By Alison Taylor
It can be as simple as putting vegetable-based oil in a chainsaw.
Or using non-toxic sprays to remove graffiti. Or even buying and dispensing windshield washer antifreeze in bulk.
Simple purchasing decisions with long-term sustainability payoffs. That’s the goal behind the municipality’s new sustainable purchasing guide, recently adopted as new policy by council.
And though the municipality has been looking at using more environmentally-friendly products over the past five years, the policy solidifies the practice.
“A council policy is a powerful thing,” said Ted Battison of sustainability initiatives at the municipality. “It means every single GM (general manager) in that building is accountable to what’s written in that policy.”
It’s still a long road ahead, admits Battison, but the guide is the proof in the sustainability pudding, so to speak.
“(It’s) a really good sign of how serious the municipality is about the commitment to sustainable purchasing.”
Brent Williston is the purchasing agent at the municipality. A list of about 20 products has been developed to date, ranging from garbage bags to disinfectant cleaners.
“It’s all low-hanging fruit,” said Williston, using the term to describe the easier changes. “They’re all little things that add up to a lot of things.”
Take chainsaw oil as an example.
Greenplus Chain Saw – Bar Oil ES is a vegetable-based oil that is environmentally friendly and safe to use around rivers. If the oil spills on the forest floor, getting exposed to air, it will rapidly biodegrade by natural soil organism.
The green oil roughly is two and a half times more expensive than regular Husqvarna Bar & Chain Oil — $21.65 per four-litre jug compared to $8.95 — but it’s safer around waterways.
“It just became mandatory to use it around any stream or where there was potential to contaminate water,” said Williston.
Trail crews still use the Husqvarna oil elsewhere because of the high cost of the green alternative.
Cost is one of the trade-offs to consider in the sustainability guide. Sometimes the sustainable choice is the cheaper choice.
The municipality now uses a glass cleaner called Redi*Pro Glass Cleaner. Unlike other glass cleaners, this product is ammonia free and is concentrated. It comes in pre-measured pouches, which are mixed with water for the spray bottles. The pouches are made of a biodegradable plastic that dissolves in water.
Compared to Windex, which costs more than $13 for a four litre-jug, Redi*Pro costs just $2.56 for four litres.
Some things, such as the glass cleaner, work just as well as the old product. Other inventions, however, haven’t proved out on the ground.
Williston said road crews in the public works department (now called environmental services) tried using a latex paint that was certified by the Environmental Choice Program to mark Whistler’s roadways.
It was not a success.
“It didn’t last very long,” said Williston. “It was a safety issue as well. It didn’t have the same kind of brightness and durability as the stuff that we’re using currently.”
They have gone back to standard road paint for the time being. But with more communities, corporations and consumers adopting these policies, it’s just a matter of time before the market for the products responds.
Battison explains that Whistler’s sustainable purchasing guide not only points people to the right purchasing choices but also makes them wiser purchasers by asking them to evaluate the products or services through a series of questions and by using The Natural Step framework.
“That’s the capacity building,” he said. “That’s the strength of this approach.”
The guide can be found online at www.whistler2020.ca