Pockets of change
Major local players tackle "environmental purchasing"

SideStory: A green shopper’s checklist

The use of recycled paper, such as this, is becoming more commonplace as consumers demand more environmentally friendly choices. An “buy green” effort is under way locally to encourage larger businesses and entities to increase purchases of  local and energy-efficient items to create an even bigger impact./Photo by David Halterman

by Will Sands

Durango’s biggest pocketbooks are beginning to have a big influence on the state of the environment. Several of the area’s largest financial players are making increasing commitment to “green purchasing,” thanks in part to an April workshop.

The “buy green” movement is taking root all over America, with everyone from individuals to corporate giants like Wal-Mart buying local, recycled and energy efficient items. From the most basic personal purchase to the biggest corporate commitments, buyers are increasingly spending their dollars in ways that enhance the environment.

Lisa Mastny telecommutes from Durango for World Watch, an environmental research group in Washington, D.C., and environmental purchasing recently drew her attention.

“A few years ago, I became interested in green consumerism and especially the influence of individual decisions and purchases on the environment,” she said. “I quickly realized that there are bigger leverage points when you get beyond individuals. Institutions can make much bigger impacts because of their size and influence.”

Mastny got together with Kent Ford, coordinator of San Juan Citizens Alliance’s Green Business Roundtable, in an effort to gauge and encourage green purchasing by Durango’s biggest players.

“It’s a topic we hadn’t wrestled with before,” Ford said. “But we were intrigued with the idea of bringing in a consultant who could generate ideas for some of the major buyers in the region. The big buyers can make it happen. They can have a huge impact.”

Ford and Mastny then invited Scot Case, a nationally recognized expert on environmental purchasing, to Durango. Case heads up the green procurement campaign at the Center for a New American Dream and is the president of Responsible Sourcing Solutions. Some of his recent clients include the World Bank, the University of Miami, the cities of Portland and Seattle, and Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Hewlett Packard.

Ford, Mastny and Case then set up a workshop for mid-April. The goal was to get the big, local institutional players at the table, find out how much green purchasing they are already doing and then encourage them to get innovative and do more. The City of Durango, La Plata County, Fort Lewis College, the San Juan Public Lands Center, Durango School District 9-R and La Plata Electric Association all had seats at the table.

“Just one person can make a huge ripple through the community with just one decision,” Mastny said. “But here, we’re talking about institutions that purchase by the truckload. If even one small change, like using recycled paper, is made it echoes down the line.”

Among the first challenges was determining how much green purchasing the entities were already doing. Everyone, including Case, was impressed by the steps that had already been taken to spend their dollars wisely.

“I was pleasantly surprised to learn how many of the participants have already been taking steps,” Case said. “I’m also optimistic that they can significantly escalate their current green purchasing activities.”

Mastny added, “It wasn’t clear to me how much was happening already, but there are already . Moving things forward more quickly is a step we can all begin to take.”

Nearly across the board, the institutions have been honoring environmental needs when it comes to their bottom lines. The City of Durango has been particularly progressive when it comes to making purchases, going beyond recycled office paper into hybrid vehicles, new, greener computer systems and the recent switch to 100 percent green power.

“The workshop reinforced a lot of what the city is already doing,” Karen Herman, Durango purchasing agent, said. “We have been working toward this for a long time. I’d seen Scot twice before, and the city has been open to and into all of his ideas for many years.”

Nonetheless, being in Durango can present a problem when it comes to making green purchases. Because of the region’s isolation, access to green goods can be limited. Local buyers also can find themselves out of the loop when it comes to the latest and greatest.

“One of my problems is being in Durango,” Herman said. “We often have to rush to make purchases, and we’re not always aware of all of the options. It was good to get with Scot and be reminded of what’s out there.”

The picture is gradually becoming better for all buyers, according to Ford. With more and more big players pointing their dollars in a green direction, access and affordability is improving.

“We’re seeing it happen with all sorts of items,” Ford said. “It used to be that you couldn’t walk into an office supply place and buy recycled paper. Now, it’s the standard. As consumers up the line begin to change, the companies and suppliers have to respond.”

Ford and Mastny also hope the recent workshop will create a snowball effect, and that a sort of healthy competition for green bragging rights will emerge from the local agencies.

“I’m hoping it will inspire more activity within the different institutions,” Mastny said. “I’m hoping they all went back and examined their purchasing. I’m hoping there will be a more calculated approach to everything they buy.”

In addition to more calculated approaches, Mastny, Ford and Case hope to see more collaboration in Durango. Agencies and groups can pool efforts and accomplish a great deal more when it comes to green buying.

“One opportunity that we identified as a group is the value of them working closely together and making collaborative steps to improve each other’s efforts,” Case said. “I would hope that when I come back in a year that they’ve been meeting monthly to work in that direction.”

For his part, Ford is optimistic that Case will see progress when he returns. “A lot of people have been trying things over time, and change will not happen overnight,” he said. “But if we tackle one thing at a time, gradually the process will take over.” •



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows