How federal contracting can supercharge sustainability

Government contractors and contract requirements can supercharge the nation's push to address climate change and create a more sustainable future.

The human and economic costs related to climate change have become nearly impossible to ignore. Natural disasters alone cost the global economy upwards of $390 billion a year. In response, industries, corporations and consumers are radically rethinking strategies to help enable a more circular and low-carbon economy.

At the same time, governments are adopting aggressive timelines to curb emissions. The Biden administration recently announced targeted reductions of 50 percent to 52 percent in economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

One reason these timelines have become so aggressive is that societies have largely been unable to move the needle when it comes to carbon reduction. A task this large requires more cooperation and coordination than most corporations or individuals are capable of achieving on their own. But climate change isn’t the only challenge our society faces in order to become more sustainable. Human rights, digital equity, inclusion and more are all linked to progress that’s urgently needed today.

With its immense purchasing power, the federal government has the ability to drive holistic sustainable innovations in the private sector, particularly in the technology industry. By creating sustainability standards and including sustainability clauses in requests for proposals, government can realize that potential.

The power of scale

From this point forward, companies will be judged by more than the profits they generate; they will be measured by the value they create for society. By virtue of the federal marketplace, the government has an opportunity to incentivize its contractors to heed that mandate.

And because of its size, it can do so on a larger scale. According to Bloomberg Government, $682 billion was spent on contracts in fiscal 2020—a record expenditure for the government. That figure is a sharp reminder that the federal government’s buying power is the single biggest tool it has to produce meaningful change at a national and local level.

Think about it this way: every time you get in your car, you put your seat belt on. Seat belts save lives, so Congress decided to incentivize their use. It did so by refusing to give states tax money for highways, bridges and other infrastructure unless they met or surpassed a base seat belt use rate. This tactic worked.

In 2020, nearly two decades since this campaign began, the national seat belt use rate was at 90.3 percent. If similar programs were created for climate action, adopting long-term sustainability practices would become the norm.

The health of our planet is paramount to our future as humans. By signing the Paris Agreement, the U.S. has already put down a marker globally, demonstrating its commitment to a more sustainable future. By requiring contractors to meet sustainability standards in order to win contracts, the government can use its substantial buying power to make sustainability more than just the right thing to do—it becomes a direct path to business growth as well.

Raising the standard

A good incentive has to be quantifiable. Using the Paris Agreement or the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental action plan as a framework, the federal government should be able to identify the types of corporate behavior that can move the needle. For example, measuring the amount of recyclable content used in the devices the government purchases could provide a useful baseline—and a target for improvement.

Through this process, the government could develop a set of sustainability standards that it could embed in its requests for proposals. This model already exists in other areas, such as cybersecurity, where the government’s NIST 800 standards have set a high bar for device manufacturers and technology developers.

Similarly, the recent executive order to accelerate cybersecurity advancements will push industry to evolve. These benchmarks have produced greater attention to cybersecurity and faster innovation of new secure technologies across both the public and private sectors. The EPA could use a similar model to incentivize sustainability.

Advances in sustainability have historically been slow because private industry needs time to evolve. Developing standards in cooperation with industry can get all stakeholders pulling in the same direction. The government’s priorities become the industry’s priorities, resulting in more consistent progress. 

Improving sustainability through government contracts will ultimately have a greater impact on national and global climate action, human rights and digital equity. If new standards are created now to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, our society will see meaningful results from the public and private sector and adopt a new mentality for climate action.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.