Are you green enough to win a contract?

Government exploring how to collect greenhouse gas emissions as part of procurement process

Agencies may require contractors to track the pollutants they release, a federal working group has told the Obama administration, although the government should take a step-by-step approach to getting emissions data.

General Services Administration officials, who formed the cross-agency working group, concluded that it is feasible for the government to track greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by coordinating with suppliers and others parties. According to the report, the group's federal experts said the procurement process is one of the most influential tools agencies can use to drive Obama’s environmental efforts. In doing so though, the government should allow for changes in the emerging field, the report states.

“Any approach towards using supplier-disclosed GHG emissions data in the federal acquisition system must include the flexibility to adapt to emerging practices,” the report states. The working group also wrote that new standards and practices will emerge as organizations adapt to new requirements.

The working group was formed to develop recommendations on how to employ aspects of President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13514 and make contractors adhere to the sustainability and environmental goals of the administration. Signed last October, the order calls on agencies to establish as a priority an integrated strategy toward sustainability and reduced GHG emissions.

GSA officials could not be reached for comment.

Industry experts say there is a definite correlation between information technology and GHG emissions. Computers, servers and other IT systems are responsible for nearly 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, said Deniece Peterson, manager of industry analysis at Input.

“Clearly, data centers play a big role because of the increasing levels of energy consumed by IT resulting in increased emissions,” Peterson said.

The Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2007 that the government’s servers and data centers consumed about 61 billion kilowatt-hours in 2006, which is1.5 percent of total electricity consumption in the United States for a total electricity cost of about $4.5 billion.

The administration has an program underway to decrease the number of federal data centers.

Officials believe agencies can use the procurement process and other incentives for GHG emissions reporting. Now is too soon though, the report states. The government needs a sufficient number of suppliers reporting data and a reliable process for incorporating that data into the acquisition system. Officials believe the government needs to set up criteria for what it will evaluate, the report states.

In the meantime, the working group compared the emissions reporting to a company’s past performance status in the procurement process. The report states that agencies can pay more for a contractor's product or service, when the company has a good past performance record. Similarly, a lack of performance in a certain area isn’t held against a company in the bidding process, and past performance is a good way to gauge a company’s risk for performing the work. Those same premises in the procurement system can apply as a recommended approach to using GHG emissions in contract awards, the report states.

“The reasoning behind recommending an evaluation factor instead of a purchasing preference or mandatory contracting goal is an evaluation factor allows agencies the discretion to trade the price of a given procurement against the GHG emissions associated with that procurement,” the report states. The result is a reduction in GHG emissions.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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