Environmentally Sustainable Procurement Policymaking Project

Join the Environmentally Sustainable Procurement Policymaking Project to see the power of government purchasing and help procurement policymakers overcome challenges in implementing environmentally sustainable goals. The project will introduce students to innovative problem-solving by examining specific policy implementation challenges in the area of environmentally sustainable government procurement and by providing a methodology for addressing problems through hands-on instruction, customer discovery, and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Students from across GW’s biology, law, business, international studies, public health, public policy, anthropology, and engineering programs are invited to participate. Students will hear about the challenges of implementing environmentally sustainable policies from leading policymakers and practitioners in the field. With the assistance of faculty and staff coaches, students will form small, interdisciplinary teams to propose a solution to problems presented by non-governmental organizations, the private sector, or federal agencies. The winning team(s) will share $5000 in cash prizes. All participants will learn the value of undertaking field investigation to understand the practical barriers to achieving mutually agreed upon goals and to solve real-world problems.

Schedule of Events

Project Kickoff: Friday, February 7

8:30 - 9 am: Breakfast

9 - 10:30 am: How To Think Like An Innovator

Dr. David Gallop, Director of the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) Leadership Center and lead instructor of DAU’s Hacking for Defense, explains how to use agile and iterative development methods to solve a real-world, complex problem in a framework that is desirable, feasible, and viable. Key skills include listening to and asking questions of the “customer” (i.e., the affected stakeholders, experts, practitioners, and policymakers). This active learning session will give students an opportunity to practice ways to frame hypotheses, design questions, and test assumptions in preparation for the two-week “customer discovery” project.

10:30 am - 12:30 pm: Challenges to Implementing Big Ideas (Lunch included)

10:30 am:

  • Zachariah Becker, President, High Street Consulting
  • Nate Mook, Executive Director, World Central Kitchen

11:30 am:

  • Mathew Blum, Associate Administrator, OMB OFPP
  • Jed Ela, Senior Advisor, Sustainable Supply Chains, GSA
  • Michelle Moore, CEO, Groundswell
  • Cynthia Vallina, Senior OMB Energy Analyst

Policymakers and NGO and corporate leaders present problems that arise when implementing policy related to environmentally sustainable government procurement and seek help from students to craft solutions.  Stories will come from their experiences in 

  • efforts to innovate technology to collect data and improve food delivery to local survivors during federal disaster relief efforts
  • agency policymaking designed to mandate or encourage government contractors to reduce emissions 
  • financing to retrofit federally-owned buildings to meet energy savings goals

The stories will include challenges related to human resources, cost, organizational inertia, communication with external and internal stakeholders, technology, data reliability, regulatory burden, congressional oversight, etc. Students will have an opportunity to ask probing questions and at the end of the panelists’ presentations, and then choose the problem they will focus on during the Ideation Session and Customer Discovery. 

1 - 5 pm: Ideation Session and Lunch (Innovation+Entrepreneurship Lab, 2000 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 7th Floor)

Faculty/staff coaches help students form interdisciplinary teams of 4-6 and then huddle in breakout rooms to brainstorm solutions to the problems presented by panelists. Thereafter, each group will identify at least 20 stakeholders to interview during the customer discovery portion of the project.    

Panel Participants

  • Zachariah Becker, High Street Consulting
  • Mathew Blum, Associate Administrator, Office of Federal Procurement Policy
  • Jed Ela, Senior Advisor, Sustainable Supply Chains, General Services Administration
  • Nate Mook, Executive Director, World Central Kitchen
  • Beth Newsom, Attorney, BAE Systems
  • Cynthia Vallina, Senior Office of Management and Budget Energy Analyst

Customer Discovery Interviews: March 2 - 12

Teams that formed and participated in a brainstorming session at the Project Kickoff on February 7, will spend the first week testing the ideas they generated through an iterative interview process with stakeholders. On the Saturday after the first week of interviews with experts, practitioners, and policymakers, students will return to their faculty/staff coaches to report on interview results, test assumptions, and push the boundaries of their ideas. The teams will then decide on a single idea they will pursue during the second week, refining that idea with stakeholders in the broader community engaged in environmental sustainability. On Thursday, March 12, students will turn their interview results into a Pecha Kucha video storytelling presentation. Final videos will be due at 8 pm. Faculty/staff coaches will vote to select the top five presentations.

Competition Finals:

April 3 (via livestream)

6 - 6:30 PM

Five groups will present their Pecha Kucha videos and respond to questions from the panel of judges (15 minutes max). Cash prizes totaling $5000 will be awarded to the team demonstrating the most effective implementation of the customer discovery problem-solving process.


  • Barbara Humpton, CEO Siemens USA (invited)
  • Alan Morrison, Lerner Family Assoc. Dean for Public Interest and Public Service, GW Law
  • Dr. Michael Wooten, Administrator, U.S. Office of Federal Procurement Policy (Invited)

About Sustainable Procurement

What is Sustainable Procurement?

A process whereby organizations meet their supply and services needs by a means that achieves value for money on a whole-life basis, generating benefits not only to the organization, but to society and the economy, while maintaining balance among the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental. Benefits include expanding markets for goods and services that support environmentally sustainable development, serving as a model for other consumers, and offering standards and information for use by others.  

What are examples of environmentally sustainable procurement requirements?

The U.S. Government has compiled extensive data on vendors and products that offer improved environmental sustainability and requires that all contract actions and purchases comply with statutory requirements for environmentally sustainable purchasing.  California’s “Buy Clean” initiative will set detailed standards for decarbonizing (reducing the gases that cause climate change) the state’s purchases of many products, such as cement and steel, and Japan has followed a similar path in its “Green Purchasing” initiative.  A 2010 report from the U.S. General Services Administration suggested three ways to leverage public procurement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

  • Qualification: By favoring procurement with “green” vendors, i.e., those moving most aggressively to assess and reduce emissions.
  • Minimum Standards: By requiring that vendors meet minimum standards for decarbonization in the goods and services they offer the government.
  • Competitive Advantage: By weighing decarbonization in awarding public contracts and giving a competitive advantage to those offering the best decarbonization solutions – whether before award (in the evaluation process) or after (in incentive fees, for example).

Why are policies designed to achieve sustainable procurement so difficult to implement?

The U.S. government has incorporated aspects of sustainability into its procurement policies over the last 20 years, but implementation remains a challenge.  Hurdles can generally be grouped in terms of measurement, data, organizational inertia, and cost. Nongovernmental organizations and contractors that seek to partner with public sector purchasers to improve environmental sustainability often find the myriad of public sector purchasing regulations to be excessively complex and restrictive. A successful public procurement initiative provides not just direct improvements in sustainability, but also products, methodologies, and rules that can transfer to the rest of the market. Rapidly worsening environmental challenges make implementation of workable sustainable procurement policies imperative.