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Issues of the Environment: Ann Arbor leads the way in eco-friendly procurement policies

Matt Naud
Matt Naud
Matt Naud


  • Large entities like city and state governments wield immense power through their purchasing. When municipalities purchase products that don’t contain harmful chemicals, reduce carbon emissions, and produce less waste, they are helping to protect health and the environment. Sustainable purchasing can be a catalyst for large-scale change given the tremendous purchasing power of state and local governments. It has the potential to move markets, shifting production to safer, cleaner products. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.ecocenter.org/our-work/purchasing-safer-cities)
  • In Fiscal Year 2022, agencies of the United States federal government spent $259 billion buying products.  State and local governments spend a great deal on procurement, too–about $1.3 trillion each year. On the shopping list are pens, staplers, computers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, construction materials, furnishings, vehicles, medical devices, playground equipment, carpet and flooring, and more. (Source: https://www.ecocenter.org/cleaning-governments-shopping-bags)

  • Following in the example of Ann Arbor, the State of Michigan is using its purchasing power – an estimated $2.5 billion annually – to incentivize suppliers to offer products that do not contain intentionally added PFAS by seeking to purchase such products where possible at the federal level, at the end of 2021, the Biden administration committed to purchase PFAS-free substitutes whenever possible. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.ecocenter.org/whitmers-new-directive-sets-national-precedent-pfas-free-state-procurement)

  • The Ecology Center in partnership with Safer States and Healthy Babies Bright Futures are working together to listen to local government challenges (Great Lake Cities Cohort) and help build the tools they need to make progress – model policies, product guides, and online training for staff. They have provided technical assistance and support to over 20 municipalities and states and created tools for sustainability and procurement professionals to aid them in creating and implementing their non-toxic procurement policies. These tools include our Sustainable Procurement Policies Roadmap which guides municipalities and states step by step through the creation and implementation of their policies.  (Source: https://www.ecocenter.org/our-work/purchasing-safer-cities; email from Matt Naud)


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And today, we're going to take a look at the power of the purchase and its impact on creating a more sustainable future. I'm David Fair, and welcome to Issues of the Environment. I was actually shocked to learn that the federal government spends about $259 billion in its procurement program. Now, collectively, the state and local governments in America spend another $1.3 trillion--things like cars, furnishing computers, office supplies, those kinds of things. A good deal of which contain harmful chemicals, wasteful packaging, and all of which contributes to carbon emissions and a less healthy environment. There's a better way, and Ann Arbor is taking the lead on purchasing policy, and it's serving as a model for the state of Michigan and other places around the country. Our guest today is Matt Naud. Now. Matt was Ann Arbor's first ever environmental coordinator and now serves as senior consultant for the Ann Arbor-based Resource Recycling Systems. And it's always good to talk with you, Matt.

Matt Naud: Thanks so much for having me, David. Glad to be back.

David Fair: Well, let's go back a couple of decades. When you first started working for the city, had you identified procurement as an environmental issue?

Matt Naud: Yeah. The city had always kind of paid attention in different spaces, but it had never been pulled together in one place. You know, we've had this strong recycling program forever. And folks on staff made sure the city was buying recycled paper and greener electronic products and things like that. I left about five years ago, and just before that, we had started to pull that together into a policy. And then, the purchasing staff and my successor, Doctor Stults, brought together a very strong policy that was really intentional about eliminating toxics from the city's purchasing.

David Fair: Yeah, I'm told it contains some of the strongest language in the country on avoiding classes of toxic chemicals, including PFAs. Now, I guess my question is how is that possible? PFAs and these toxic chemicals are in the majority of anything we buy.

Matt Naud: Well, they are in a lot of things, but there are alternatives. And, again, we're finding that the purchasing power of government can help drive companies to both disclose whether there's contaminated or toxic chemicals and drive the demand for new alternatives that are certainly less toxic, if not non-toxic.

David Fair: The Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center has its partnership with Safer States and Healthy Babies Bright Futures to listen to local governments on these issues and kind of help build the tools needed to make policy and process decisions. And you are working with the Ecology Center on these matters. What exactly is the crew over there doing?

Matt Naud: Sure. I helped run the Great Lakes Climate Adaptation Network, which keeps in touch with city/county/institution sustainability folks, kind of from Minneapolis to Toronto and everyone in between. And that group noted that they were interested in working together on sustainable purchasing. So, starting with Rebecca Meuninck, who's now moved on to NWF, the National Wildlife Federation. Now, Tracy Easthope and colleague Tanya Summerland--we meet with a group of cities every other month, and we listen to what they need. How do they build support for sustainable purchasing in their organizations? How do we take and give them a model policy? How do we create fact sheets and guides to make it easier for purchasers? Because most cities don't have a lot of staff or time to train. In this way, if we can give them a basically free or inexpensive online training program, it'll be easier for them to implement in their communities.

David Fair: You're listening to Issues of the Environment on 89 one WEMU. We're talking with Matt Naud. Now, Matt, local and state governments operate with decentralized purchasing. I would assume that makes successfully adopting new policies that have real impact a bit more difficult. How do you work through those issues?

Matt Naud: Great question, David. Some cities have super-centralized purchasing, but a lot of cities don't. And so, I think when I was at the city, there were a couple of hundred people that could basically buy anything they wanted up to a certain amount. Some companies are making it easier. When I was at the city, Staples was creating kind of a green screen, so that if an employee was going to buy something, it was only going to see the green products and products that were compliant with that policy. It's also one of the reasons why we've looked at a model policy, because the more cities adopt the same policy, the easier it is for the private sector to create those kind of aids to help this decentralized purchasing. Somebody goes online, and you're only seeing the recycled content paper. You're only seeing cleaning products with the UL eco logo or green seal. These third-party certifications kind of help guide you to better products.

David Fair: So, are you looking for creation of a nationwide procurement standard for governments, corporations and manufacturers?

Matt Naud: You know, I think that would be ideal. I think we have found a number of very interested communities, both in Michigan, but also Anchorage and Providence. Lansing is one of the cities that's recently adopted this model policy taking it on. And they're the ones that we have a grant with Healthy Babies, Great Teachers to design a training program to make it easier to train their staff because, again, the more we can give staff training, the more this decentralized purchasing is going to work.

David Fair: Once again, you're listening to Issues of the environment on 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with Matt Naud about the power of the purchase. So, based on the modeling and council received, Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2021 signed an executive directive to limit procurement of products that contain PFAs. The Biden administration has since committed to purchase PFAs-free substitutes where possible. Is the hope that the direct impact will be that we'll be able to redirect the manner in which products are manufactured, packaged and shipped out?

Matt Naud: Oh, absolutely! You know, there's a number of other places that use something called the "precautionary principle," where you need to prove that it's safe before it hits the market. And that's not typically true in the United States. So, we're often found after the fact realizing that ski wax has PFAs in it. Refrigerants in air conditioners and things like that have PFAs. And so, these chemicals just are ubiquitous in the environment. And we're hoping that we're taking the right steps to raise awareness with government purchasers and, at a minimum, have them ask their vendors to disclose the toxic chemicals in the products they have, so that cities and governments and institutions have more perfect information. And where it's clear, just state outright in the policy, in the contract, in the RFP, that we won't be buying anything with per-fluorinated compounds or other toxic chemicals, that we can buy better products, and create healthier environments for our staff and visitors.

David Fair: Have you found as some of the cities and states adopt these policies that the cost of doing business has increased for them, or can you do it at competitively-based prices?

Matt Naud: Yep. Good. Great question. And it's a question that most of these communities are getting asked by their elected officials. It's a mixed bag. And I think for some of these it's just a toxic chemical, and you shouldn't be buying it in the first place. So, you need to find an alternative. And it may be more expensive. But what they're finding is early adopters on LED light bulbs, they were more expensive. But the lifecycle cost--you know, you didn't have to have staff replacing them as often. And so, really taking a step back and looking at the lifecycle cost of exposure of staff to some of these chemicals. You know, PFAs in firefighting foam is now a compliance issue. Some of these fire stations need to be cleaned up because they are technically contaminated sites. So, there are long-term costs associated with using some of these toxic chemicals that are really built into the decision-making upfront.

David Fair: Particularly with states where there's no polluter pay laws.

Matt Naud: Exactly! So, I think what we're finding is early adopters sometimes are paying a little more to buy the right product. But over time, the market adapts. And you can now buy recycling carts made in Michigan from a local company. And they build it with a significant amount of recycled plastic in it. So, that was not the norm. And now, it's more of the norm. And I think we're going to find that in a lot of these products as we are building these into government procurement policies.

David Fair: Well, Matt, I will look forward to seeing how this plays out over the next couple of years because it seems like it's gone pretty far in a relatively quick period of time.

Matt Naud: It has. I can say I'm surprised. You know, we were doing some good work in Ann Arbor. It's gotten even better at this work with a number of nonprofits and philanthropy and this focus on local governments using some of the networks that we have. I think we've started to make a lot of real progress and started to build the tools, listening closely to those communities and what they need to move the ball forward in their communities. So, look to Lansing as the current leader in Michigan, and we're hoping for more to follow.

David Fair: Well, thank you so much for spending the time with me today and providing the information. I appreciate it.

Matt Naud: Oh, David, thanks so much. I really appreciate all you do. And there's a lot of information on the Ecology Center website that I think local residents could benefit from and also use in their business procurement.

David Fair: And we will make sure that that as a part of the link package that we include on our webpost on wemu.org. That is Matt Naud, senior consultant for the Ann Arbor-based Resource Recycling Systems, working with the Ecology Center on procurement policy. Again, for more information, go to wemu.org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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