Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Monday, September 29, 2008

Environmental Purchasing Policy

Today, the Health Energy and Environment committee moved forward an exciting new Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy, which creates some great new standards for goods and services purchased by the City. For instance, all of our paper products will contain the highest post consumer content practicable. As importantly, the Purchasing Department has been empowered to automatically substitute more environmentally friendly products.

I attempted to strengthen this action in two small but important ways. First, because it's not practical to include every single thing the City buys or may ever buy in a policy like this, I moved to add text that would cover goods and services not enumerated in the policy. The text stated that the City will use the precautionary principle and err on the side of protecting human health and the environment when making decisions about products not listed in the policy.

Second, I moved to require the new "Sustainable Purchasing Committee" created by the policy to report back to the HE&E committee annually on the percentage of City purchases that continue to be environmentally unfriendly. I believe that a policy is only as good as our measurement of whether it is being followed or not (see: police practices resolution), and that any organization is much more likely to do what it knows it will be judged on.

Surprisingly, the committee voted down these commonsense amendments on a 3-2 vote. CM Lilligren joined me in voting to strengthen the policy. CMs Goodman, Hofstede and Ostrow voted not to, and committee chair CM Benson did not vote.

One of the examples that CM Goodman used in voting against the first amendment is actually a great lens through which to see the disagreement. She mentioned dog food. Obviously, the City's Animal Care and Control Department buys dog food for the dogs in the pound. CM Goodman's (relatively rhetorical) question was whether, in my opinion, we should be spending more on more environmentally-friendly dog food.

Not being an expert on dog food, I can't give a pat answer. However, I can state without any hesitation that the environmental impacts of our options on dog food (just like our paper, fuel, and cleaning products) should be examined. Would dog food from organic sources, from a local vendor, which does not include spinal cord tissue (strongly suspected in BSE or Mad Cow disease transmission), be environmentally preferable? Probably. If such an option is cost-competitive with a less ecologically friendly choice, should we pay attention to the different ecological impacts of the two? Absolutely.

This is the whole point of this policy. What we said today is, basically, that when a product works about as well, costs a similar amount (even if slightly more expensive), and is clearly better for people and the environment, it's the product the City should buy. I am confused about why someone would be comfortable voting for this policy as a whole and not covering dog food, or any other good or service not explicitly mentioned in the policy.

I suspect that if I had done a better job and been better prepared before the committee meeting I might have had a better outcome. After all, this policy had been reviewed by our internal work group The Environmental Coordinating Team (ECT) and our resident appointed community board - The Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC). Both groups did an outstanding job improving the policy. I actually used feedback from one of our CEAC members, Janelle Sorenson, (who did an enormous amount of work on this project from start to finish and deserves a great deal of credit) to craft my amendments.

I actually think that if I have more time to talk to me fellow Council Members --- even those who opposed these amendments in committee --- there is a chance I can win them over.

I am considering bringing these amendments back when this item comes before the Council, with some potential changes.


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