Environmentally preferable purchasing strategies
The Fermilab Fuel Station makes E85, bio-diesel and compressed natural gas available for alternative-fuel vehicles.
Last year, Fermilab bought approximately $130 million worth of goods and services. Some purchases were extremely specialized, such as engineering and architectural services, but many were everyday items: gasoline, electricity, office supplies, vehicles, etc.
As a federal facility, Fermilab must implement an environmentally preferable purchasing program that minimizes the impact of our purchases on the environment. We do that by specifying that a certain percentage of many items, such as paper, steel and concrete, contain recycled material.
In our attempt to be as environmentally conscientious as possible, we need to recognize that everything we buy, whether it's a service or stuff, represents an expenditure of energy. It takes energy to produce or extract raw materials, to transport them to manufacturers and then to retailers. In sustainability terms, the sum of the energy needed for all of these activities is the item's embodied energy.
We are currently making a major transition in our vehicle fleet by using energy-saving vehicles, such as hybrids, and using alternative fuels, such as bio-diesel and E85. Minimizing transportation by purchasing from vendors located as close to us as possible is another way to minimize embodied energy. It costs a lot less to deliver a ream of recycled printer paper from Chicago than from San Francisco.
EPP principles are also applicable at home. Many of us recycle and buy products made of recycled materials, but we can take that idea even further. We can reduce transportation costs and embodied energy by purchasing locally grown food, hence the popularity of farmers' markets. Product packaging is another energy cost, so we can help by choosing products with less packaging whenever possible. Of course, choosing to purchase items that are recyclable after their useful lives helps the environment as well.
Keeping these principles in mind, and thinking of embodied energy is a useful way to make purchasing decisions for Fermilab and for all of us.
— Rod Walton, Fermilab ecologist
Safety Tip of the Week Archive