What Are Responsible Purchasing Guides?

Founded in 2005 by the Center for a New American Dream, the Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN) touts itself as the “first national network of procurement-related professionals dedicated to socially and environmentally responsible purchasing.” RPN publishes Responsible Purchasing Guides for everything from cleaners to water.
The Responsible Purchasing Guide for Cleaners describes the effects of the toxic ingredients found in traditional cleaners. Every year the industrial cleaning industry adds five pounds of chemicals to the atmosphere. People who work indoors are “particularly susceptible to the health risks posed by these products.” The list of health problems includes major organ damage, permanent eye damage, and asthma. The toxic ingredients can affect the public at large because they end up in bodies of water such as lakes and streams.

The ingredients found in one in three industrial cleaners are “potentially harmful,” according the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The average janitor uses around 23 gallons of chemicals every year, the Custodial Products Pollution Prevention Project estimates. Six out of every 100 North American janitors are injured by the chemicals in the cleaners they use.
The general perception is that green cleaning products cost more than traditional cleaners. The guide says otherwise and cites organizations that saved money by switching to green cleaners, including the Chicago Public School System and the city of Santa Monica, CA. The city of Santa Monica reported a five percent cost savings after switching to green cleaners.
According to the guide, switching to green cleaners can “help reduce the more than $75 million a year U.S. institutions spend to address the chemical-related injuries of custodial workers.”
Using green cleaners might improve worker productivity by between 0.5 percent and five percent, which would result in “an annual productivity gain of $30 billion to $150 billion.”
Bottled water alternatives
Think Outside the Bottle: the Responsible Purchasing Guide to Bottled Water Alternatives was published as a joint effort by RPN and the Corporate Accountability International. According to the guide, in 2007 Americans bought 8.8 billion gallons of bottled water. One estimate states that producing that amount of plastic bottles requires the energy equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, and produces over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, which is the amount of carbon produced by over 400,000 vehicles in a year.
The EPA estimates that the cost of treating, filtering and delivering tap water is only 0.2 cents per gallon, about 750-2,700 times cheaper than bottled water. Around 25 to 40 percent of bottled water in 1999 was tap water, according to government and bottled water industry estimates. In 2004, 14.5 percent of plastic non-carbonated beverage bottles were recycled.
There are several alternatives to bottled water. Bottle-less water coolers connect to tap water lines and have filtration systems. The cost of a bottle-less water cooler is half the cost of having bottled water delivered. The RPN guide estimates that the cost savings of switching to a bottle-less water cooler can be as high as 80 percent.
Another alternative to bottled water are reusable bottles. Several types of reusable bottles are available, including metal and plastic. The guide lists the negatives and positives of each type, including cost. Plastic bottles are generally much cheaper than metal bottles. However, when the cost of providing a reusable bottle for each employee is factored in, it is cheaper to have a bottle-less water cooler installed.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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