The Importance of Sustainable Procurement

Last October, world leaders gathered in Scotland for the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference, or COP26, and once again pushed climate change and sustainability to the top of newsfeeds around the world. With emissions currently set to remain consistent the United States (US) needs all hands on deck to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges. By lowering emissions, the US is taking critical steps to uphold the country’s security. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)  recently released a landmark report on the challenges of climate change to national security, increasing the strain on the Defense Department (DoD) and the Federal Government. DoD is the single largest consumer of energy in the US and is the world’s largest institutional consumer of oil; reducing usage even slightly would have measurable and significant impacts on a global level. As members of the Acquisition workforce, we have a part to play in reducing the government’s carbon footprint. Below are a few strategies that acquisition workforce members can use to reduce their components carbon footprint and help the US meet its climate goals.

As laws and regulations change, the best place to beginning taking steps to improve the environmental impacts of acquisitions is reviewing the Federal Acquisitions Regulation (FAR). FAR Part 23 provides a useful starting point and reminds us of a number of mandatory and preferred sustainability programs (to note agency or organizational supplements to the FAR may have more stringent or specific requirements).

FAR 23.103 (a) lists the sustainability programs the government is required to use for new actions. These are:

  1. Energy Star (or another Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) designation)
  2. Water efficient
  3. Biobased
  4. Environmentally preferable (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) certified or another nontoxic alternative)
  5. Non-ozone depleting substances
  6. Made with recovered materials

There are some limited exceptions for things like weapon systems but for the most part, all acquisition professionals should be considering these sustainability programs with any materials or construction procurement actions. They apply at all dollar amounts – even the micro purchase threshold (see FAR 23.202(a)).

How do we do this?

Sustainable procurement is undoubtedly important, but how can the acquisition workforce apply this to contract actions?

If we take a deeper dive into FAR Part 23, we can see the links included for each program for more information. However, perhaps more importantly those sites such as that of the Federal Emergency Management Program (FEMP), include several case studies that can serve as inspiration while conducting market research or developing a contract plan. Many of these projects have not only reduced the environmental impact of the government’s operations, but also resulted in cost savings over time with reduced utility bills. It is important to remember that not only is sustainable acquisition the law, it is vital to our nation’s security. We should make every effort to buy green so we can help reduce the government’s carbon footprint and make the world a greener place.

Author: Gregory Snyder is a Senior Associate at WBD. He has worked in acquisitions at four different agencies and has been with the WBD team since January 2021.