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Clinic, UH move to green procurement; $23 million greenhouse on vacant land Cleveland's newest Evergreen Co-op

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/24/11 @ 2:26pm

Buying green products and services for home or at work isn't as simple as picking up a vendor catalog anymore. As more businesses look to be sustainable, they find that setting goals, backing them with purchasing policies and knowing what's in a product can be nail-biting time.

'Green Procurement' was the topic of yesterday's Cleveland Green Venues Partnership workshop hosted by the Cleveland Clinic's office of sustainability.

Where do you begin? Look for 3rd party certifications such as EnergyStar or USDA Biopreferred Products, advised guest speaker Abigail Corso of the Delta Institute. They are trusted sources and without them it's a big grey area of companies the vast majority of which commit at least one, Corso says, of what is called the Seven Sins of Greenwashing.

Don't fret yet, you can do a lot of research for green products online by using resources like EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guideline, and the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, which test and places companies on a preferred list.

There are steps you can take to lead a greening effort at your business-including forming a green team. Invite members who hold sway over decisions in green policy areas-from energy use to waste reduction to fleets and procurement.

"For example, if you want a policy to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) hopefully you will talk to a facilities person and ask, are you willing use that no-VOC paint?" Corso said. "Bring them in on the front end."

  • Start small.
  • Look at "near-term opportunities" such as vendor contracts ready to expire.
  • Pick one area where you could rally support.
  • Think of a pilot project in lieu of a complete overhaul of your procurement policy ? for example, ask your paper vendor for 30% (or 100%) post-consumer paper for the copier.
  • If they seem unwilling to help, seek out reputable vendors who can and who will provide technical specs on their products.
  • And be careful when you allow "or equivalent" language into your RFPs-it can open the door to products that aren't nearly as green as they say they are

The next step higher might be to set a Zero Waste goal. It's a move that the Cleveland Clinic initiated this year, said Senior Director of Sustainability, Christina Vernon-not for their entire operation, but around their copy machines. She got buy in from other directors before establishing the policy which includes no packaging waste from new copiers (vendors have to recycle or reuse packaging for new copiers-"and we checked up on them," Vernon added.).

On a smaller scale, a good vendor will work with you to meet your zero waste goals (for example, the Clinic's copier rep spent the time to set "duplex" or double-sided printing as the default setting on their copiers).

The challenge in setting big goals-like the elimination of PVC-is finding the capacity to research the thousands of items that come in to the Clinic, Vernon said. "We then have to look at all PVC, from neonatal tubing to bottles-to research and find an equivalent (with no PVC). That's why it's a five-year initiative."

University Hospitals Health System is taking a similar approach ? looking for big but also "opportunistic" greening of its operations, says Dr. Aparna Bole, a physician and manager of the hospital's sustainability task force. While UH is in the process of establishing a green procurement policy, Bole said, it already established a list of 3rd Party Certified products, it set nutritional standards for its café and it's working on goals in energy, solid waste and water reductions.

"If our policy is to reduce packaging waste, we're asking vendors to report what portion of their packages are made from recycled or sustainable content," she said. "If its local-produced, it should come from within 500 miles. And we're asking vendors to quantify energy use to reduce energy in the manufacturing process."

Much waste elimination happens as a matter of course at the Clinic, which was awarded EPA's EnergyStar Partner of the Year on Monday for reducing energy consumption by 20% during the past four years, Vernon said.

For example, surgical kits are reviewed and the tools and materials that aren't being used are eliminated.

Surgical kits can be manufactured locally, insisted Lillian Kuri at the Cleveland Foundation, which supports the Evergreen Cooperatives. A future Co-op could produce the kits with a local workforce, Kuri said, which would not only generate greater benefit to the local economy, it would add a layer of security to the Clinic and UH in case a catastrophic event cut their supply lines.

"That way we're not talking about local as 500 miles, but right in your backyard," Kuri said. It was the Foundation that rallied the Clinic, UH and Case to invest in Evergreen Laundry and Solar co-ops.

The laundry is doing mostly nursing home (not hospital) linens, Kuri reported, while the Solar Co-op just finished installing its fifth solar panel array, including the Clinic's (former HealthSpace) building and Case's Adelbert Gym.

The big news, though, is that Evergreen is teeing up a five-acre, $23 million greenhouse on vacant land in Cleveland near I-490 and E. 55th Street for its next co-op, GreenCityGrowers, with a target of 5 million heads of lettuce growing under glass. The land transferred this week, Kuri said, and the city agreed to once again support the start up using a HUD 108 loan (this one for $10 million) and with New Market Tax Credits. "This is the first time (HUD 108) has been used like this in the country. It's a testament to the city."

The foundation also secured a $1 million grant from the state to purchase a wind turbine for the co-op, however, "environmental issues" may prevent them from building it onsite "We're discussing an offsite location (with a utility). Because with a greenhouse, energy is the issue. Energy and food security."

GreenCityGrowers' salad mix (and perhaps its herbs) will stay local ? to be served at Case, the Cleveland Botanical Garden and E. 9th Street Market cafés, all managed by Bon Appetite, which agreed in principle to purchase "the lion's share of the leafy greens," said Executive Chef David Apthorpe. Bon Appetite is a Palo Alto, California-based catering company that has managed to translate its mission of supporting local and sustainable food-with goals like 25%-to markets like Cleveland.

"A big part of what we do is marketing," Apthorpe said. "Because if the customer doesn't know that they're making a healthy choice and supporting local, sustainable farmers, (sustainability goals) won't mean a thing."

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