July 19, 2012

Multnomah County, City of Portland call for vendors and manufacturers to disclose potentially hazardous chemicals

The Board of County Commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution reaffirming the county’s commitment to sustainable purchasing practices through the Healthy Purchasing Initiative (HPI).

The pilot program is a joint effort among Multnomah County, the City of Portland, the Oregon Environmental Council and leaders in the green building industry. The HPI calls for vendors and manufacturers to disclose potentially hazardous chemicals in cleaning and office supplies, building products and materials when doing business with the county and city.

“We’ve identified protecting the public health and protecting our environment as core values here at Multnomah County,” said Chair Jeff Cogen when commenting on the innovative new program. “And it’s not always obvious how we can do that. Sometimes you have to think differently about how you carry on your business.”

The program aims to promote healthier public and employee spaces through the purchase of safer, more environmentally-friendly products for local government facilities.

“Through the procurement process, both the city and the county wield considerable power, the power of the dollar, “said Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman at the county board’s Sept. 20 meeting. “And we are now asking vendors to disclose the ingredients in their products ... That way we’ll know exactly what we’re buying and make healthier purchasing decisions down the road.”

The Portland City Council adopted the Healthy Purchasing Initiative resolution during its Sept.19 meeting.

The initiative’s foundation is the Toxics Reduction Strategy, which was approved in 2006 by Multnomah County and the City of Portland. That strategy initially prompted both governments to take a closer look at materials being used within their facilities.

During her testimony on Sept. 20 to the county board, Oregon Environmental Council executive director Andrea Durbin explained HPI’s larger impacts on the marketplace.

“Purchasing decisions to drive market change is a critical strategy in strengthening market demand for products that are safer and less toxic,” Durbin said. “It’s really an important opportunity to leverage the public’s role and the government’s role.”

She went on to explain the three following goals the Healthy Purchasing Initiative will help to accomplish:

The enhancement of marketplace transparency by providing more information to buyers about chemicals
The adoption of a common and consistent format for chemical disclosure that will help save other entities time and money
The creation of safer environments for the public and public employees based on the avoidance of hazardous chemicals
Clark Brockman of SERA Architects spoke to the board about the challenges his firm has encountered in the marketplace, due to lack of disclosure about chemicals present in building materials.

“We can only avoid what we actually know about,” Brockman said. “Policies such as this are a critical first step in bringing transparency into the mainstream.”

With the Healthy Purchasing Initiative, the county’s purchasing division will work with county departments to develop or amend chemical disclosure forms. Purchasing will also work with vendors and manufacturers to identify non-toxic products for county purchase.

In its annual report, purchasing will update the Board of County Commissioners on the county’s progress in identifying and reducing the purchase of products containing toxic chemicals.

In his closing comments, Chair Cogen expressed his optimism about the potential further-reaching effects of the initiative:

“I’m very hopeful that as we pursue this we’re going to come up with something that’s going to improve the public health and lead not only to better outcomes here at Multnomah County,’’ Cogen said, “but help to change the industry standard and the industry norms that can have impacts way beyond our little 4,500-employee base.”   

City of Portland Press Release  City of Portland HPI Press Release (29.61 KB)

Healthy Purchasing Initiative Frequently Asked Questions Healthy Purchasing Initiative FAQ (9.39 KB)