GSA tries to dispel myths on green purchasing rule

Thursday - 9/1/2011, 5:54am EDT

Houston Taylor, assistant commissioner for acquisition management, GSA

Part 1

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Part 2

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The General Services Administration wants to clear up some widespread confusion over the interim rule mandating agencies buy and vendors provide environmentally friendly products and services.

Houston Taylor, GSA's assistant commissioner for acquisition management in the Federal Acquisition Service, said there are some myths about the interim rule the Federal Acquisition Regulations Council issued in May that caused much concern in the contracting community.

"People think the green purchasing requirements applies to all contracts for products and services — simply incorrect," he said in an interview with Federal News Radio. "The new FAR rule requires all suppliers to inventory and reduce greenhouse gases (GHS) now — incorrect. Finally, because of sustainable mandates in the FAR rule, GSA is kicking non-green, non-compliant products off our schedules — not correct."

Buying smarter?

The FAR rule helps implement President Barack Obama's October 2009 Executive Order requiring agencies to be more green and buy more sustainable products and services.

But Taylor said he also wants agencies and industry to know some of the truths.

"We are moving toward greening our procurements," he said. "There is a goal in there that talks about 95 percent."

But it's not a blanket requirement across all schedule product and services, he added.

"The FAR rule requires us as procurement officials to identify green purchasing and it also talks about tracking purchases we already do that with our portals and capture the data upfront and disclose it on the backend," he said.

He said the Executive Order and interim rule wants agencies to be smarter about what they buy.

Agencies should look for widely recognized standards such as Energy Star or E-PEAT when buying anything from computers to appliances to other products.

"Keep in mind where we have standards such as that, what we are saying is 'tie that into your procurement,'" Taylor said. "We should be going in that direction. It's energy efficient. It's saving tax dollars. It's the smart thing to do."

GSA is trying to evolve its schedules to mirror the commercial environment for products. Taylor said FAS will follow the product lines with well-established green standards.

"We are applying a two-part test to incorporate the green mandates," he said. "First, we will determine if there is a standard appropriate for incorporating. We will look at the market sector and see if it is mature or maturing, and then determine if there are sufficient sources of supplies. If both are met, then we will move forward with adding future products or services to our contracts."

Taylor added many vendors already have energy efficient products on their schedules.

"If a vendor has non-energy efficient products on its schedule, GSA would ask them to move those products off the schedule," he said. "If you are thinking commercially, they already get it anyway. It's a supply and demand market. If they are going to stay competitive as a commercial supplier, that behavior already is happening."

A holistic approach

When it comes to energy efficiency standards, products are ahead of services. GSA realized that and set up six working groups to figure out how to better define green services.

Taylor said the eco-labeling group will determine what the brand should look like as the emerging markets pop-up. Another group is looking at harmonization. Another will handle communication, which will focus on training, education to industry and the message the government wants to send.

"We are putting due diligence upfront in understanding all the issues associated with rolling out any type of greenhouse gas emissions rules or regulations," he said. "I expect to see deliverables from the working groups to come out next spring."

In the meantime, GSA set up blanket purchase agreements for comprehensive energy services where agencies can hire vendors to perform audits to establish a baseline of energy usage.

The 2009 Executive Order requires agencies to determine energy usage, to increase employee training on how to reduce power consumption and to name a chief sustainability officer.

"It calls on a total holistic approach to attack it," Taylor said. "It doesn't call out specifically [how to be more green], but says to leaders to create a senior sustainability council and talk through these different challenges associated with your organization and that is where you see telework programs popping up. We've been talking about Energy Star and E-Peat, and what we've been doing. It's a combination of things that drives toward that."

Interim confusion

The confusion over the rule came from one main source — the way the FAR Council issued it as an interim rule and not a proposed rule.