Providence Rhode Island skyline, water in foreground, large buildings in background, small clouds in blue sky above

Leading the Way: Bright City Providence Moves Towards Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

Johnathan Berard, Clean Water Action Rhode Island State Director
Rebecca Meuninck, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the Ecology Center
Judy Levin, MSW, Pollution Prevention Director at the Center for Environmental Health
Kyra Naumoff Shields, PhD, Bright Cities Program Director

Purchasing decisions at the local, state and federal levels account for over 20% of the US GNP, or $3.9 trillion dollars. Environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) - that is, the purchasing of products and/or services that have a lesser impact on human health and the environment when compared with competing projects and/or services that serve the same purpose - can drive the market toward more sustainable products while improving public and environmental health.

The City of Providence’s Purchasing Department, in collaboration with their community-based partner, Clean Water Action, set a goal to purchase healthier furniture and healthier janitorial supplies. “We are excited to explore environmentally preferable procurement practices because they align with our Sustainability Goals and themes of leading by example,” says Alex Berdick, Procurement Strategist for Providence, RI.

Why furniture? Furniture is an unexpected reservoir of toxic chemicals. These chemicals can migrate out of furniture and accumulate in dust. This dust affects the quality of our indoor air and allows chemicals to find their way into our bloodstreams. Key chemicals of concern in furniture are flame retardants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fluorinated compounds (PFAS), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and antimicrobials. These chemicals are not needed in these products for fire safety or functional purposes, and flame retardants and VOCs are strongly linked to neurodevelopmental delays. In some cases, these chemicals cause health problems for those initially exposed and for future generations who may never be directly exposed to the chemical.

EPP can help protect employee’s health too. For example, many conventional cleaning products contain chemicals that are known to cause or exacerbate asthma. An estimated 15- 25% of adult onset asthma is considered related to on the job exposures. Switching to non-toxic cleaning products can protect employees working in janitorial services and even office workers who would otherwise be exposed to residual vapors from the more harmful cleaners.

How does EPP impact a city’s bottom line? Hundreds of environmentally preferable products - from office paper to janitorial cleaners, electronics, transportation and landscaping products - are competitive in terms of quality, while costing the same or less than comparable conventional alternatives, over the product life. Many of these products use less energy, water, fuel and other resources, saving additional money. For example, the City of Santa Rosa, CA, transitioned to an environmentally preferable transmission lubricant. The lubricant requires less frequent changing, resulting in a savings of about $25,000 for the City in annual labor costs.

How can your City green its procurement? The Ecology Center and Safer States developed a Sustainable Procurement Roadmap with sample policies and strategies for implementation. Both the Center for Environmental Health and the Responsible Purchasing Network are available for one-on-one technical support.

Would your City benefit from similar actions? Contact us for more information.

Rebecca Meuninck, [email protected]

This article originally appeared on Healthy Babies Bright Futures Blog. Read it here