Oregon Procurement Guidelines: Safer products, innovative materials

By Roger McFadden and Colin Price (photo of OEC interns by Simon Tam)

Oregon Department of Administrative Services, the public agency that is responsible for purchasing goods and services on behalf of the entire state government, recently announced improvements to the way they make procurement decisions – in other words, the way they decide what to buy. We believe these changes represent important steps forward that will reduce risk to people and the environment, save taxpayers money, and create new business opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs.

Specifically, DAS is adopting guidelines to help agencies buy and use products that are designed and manufactured to replace toxic chemicals with those that are inherently safer for people and ecosystems. Scientific research links exposure to hazardous chemicals with health impacts in people, including chronic diseases like cancer, as well as developmental issues in kids. Science has also shown that chemical exposure can impact the reproductive systems of fish and wildlife. We think the guidelines will help protect the health and wellbeing of people and the environment by reducing chemical exposures and strengthening the market for new, safer alternatives.

Oregon entrepreneurs and manufacturers are recognized leaders in designing safer, high performance and more sustainable materials; the kind that are used in goods and services that our state is buying under these new guidelines. In other words, improvements in Oregon’s procurement guidelines are helping to strengthen demand for innovations being developed and brought to market by Oregon universities and research centers in partnership with business. For example, the National Science Foundation awarded a $20 million grant to a joint UO and OSU research hub called the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry, focused on safer nanotechnology.

Oregon businesses across industries, including a variety of manufacturing and retail companies, are on the leading edge of meeting the emerging demand for healthier goods. They’re investing in new kinds of materials and new processes, and engaging their global supply chains to help identify and develop safer, innovative chemicals. From composite wood products that are formaldehyde-free, to waterproof coatings that use bio-based alternatives, and cleaning products that use safer alternatives to chemicals that exacerbate asthma, Oregon companies are developing products that meet growing domestic and global markets.

Oregon communities get economic as well as health benefits when products containing chemicals of concern are replaced with safer alternatives. Taxpayers often shoulder the burden of cleaning up chemicals that contaminate Oregon waste streams, soils and waterways. We can help avoid or reduce these costs when Oregon buyers ask for and procure products that are designed using innovative safer materials.

We commend Governor Kitzhaber’s leadership and foresight in directing state agencies to make these improvements through a 2012 executive order. These procurement guidelines hold great promise for protecting the health and well being of the people of Oregon, supporting innovative businesses, harnessing the power of the private sector and ensuring that we buy goods and services that are a better value for our tax dollars.

Roger McFadden is Vice President and Senior Scientist for Staples, Inc.  Colin Price is Director of Market Innovation for the Oregon Environmental Council.

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