processes and products, creating new technologies, and increasing the use of renewable materials to get closer to the goal of closed-loop manufacturing.

Ray Anderson

It’s a remarkable feat in the carpet industry, one that relies so heavily on petroleum. But if the behemoth company with sales in 100 countries and manufacturing facilities on four continents can do it, others can surely follow suit.

Anderson makes it clear that while he may be an environmentalist who has traded in the luxury cars for a Prius and owns a solar-powered vacation home in the mountains, that doesn’t mean he’s not a businessman — something he writes about in his 2009 book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose—Doing Business by Respecting the Earth. Indeed, some of the changes Interface has instituted have been expensive up-front, but they’re all paying off in the long run.

In 1997, Anderson laid out the company’s vision, and over a decade later, it still resonates: “If we’re successful, we’ll spend the rest of our days harvesting yesteryear’s carpets and other petrochemically-derived products and recycling them into new materials and converting sunlight into energy, with zero scrap going to the landfill and zero emissions into the ecosystem. And we’ll be doing well … very well … by doing good. That’s the vision.”

To learn more about Interface’s sustainability initiatives, visit www.interfaceglobal.com.

Thomas Kemper

President and Founder, Dolphin Blue

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Top Ten Reasons To Be a Green Business

One of my employees recently challenged me to create a “Top Ten” reasons to work for, own, or operate a ecologically friendly, green business.  Here is my take:

10. Because our planet is our “garden”. Only with a totally healthy and productive garden will we be able to live healthy and sustainable lives.

9. Because we’re running low on clean, drinkable, non-chemically-contaminated water.

8. Because we’re quickly losing clean, breathable, non-chemically-contaminated air.

7. Because we’re depleting the minerals and healthy state of our soil. Without healthy soil, we won’t have healthy food. Without healthy food, we can’t have healthy bodies.

6. Because a healthy, sustainable planet will provide great rewards in reduced healthcare costs, healthy employees who are productive and present, and will be much better employees.

5. Because as the owner/CEO of a green business, you’ll sleep better at night, knowing you’re doing your part.

4. Because, as a parent, you’ll sleep better at night, knowing you’re leaving a sustainable planet for your children and future generations.

3. Because you will be happier and healthier, living on a planet that you know has a rich diversity of fellow species, all doing their part in maintaining the balance of nature.

2. Because customers/consumers are looking for businesses with which they have a “values alignment”.  People buy from people and companies they know and trust are doing good.

and most important. ..

1. Because your children deserve at least as much of a natural world we have had.

Here’s hoping you make green waves at work,

Thomas Kemper, Owner and Founder

www.dolphinblue.com

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