Protecting the Health of Your Guests

By Rani Bhattacharyya Community Economics Extension Educator , University of Minnesota Extension- Center for Community Vitality | December 11, 2011

The market availability of "eco" and "nature" friendly products and services has multiplied exponentially in the last five years. Unfortunately however, the benefits that these products and services, provide for both humans and the environment has only become more confusing as a result. To remedy this consumer product manufacturers, environmental labeling organizations, and a variety of public sector agencies over the last two years have been working very hard to build consensus behind the methods, terms and definitions being used to express the benefits resulting from sustainably designed products and services. While this effort is still very general within the mainstream consumer market, it can also help define and standardize how many of terms are also being used in the hospitality market as well.

In this article I will briefly review the public sectors role in championing the adoption and use of environmentally responsible purchasing as tool to 1) facilitate this standardization process, 2) protect vulnerable populations, and 3) promote and catalyze the country's transition to a green economy. I will also explain why these efforts can also help your property address the needs of health minded guests. In closing, I will also highlight a few product and service categories in which you and your purchasing agents will be able to find healthful and environmentally responsible products and services that can help your property protect the health of your guests.

Role of the Public Sector

We have been very successful in using scientific inquiry to learn more about the natural world and how human activity can influence and create hospitable conditions within it for our survival. This same curiosity however, over recent decades, has also lead us to question if these changes are in fact all positive over the long term survival of both humanity and the planet. In particular, extensive studies are now being conducted (par for course) to determine if the chemicals in the products we use on a daily basis are altering our basic biological functions. Since many of these studies are bringing to light evidence of toxic and harmful effects to our bodies, public agencies are now being tasked to limit how these chemicals are exposed to the population in general, and specifically to children and the elderly.

Since public agencies are also the largest institutional purchasers within any community, the most effective means by which they can proactively limit the use of harmful and hazardous chemical exposure (outside of cumbersome regulatory processes) has been to develop and implement specific purchasing guidelines and specifications for use with their service and product vendors. Many city, state and federal agencies have developed or are in the process of developing purchasing decision making polices that include exact specifications regarding the environmental and sometimes social performance of the companies they are willing to do business with. Initially, many of these policies were very selective and presented a local bias, but as more and more agencies are adopting such polices, they are learning from each other and from experience, as to which specifications really make a difference and which do not. The first few agencies to develop and adopt environmentally preferable purchasing polices (EPP) in the public sector were school systems and universities with active input from the families of their students. As the awareness within the educational industry spread in into other agencies and also into the US market, the economic significance of this new institutional purchasing behavior caught the attention of business facing administrators and developers as well.

In many cases, the implementation of environmentally preferable purchasing polices has proven to also be a boon for economic development as well by providing a new demand surplus for goods and services, that are scarce within the local economy. The result of this analysis by development professionals over the last decade has been additional refinement of the EPP model as an incentivizing tool when attracting (and retaining) larger businesses (including hotels and restaurants) with the community. The newest version of these EPP partnerships are now city, state and federal level programs that recognize the EPP efforts being made by large private sector institutional purchasers. The results of these recognition opportunities again are primarily preferential selection within an agency's own vendor selection process, but these benefits for program participants also now include reductions in development costs and taxation rates since "responsibility minded" business operators present a low risk investment opportunity for community's overall long term health.

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