King County, Washington

King County’s Environmental Purchasing Program (EPP) began in 1989, following the county’s adoption of its Environmental Purchasing Procurement Policy. This policy was created in response to overburdened landfills and the need to create markets for newly collected recyclables. The county’s Recycled Products Procurement Program, housed within the Procurement Services Division, established a successful buy-recycled program through a variety of employee training and outreach strategies such as workshops, field trips, and a newsletter devoted to the topic. The policy was updated in 1995 and 2003 to require all county agencies to revise their purchasing practices to reduce their impact on human health and the environment “whenever practicable.” The policy outlines specific actions that must be undertaken, providing clear definitions and noting each party’s responsibilities.

The Procurement and Contract Services Section of the King County Finance and Business Operations Division administers the EPP. Program responsibilities include:

  • Communicating EPP requirements to county agencies;
  • Researching and disseminating information about price, performance, availability and potential benefits of environmentally preferable products;
  • Assisting buyers and user agencies in the development of specifications and contracts;
  • Producing e-mail environmental purchasing bulletins and maintaining the program website;
  • Providing technical assistance to facilitate evaluation and adoption of environmentally preferable products by county agencies;
  • Providing technical assistance, including policy development and implementation strategies, to other jurisdictions, businesses and nonprofit agencies;
  • Documenting policy implementation, including purchases and product evaluation results; and
  • Publishing an annual report.

If implemented efficiently, environmentally preferably purchasing can improve not only the environment, but also local government finances. For example, in 2006, King County agencies purchased $36 million worth of products, and saved $640,000 compared to the cost of conventional products.

Keys to Success

  • Participation by government agencies, non-profit groups, trade associations, and others, to develop consensus-based standards that will enable users to specify materials that are environmentally preferable, commercially available, economical, and effective
  • Liaisons between agencies and the EPP to facilitate policy implementation, contracting, and data collection
  • Testing and pilot programs to evaluate product performance in new applications, with results shared through the EPP website and “Environmental Purchasing Bulletin” email
  • Educating suppliers on procurement processes and providing feedback to assist in product development
  • Sharing best practices with external organizations to minimize duplication of effort