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Feature Article: Five Tips for Saving Greenbacks Through Green Purchasing

October 20, 2008

Source: Responsible Purchasing Network

--by Chris O'Brien and Dave Tilford

Responsible purchasing means addressing the triumvirate of people, planet, and profit when considering what goods and services to procure. In other words, humans, the environment, and the financial bottom line must be equal considerations for 'green' purchasing to be effective.
Given the current turmoil in global financial markets, businesses, schools, and governments are struggling to curtail spending. But it is vital that we keep our sites on sustainability as we trim back on costs. Responsible purchasing strategies have shown time and again that cost savings, environmental benefits, and human health improvements can coexist harmoniously.
Below are five proven ways purchasers can save money while protecting the earth for future generations. While it is important to invest in purchasing programs that have long-term payoffs, we recognize that during belt-tightening times it is imperative to cut costs immediately. These five strategies result in direct and immediate savings.  Each reflects what we at RPN refer to as the golden rule of responsible purchasing: Don't buy what you don't need. Following that rule invariably slashes wasteful spending and reduces environmental impacts. So let's get started:

1. Break the bottled water habit. On average, the cost to treat, filter, and deliver water to ratepayers in the United States is 0.2 cents per gallon – roughly 750-2,700 times cheaper than bottled water on a per gallon basis.  Institutional buyers can quickly save money and cut waste by switching from bottled to tap water. 

While over 90 percent of U.S. municipal water systems regularly meet or exceed the EPA’s regulatory and monitoring requirements (tap water is, in fact, more stringently controlled than bottled water), a wide variety of cost-effective water filters are easily available to remove contaminants when they exist. Options for water delivery include water fountains installed in easily accessible, highly visible areas such as main hallways, waiting areas, and cafeterias.  Coupling water fountains with reusable drinking water containers greatly reduces both cost and environmental impacts compared to single-serve plastic bottles.  Bottle-less water coolers are another smart option, drawing water from the tap and eliminating the expense of purchasing bulk bottled water.

Use RPN’s Bottled Water Calculator to find out how much bottled water is currently costing your organization. Then use the Responsible Purchasing Guide to Bottled Water Alternatives to help you explore alternatives and make the transition to tap.

2. Paper: Cut your costs in half by ramping up paper efficiency.
It can be relatively easy to reduce overall paper costs while still shifting to environmentally preferable paper products.  First, improve paper efficiency by installing duplexers for double-sided printing and follow the other recommended best practices in the Responsible Purchasing Guides for Computers and Office Electronics. Based on a five-week test of copier defaults set to double-sided copying, Citigroup estimated savings of $860,000 on paper costs alone and $11.2 million on all purchasing, handling and disposal costs annually.

Second, consider purchasing in higher volume or through a cooperative contract. Buying in bulk may reduce the purchase premium of PCW recycled copy paper. If space allows, increase the average paper order to reduce shipping costs (which also lowers environmental impacts, especially greenhouse gas emissions).

Finally, ensure that paper is being recycled and allocate the savings from waste-hauling toward the paper budget.  These best practices can reduce paper costs enough that the increased price of highly environmentally preferable paper is less than the savings banked from improved practices – the result can be a lower cost paper program with decreased environmental impacts. 

Use the Paper Calculator to compare copy papers with varying percentages of post-consumer content and quantify the environmental impacts savings in wood, energy, emissions, water and solid waste from switching to higher recycled content.

3. Toner: Switch to remanufactured toner cartridges. 
Over $25 billion is spent worldwide on ink and toner cartridges annually. Each year, over 350 million toner cartridges go to landfills and incinerators in the United States. Remanufactured toner and ink jet cartridges (remans) reduce waste, save natural resources, and cut costs by reusing empty cores and parts rather than disposing of single-use products from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Jurisdictions across the continent are saving money by switching to remans.  King County, Washington purchased 7,250 remanufactured cartridges at a total cost of nearly $270,000 in 2005 and saved $300,000 compared to the cost of OEM cartridges. The City of Toronto reduced costs by 60% per cartridge by switching to remans.

The New York City Remanufactured Toner Cartridges Measurement Tool allows users to compare costs and wastes associated with reman and OEM  cartridges.  Then learn more about your options for remanufactured toner cartridges with the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Toner Cartridges

4. Switch to Greener Cleaners.
Green cleaning products are competitively priced and can actually produce additional savings when other benefits are taken into account. Switching to green cleaners can significantly improve indoor air quality, reduce cleaning-related health problems and absenteeism, and increase productivity and morale.  There are also simple, commonsense (but often neglected) ways to reduce the need for cleaners—doormats at entranceways, for example.

Some organizations have discovered significant cost savings by switching to green cleaners as part of an overall green cleaning program. Santa Monica, California, for example, documented a five percent price savings after implementing a green cleaning program. Other organizations, including the Chicago Public School System and the states of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont also report finding green cleaners to be cost competitive. Cooperative contracts ensure that products can be purchased at a reduced cost.  U.S Communities administers contracts with companies like Zep Manufacturing Co. to provide green janitorial products at the lowest possible price.

Use the Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator to quantify the projected environmental benefits of purchasing and using "green" janitorial services and products. It is designed to forecast the environmental benefits of reducing chemical use by doing some or all pollution prevention measures typically involved in the routine interior cleaning of an office building. This tool also enables users to identify which green cleaning measures will have the greatest impact in reducing their use of hazardous chemicals and in preventing pollution.

To learn more about green cleaning options, see the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Cleaners.

5. Lighting: Switch to CFLs and LEDs.
  Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) may cost more initially, but they can mean big savings in a short period of time. A typical 60-watt incandescent light bulb has a retail price of about $0.60, while a 20-watt energy-saving CFL, which emits about the same amount of light, costs almost $6.00. Though payback time will vary based on initial lamp and electricity prices, a CFL usually pays for itself in five months and saves about $30 over its six or more-year lifespan.
Retrofitting lighting systems has proven to be a financial success for a number of institutions. The City of Washington, DC estimated in 2004 that it could save over 11 million KWh or nearly $700,000 annually by converting from incandescent lighting and T-12 fluorescent tubes to CFLs and T-8 fluorescent tubes. The analysis, conducted by the DC office of Contracting and Procurement, estimated that the city would save about $1.5 million over 5 years.

You can save even more energy and money by switching lights such as traffic signals, parking and street lights, and exit signs to light emitting diodes (LEDs). The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says the overall savings from low energy use of LED traffic signals can be 80% to 93%.  LED signals use far less energy than incandescent signals (10 to 22 Watts for LED bulbs compared to 135 Watts for incandescent bulbs), and last much longer (7 to 10 years instead of 2 years).  They also fail less frequently.

To illustrate the potential savings, the DOE website cites a case study in which the Arkansas Energy Office partnered with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to help purchase 1,329 LED traffic signals and 706 LED arrow signals to be installed in 40 to 45 small communities that have one to five traffic signals. The new signals are estimated to save almost $250,000 in annual operating costs, including energy and maintenance costs. Over the life of the signals, the savings will total more than $1.2 million, more than 170% of the initial cost, with a simple payback of 2.4 years.

Calculators from ENERGY STAR and two CFL manufacturers can help you measure the impact of your institution’s lighting in terms of cost savings and mercury content.  Learn more about CFLs and lighting efficiency with the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Lighting.

Bonus tip:
Conduct an energy audit to cut electricity bills immediately. Good auditors will find savings for you in unexpected places, but some of the easiest ones include powering down office machines by using built-in energy-saving settings. Use power strips to make it easy to unplug all the devices in your office when you leave for the day.  This staunches the invisible flow of phantom energy loads. Install motion detecting light sensors so the lights go out when nobody's home.
All these tips represent quick, low-cost measures that produce immediate savings. Use the online calculators in our series of Responsible Purchasing Guides to add up the savings you can bank with each of these strategies. There is no better time to cut waste than when your budget is being cut for you. Take this credit-crunch as an opportunity to crunch some procurement savings of your own. They'll pay off today but also yield savings well into the future.

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