OUR MISSION: ACER ACER supports communities, government agencies and corporations in taking action to reduce biodiversity loss and strengthen climate resilience by increasing and monitoring urban and riparian zone forest canopy.

7.4.3 Business and Industry/Industrial Ecology


7.4.3 Business and Industry/Industrial Ecology

How You Can Make Choices that Treat the Earth Well

Green Purchasing

Re-Thinking the Way Companies Work

Doing Business That Restores the Environment

Green Purchasing – Buying What You Believe

Individual shopping choices send important messages to companies about what the public prefers (see Green Shopping). Imagine, therefore, the messages that would be sent to manufacturers if large companies, institutions, government agencies, industries or school boards told them the supplies that they order need to pass an environmental checklist. Customers who buy hundreds or thousands of items at a time are very important to manufacturers. So when big buyers tell their suppliers that the environment matters, they are likely to pay attention!

Buying large quantities of supplies for institutions and taking environmental considerations into consideration when choosing suppliers is called “green purchasing.” Buying green means selecting products that reduce environmental impacts. Another word for purchasing on a big scale is procurement.

Green procurement has been described as an environmentally responsible approach to the acquisition of products and services.

The Environmental Purchasing Checklist

Does your school or school board have a green purchasing policy? If they do, they will have had to decide on how to go about choosing environmentally-friendly products and services.

When thinking environmentally, it is important to a large purchaser to have a “green purchasing” checklist. Today there are many resources available to companies and institutions which can guide them in their green choices (some are listed below under Resources).

What are some of the questions that a green purchaser would ask her or his supplier? (Remember, every phase of a product’s life has some effect on the environment.) Here are some important ones:


  • Has this product been certified by an environmental certification program such as Environmental Choice/ EcoLogo or Green Seal?
  • Does this product have energy-saving features, and certification from a certifying source such as EnergyStar or PowerSmart?
  • Does the wood or paper used in this product come from sustainably logged forestry operations?
  • Is it over-packaged?
  • Does it contain recycled content?
  • If it is food, does it contain genetically engineered food products? Is it organic (grown without chemical pesticides and herbicides)?
  • Where was it made how far has it traveled (could a competitive, equivalent product be found closer to home to save on transportation effects?)
  • Does this cleaning product have a minimum of environmental effects?
  • Is it non-allergenic (not causing allergic reactions in humans)?
  • Does this product contain harmful toxic ingredients (is there a substitute that does not contain these substances?)
  • Do the manufacturing wastes from this product harm the natural environment?
  • Is if free from resources that come from environmentally-sensitive regions?
  • Does this product cause greenhouse gas emissions (can we find a substitute that reduces those emissions)?
  • Does this product help the buyer reduce waste (can it be recycled or returned to the manufacturer for disassembly and reuse)?
  • Is this product durable (long-lasting, repairable, upgradeable)?
  • Does it come in a refillable container?
  • Are there any special environmental considerations in disposing of this product?
  • Does the company that makes this product (or provides this service) have an environmental policy?

Imagine· If schools and school boards bought windmills to generate their own electricity. No greenhouse gas emissions, ownership of the source of electrical power. That’s green purchasing!

Finding Green Products and Services

Once a checklist is made up deciding what’s important about products or services chosen the next important consideration is: Does our purchasing officer have good sources for finding environmentally preferable products if current suppliers can’t provide?

The Canadian Federal Government has designed a website called “How to Buy Green” http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/sustain/EnvironMan/system/greenop/procure/how2buy-en.asp to help government people with purchasing authority build environmental thinking into their work. This site provides a good guide for anyone who is thinking of moving towards a more green way of choosing what his or her company or institution buys.

It offers websites and links to companies that have products that are certified under environmental standards programs, or made specifically to meet environmental guidelines.

What Students and Citizens can Do

Whether you’re a student or a citizen, you can have an influence on green purchasing. A simple way to start is to ask if your school, school board, institution or company does green purchasing, or green procurement. Just letting people in the administration know you think this matters is an important first step.

Another idea is to look at some basic products purchased by your school or company, and compare those brands to “green” brands. What kinds of copiers, paper, cleaning products, light bulbs, fuels, lumber do they buy? Have they asked for prices from companies that work to offer products or services with environmental qualities? How much do green products cost in comparison with products that do not meet environmental criteria? Why are environmentally-friendly products often more expensive than mainstream brands? What are the “tradeoffs” when making environmental decisions (quality, quantity, low cost versus environmental responsibility)? There can be some difficult choices involved. What are the health or biodiversity considerations of buying products whose production, use or disposal is polluting?

Doing some research into green products to see what’s available is another interesting project. (Type “green products” or “green procurement” into Google or your favourite web browser and see what you can find out. There are lots of new ideas in the green products and services area. They’re worth knowing about.

Interface Flooring Systems: Rethinking the Way Companies Work

“Doing well by doing good.” – Interface Chairman Ray Anderson

Interface Flooring Systems Canada (IFS) in Belleville, Ontario is a subsidiary of a US company that makes “carpet tiles” – squares of carpeting to cover large areas in facilities such as hotels and convention centres. As a company, Interface is unique in the degree of its commitment to ecological sustainability in business. They have developed a model for the company they wish to become. They call it their model “of the sustainable enterprise of the next industrial revolution.” Every change in company practice that reduces emissions, solid waste, distance to markets is a contribution to reducing the gases that contribute to climate change.

The company’s vision is exciting and ambitious:

To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: people, process, product, place and profits – by 2020.

In doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.

Sustainability means the ability to preserve what is needed to keep goingserve, but actively restore the environment as part of doing business. This philosophy reflects the idea of a “restorative economy” proposed in a book by entrepreneur and ecologist Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce.

To Interface sustainability is not only a goal, but a process. Their definition:

Sustainability: “A dynamic process which enables all people to realize their potential and to improve their quality of life in ways that simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support systems.”

How to Become a Sustainable Company

The challenge Interface have set themselves is to transform their company from “a typical company of the 20th century” to a “Prototypical company of the 21st century.” They have described the “mountain of sustainability” as having seven “fronts” for which each climb must be planned. The seven fronts of sustainability are:

1. Zero Waste
Interface calculated their waste at $70 million and made a plan to reduce it
2. Benign Emissions
Interface tracked emissions from every smokestack (247) and pipe (19) and began work to eliminate them including toxins coming into the factory which contribute
3. Renewable Energy
The company goal is to use only power generated by the sun through photovoltaic (PV) panels. On the way to this goal they will make use of using fuel cells, gas turbines and wind power.
4. Closing the Loop
Saving and recycling materials back into their processes, reducing oil use, creating jobs to do the recycling, creating a “technical cycle” which imitates an organic materials cycle
5. Resource-Efficient Transportation
In a completely oil-dependent economy, this is the most difficult “front” to change. But progress includes teleconferencing, local markets, electric and hybrid cars and fuel cells.
6. The Sensitivity Hookup
This front is about building healthy connections: community service, public education, closer relations among employees and with suppliers and customers to build sustainability and stewardship for life, together.
7. The Redesign of Commerce
This begins with a re-think of economics. It means providing services (carpeting as service installed and replaced when necessary, recycled) instead of only products. It means cradle-to-grave relationships with suppliers and customers, bringing back waste to reintroduce it into new and useful processes. It would mean shifting taxes from goods (income, business capital) to bad things (pollution, waste, greenhouse gases things that should be discouraged).

For more details on this model of sustainability from Interface, see: http://www.interfacesustainability.com/whatis.html

Becoming sustainable requires that those who undertake it acquire an understanding of how the Earth works. Equally importantly, they must understand how human activities affect nature’s processes. According to Interface, this means examining everything we do, everything we take, everything we make, everything we waste. It means asking how our actions will affect our children and our grandchildren. It then means making sound decisions based on what we find through this kind of questioning.

Interface’s model for sustainability is based on the company’s connections “some good and some bad, which should eventually be eliminated.” It also looks at new connections that they believe should be added over time. The Interface model is in place to help all the company associates approach the difficult climb up the mountain of sustainability.

A Model of Sustainability

The Interface model of sustainability is divided into People, Capital and Processes. At the centre of these three elements are the company’s values.

Companies such as Interface are part of a complex supply chain. Raw materials come to the company from their suppliers, and products go from the company to their customers. Interface recognizes that a company’s processes, too often, are connected to the Earth’s biosphere by the waste streams and the emissions they produce. The products they make can also contribute to the waste stream at the ends of their useful lives, ending up in landfills or incinerators, creating a further load for the Earth to break down and process. Carpet in a landfill can last for 20,000 years.

Working Collaboratively to Promote Green Power

Energy consumption is one of the biggest parts of a company’s “environmental footprint.” Interface is a founding member of the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG), a partnership of leading multinational corporations, The World Resources Institute, and Business for Social Responsibility. The GPMDG is focused on developing corporate markets for 1,000 megawatts of cost-competitive new “green” energy capacity by 2010.

Taking the Climate Change Pledge

The program is based on the “Power of One Principle:”

“What can we do individually on a voluntary basis to make a big difference — and how can it be communicated to others and duplicated throughout Canada?”

Interface Flooring Systems has developed and adopted their own company “Climate Change Pledge.” The program is based on the “Power of One Principle” that asks the question: “What can we each do on a voluntary basis to make a big difference? And how can it be communicated to others and duplicated throughout Canada?

The company involves all its employees in the Pledge process, beginning with a training video that features experts presenting the facts about climate change and its potential impacts. After training, employees are encouraged to participate in the Pledge, program which consists of four parts:

  • Climate Change Action Plan Summary
  • Pledge Sheet
  • Climate Change Information Sheet
  • “Power of One” Survey

Suggested activities are using alternative transportation, attentive consumption, home energy savings, and careful gas use.

All the employees who participate in the Climate Change Pledge process receive a scorecard, with estimated greenhouse gas emission conversions for every action from the plan. They also get a “Climate Change Action Volunteer” t-shirt.

For more details and suggested actions from the Climate Change Pledge, please visit the Interface website: http://www.interfacesustainability.com/canclim.html


Green Procurement

GIPPER Guide to Green Procurement

Green Purchasing Links

Buy Green – Recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation and pollution prevention are all objectives of environmentally responsible procurement. This site provides information on “green” products and services and tips on how you can set up a green procurement program.

Environment Canada’s Green Lane – Information on greener procurement policy and practice.

Re-Thinking the Ways Companies Work

Interface Sustainability

The Natural Step An organization dedicated to helping businesses become more green.

The Ecology of Commerce An important book on the principles of how business can move towards becoming more environmentally sustainable.

Important Books

  • Brian Nattrass, Mary Altomare, Dancing with the Tiger: Learning Sustainability Step by Natural Step (2002)Peter Russell, The Global Brain Awakens: Our Next Evolutionary Step (1995)
  • Roger Crowe, Jonathan Porritt, Government’s Business: Enabling Corporate Sustainability (2003)
  • Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins, Paul Hawken, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
  • The Natural Step, Sissel Waage, Ed., Ants, Galileo, And Gandhi: Designing The Future Of Business Through Nature, Genius, And Compassion (2003)



  1. State 3 reasons to support a company or an individual that is changing to ‘green purchasing’
  2. Summarize the 7 parts of the business that Interface Flooring is working to change for better environmental practices.
  3. a) How does the company help employees understand what climate change is?
    b) What ways can the employees help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to making Interface Flooring a ‘green’ company?