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GSA officials outline moves toward green procurement

Aug. 4, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By TOM SPOTH   |   Comments
Emile Monette, director of the sustainability division at GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, told contractors that GSA will review how vendors measure their greenhouse gas emissions as part of the contracting process.
Emile Monette, director of the sustainability division at GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, told contractors that GSA will review how vendors measure their greenhouse gas emissions as part of the contracting process. ()

Federal contractors will need to start measuring and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions as the government goes green, General Services Administration officials told an industry group Wednesday.

"You're going to start seeing in solicitations more emphasis on environmental aspects of what you're supplying to the government," said Emile Monette, head of GSA's sustainability office. Monette spoke to the Coalition for Government Procurement, a trade association representing vendors in GSA's federal supply schedules program.

GSA last month released a plan, requested last year by the Obama administration, to factor contractors' greenhouse-gas emissions into procurement decisions. Firms would initially be asked only to track their emissions, but later they could be required to cut emissions or risk losing government work.

Monette acknowledged that it is expensive and time-consuming for companies to set up tracking mechanisms, and that there is no universally accepted standard for doing so.

"It's going to take some time," he said. "It's going to be something of a patchwork at first. It's not something where we can flip the switch and say in January 2011 [that] all companies have to submit [data on] emissions."

Especially tricky will be measuring indirect emissions embedded in firms' supply chains, he said. These so-called "Scope 3" emissions can account for as much as 75 percent of a firm's carbon footprint.

Relatively few companies are able to measure the environmental impact of raw materials used to create products, the transportation of those materials and the production process, Monette said.

However, he said, creating emission inventories and moving toward sustainability is "a business megatrend."

"This is why this is going to work," Monette said. "We are here to facilitate and lubricate that process as we can."

GSA's Public Buildings Service already mandates green clauses in its contracts for design and construction, operations and maintenance, and janitorial work, said Raheem Cash, director of PBS's environmental division.

PBS wants companies that do that work to use eco-friendly products, such as insulation, paint, trash bags, kitchen appliances and cleaning products.

Cash said property managers, contracting officers and industry representatives frequently argue that it's too expensive to use green products, or they're not available. To test those claims, PBS applies the "Wal-Mart test," Cash said if Wal-Mart offers a green alternative, and it often does, it must be affordable.

"We're not accepting the ‘I can'ts' anymore, internally or externally," Cash said. "We don't really want to hear what you can't do."

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