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Published: Monday, 1/24/2011

Lucas County forum to explain cost, environmental benefits of biofriendly products

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

UPDATE: Registration for Friday's Sustainable Procurement Forum organized by the Lucas County Sustainability Commission is now closed.

To be included on a mailing list for future events send an e-mail to Jeff Grabarkiewicz at jgrabarkiewicz@co.lucas.oh.us or call him at 419-893-1966.

You can also check for updates on the commission's Web site, which includes a "green calendar," at lucascountygreen.com.

There's a lot more green to Lucas County's Huntington Center than the letters on the sign.

Not only was the structure in downtown Toledo built to meet strict environmental standards, almost all waste that comes out of the arena is recycled; products used for cleaning it are certified as environmentally friendly; all toilet paper and towels are made from 100 percent recycled materials, and rainwater that falls on the roof is harvested for landscaping.

Those are just a few of the arena's green credentials.

Such mindfulness of the environment is a quantum leap from the way county venues were run even a few years ago, said J.T Thielman, director of operations for SMG, which manages the arena.

"When I first started, I don't think really any thought was given to the sustainability of the products that we purchased," Mr. Thielman recalled. "As we implemented these green things, we found that it just kept saving us money."

Environmental consciousness has crept steadily into the mind-set of both private companies and public entities over the decade for moral and financial reasons.

Increasingly, governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations look for the myriad purchases they make to be more sustainable, too.

With the aim of addressing this growing interest in green purchasing locally, an event called a Sustainable Procurement Forum is planned Friday from 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. at the City of Toledo's transportation offices, 110 North Westwood Ave.

The forum is organized by the Toledo-Lucas County Sustainability Commission and the Northwest Ohio Green Products Center, a program that aims to promote the use and manufacture of biobased products. Government officials and representatives from business organizations and nonprofit groups plan to attend the forum, which is free and open to the public.

Sustainability is a buzzword for living in harmony with nature.

The forum is to address topics including how and where to buy eco-friendly products, trends in green purchasing, supply-chain considerations, and strategies for procuring sustainable supplies as a group. The event is to include speakers from the Herman Miller furniture company, the nonprofit Delta Institute, and the City of Cleveland's sustainability office.

"This is kind of a new thing, which makes it exciting," said Jeff Grabarkiewicz, who heads the Toledo-Lucas County Sustainability Commission.

He said 35 people have signed up for the event so far. "We're just trying to see who's interested. And I think we've found a lot of people are interested," Mr. Grabarkiewicz said.

Strides have been made toward buying more environmentally conscious goods at the federal, state, and local levels.

In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order requiring all federal agencies to come up with plans for more environmentally responsible purchasing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees a mandatory federal purchasing program requiring federal agencies and their contractors to give preference to green, biobased products. Biobased products are commercial or industrial goods made principally with biological elements such as renewable plant, animal, or forestry materials.

Echoing this effort in March, then-Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed into law one of the nation's most comprehensive biopreferred programs on a state level. The law requires state entities, colleges, and universities to give priority to biobased products if they are comparably priced.

At the same time last year, Cleveland passed an ordinance that uses bid incentives to encourage local and sustainable purchasing.

In December, the Lucas County Board of Commissioners passed a sustainable-products resolution spurring county officials to examine green alternatives to conventional products and services when making purchasing decisions.

When governments and businesses go green, it can make a big difference for local communities and the environment, said Abby Corso, senior director of sustainability services at the Delta Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable development and environmental stewardship in the Great Lakes region.

"They buy a lot of stuff, first of all," Ms. Corso pointed out. "Just from the sheer purchasing volume. … when you purchase greener products, it could have a very significant effect on the environment."

Items that can be bought without as much impact on the environment as in the past include cleaning supplies, office items such as paper, ink, and folders; appliances, computers, vehicles, and much more. There are also ways to encourage more efficient use and recycling of products once they are purchased.

At the Huntington Center, for example, chemicals for cleaning are bought in bulk, concentrated form.

The bottles and dispensers for the products are reused, and specially designed floor scrubbers ensure measured distribution of cleaning fluid, Mr. Thielman said.

A major factor holding down sales of green products is their perceived cost.

Many officials assume buying green means spending more.

But Mr. Grabarkiewicz said the price of environmentally friendly products is becoming more competitive.

In the case of the arena, going green has saved "green" too, Mr. Thielman said.

"It saves us money from not having to purchase as much product as we used to," he explained. "And it's the right thing to do."

Cost savings are particularly noticeable when taking a long-term view, said Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, who led county efforts to create the sustainability commission. She gave the example of energy-efficient LED lights, which cost more to buy up front than the traditional incandescent bulbs but ultimately reduce electricity bills.

"Even if it's as simple as a light bulb or a programmable thermostat, those products save money in the long run," the commissioner said.

"They are also less harmful to the environment, and we need to do that because we need to be good stewards of the environment."

The city of Toledo does not have rules on sustainable purchasing, although Tim Murphy, commissioner for environmental services, said it's a topic under consideration.

He said the city has undertaken a wide range of environmental efforts, such as implementing curbside recycling, pursuing redevelopment of contaminated sites, and starting a rain-garden initiative. Green-purchasing rules would bolster this effort to become a more environmentally friendly city, he said.

Mr. Murphy and officials from the city's purchasing department will attend the forum to find out whether buying green also can be cost-efficient.

"We really don't know that much about this stuff at this point," Mr. Murphy said. "We do want to look at what we can do to be sustainable, but it has to be financially sustainable too, and that's the important part."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.



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