County A Lean Green Buying Machine

June 13, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County has already been recognized as a lean buying machine, according to the bond raters. But this time its peers added some green to that lean, making Kent the only county nationwide to get that color this year.

The National Association of Counties recently named Kent County as the sole recipient of its Environmental Preferable Purchasing Award for 2001. The association makes the prestigious award annually to the county government that has the most effective plan for purchasing and using recycled materials.

“It means that it’s additional recognition on a national level for what Kent County does, and the type of organization that we are,” said County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio.

“What’s interesting about this one is we’ve received awards from the National Association of Counties before, but they’ve been Special Achievement awards and we’ve been packed in with a lot of other counties that receive awards,” he added. “In this instance, we were the only one to receive this award and they only issue one a year.”

This was the third year for the award, and also the third year the county’s buying-recycled policy has been in effect. Commissioners adopted the purchasing policy in 1999, which committed the county to preserving the environment by recycling as much as possible and to buying as many products that contain recycled materials as possible.

For a product to qualify for purchase under the policy, Delabbio said it has to meet industry and county performance standards. It also has to be readily available, but not be overpriced. “The cost of the product offered does not exceed a one-percent premium over the comparable virgin material product for every 10 percent of recycled,” is how the cost clause of policy reads.

“The total premium can’t exceed 10 percent of the cost of comparable virgin material,” said Delabbio. “So the county is willing to pay a premium, but not an enormous one.”

Delabbio said the county doesn’t formally track all the products it buys that have recycled content, but he added there was anecdotal evidence that the total amount has increased since the policy was put into practice.

Purchasing Manager Jon Denhof told the Business Journal that the county spends about $100,000 annually on paper goods, and roughly three-quarters of the paper bought each year is recycled. He said the county has also used recycled plastics in benches and playground equipment for the parks system. All of the fill that was excavated for the courthouse project was reclaimed, screened and put back into the site, and some of the fireproofing used in the building came from recycled materials.

The county also makes the policy part of every bid it lets.

“We will pay a one-percent premium for each 10 percent of recycled goods,” said Denhof. “That is automatically put in place and it gives bidders at least some price incentive to look for alternatives to virgin material.”

Denhoff added that the county is constantly checking to see who is recycling and offering products that contain recycled materials. At the same time, he said the county keeps a close eye on its own recycling habits.

“We try to recycle all the materials that we use in an office. This goes beyond just our procurement efforts, it also goes to our office, itself,” he said. “We’re hopefully helping to create and maintain markets for recycled material. That is really the point of all this.”

Commissioner Kenneth Kuipers accepted the award for the county at the association’s annual meeting last month. Commissioner James Vaughn also attended the presentation.

In addition to the purchasing policy, the award also recognized the effectiveness of the county’s recycling program and its waste-to-energy facility. Last year, recycling kept almost 11,000 tons of materials out of county landfills, while the plant incinerated nearly 180,000 tons of solid waste.

“It was a costly decision in one respect,” said Delabbio of the waste-to-energy facility. “But if you look at it in the long-term, and I mean the real long-term, it was a good thing for the community in that we’re not going to have to rely so much on landfill.”

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