Allegheny County Council passes ordinance meant to make county purchases more sustainable
Allegheny County Council passed an ordinance on Tuesday meant to boost the number of sustainable and socially responsible products purchased by the county.
The county’s administrative code already requires vendors to submit a statement about their hiring practices to the county Department of Equity and Inclusion when bidding on a contract, said council member Anita Prizio, who also sponsored the bill. But the new ordinance will also require a “sustainability profile” to help evaluate the vendors’ environmental performance and social responsibility.
“We want to use reusables instead of disposables,” Prizio said. “It's going to eliminate the purchase of Styrofoam and single-use plastics.”
County purchasing offices will be instructed to consider supporting companies that focus on reducing consumption, and vendors will include life-cycle assessments in their bids. Such assessments will summarize a product’s lifetime environmental impact – from the extraction of raw materials to the product’s eventual disposal.
The bill passed 12-1, with one abstention and one absence.
Sam DeMarco, council’s Republican at-large member, was the lone no vote. He said he had “serious concerns” about the ordinance’s directive that the county use 100% carbon-free electricity by 2028. He said he worried it’s unreasonable to expect such a change in just five years.
“The county procurement folks buy so many different products and we want them to take a look at every product they buy and try to investigate whether there’s another, more environmentally friendly [option], all the way down to what type of packaging it comes in?” he asked. “Procurement already does a lot of this stuff today.”
Other officials, including County Controller Corey O’Connor, have indicated their support for the measure.
Brooke Gwin, the controller’s deputy chief of staff, hailed plans to implement a public-facing website to track the county’s progress on sustainability goals. She called the move “an incredible opportunity to advance transparency,” and said, “For the long-term fiscal and environmental sustainability of the county, decision making must incorporate climate action in … how the county runs.”
Allegheny County’s new Department of Sustainability will have a lot of influence on how the ordinance is ultimately implemented, said Prizio. Among other duties, staff will develop policies to follow when purchasing equipment, and will review county purchases to ensure they comply with the ordinance. Prizio said the county is currently looking to hire a department head.
“I think they're the ones that are going to take this procurement policy and bring it forward and enhance it,” she said. “This is just the first step.”
Prizo noted that the bill directs purchasers to use more environmentally friendly options when “reasonable and practical.” Purchasers won’t be required to purchase products that don’t work or aren’t available at a reasonable price just because they’re more sustainable.
The ordinance is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2024.