The future of our planet and our children depends on addressing two inextricably linked issues: climate change and toxic chemicals. Solving for one without the other leads to a planet that’s either too warm or too toxic, and amid a summer with sweltering heat, wildfires, and other climate impacts, sustainable change is required.
Cities play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and toxic exposures. Seventy percent of the largest US cities have local climate action plans, and over 400 smaller cities do, too. Few, however, are explicit about children’s health, and even fewer have specific provisions to reduce toxic exposures.
While often hampered by limited staff and financial resources, city staff and community members who craft and implement climate, sustainability, and resilience plans are true changemakers. One strategy employed by these changemakers—local government purchasing—can be a catalyst for matching sustainability with advancing the health and wellbeing of its citizens.
But how can city staff more easily prioritize product categories where purchasing results in wins for children’s health AND climate?
To assist, we conducted an analysis of 411 categories of goods and services to identify the biggest purchasing opportunities for cities to simultaneously reduce GHG emissions and reduce toxic exposures.
Our goal is to help cities to focus limited resources where they can make the greatest difference.
We started with the US EPA’s Environmentally-Extended Input-Output model, (USEEIO). If you haven’t heard of it, it’s worth checking out! Developed by EPA researchers, USEEIO melds data on economic transactions between 411 industry sectors with rich environmental metrics, including data on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, toxics, and more.
Using USEEIO v.2.0.1 data, we identified commodities that local governments are likely to procure that have both high carbon footprints and adverse human health impacts. We selected three USEEIO impact metrics – Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG), Human Toxicity (HTOX) and Human Respiratory (HRSP) – and analyzed 411 goods and services categories to identify those with relatively high GHG, HTOX and HRSP indicators. We selected HTOX and HRSP indicators from 23 different potential indicators because of our focus on indicators that may impact babies’ and young children’s health; GHGs represent climate impacts.
Our analysis suggests that the three commodities with high GHG and human health impacts, likely purchased in significant quantities by local governments are cement, lime/gypsum products, and electricity.
The gold standard for this type of analysis is a sustainability expenditure report, such as the one completed by Alameda County, that contains impact measures and city expenditures. Alameda County quantified environmental impacts, using USEEIO, associated with the County’s financial expenditures, including over 100,000 payment records to vendors by voucher and credit cards.
High-impact purchasing categories, with respect to GHG and human health impacts, were selected by staff for more detailed analysis. This deeper dive highlighted supply chain activities associated with the goods and services procured by the County that drive the most significant impacts, and identified impacts generated locally. This specific and detailed analysis was used to provide strategic information and recommendations to reduce impacts and improve the health and wellbeing of the community.
Interested in learning more? Email Kyra (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a more detailed description of this analysis.
*Jen Jackson is now Branch Chief at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control's Safer Consumer Products Program