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Green Public Procurement and New Technologies

Jonathan Brun


Una Jefferson: So would you begin by just telling me a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Mark Heilig: Absolutely. I’m the Director of Operations for Globe Performance Solutions which is a division of a not-for-profit Globe foundation of Canada, based in Vancouver, known for the Globe conference and trade show series held every two years for over 25 years.

Our division focuses on validation of environmental technologies and independent third party verification of performance claims. We focus on the technology side of the house. One of our key missions is to help accelerate the market adoption of innovative green technologies, helping developers of new technologies enter the marketplace through independent third-party verification of their performance claims. We’ve been doing that through ETV, Environmental Technology Verification. We have been operating ETV in Canada, originally through the Environment Canada’s program known as the Canadian ETV program. That officially transitioned into an international standard, for environmental technology verification. That standard is known as the ISO 14034 and that’s specifically for environmental technology verification. We conduct all of our verifications in accordance with this new global standard .

Una Jefferson: It seems like one of the areas that you guys work in is helping governments who are trying to run environmentally friendly procurement programs, a municipality, for example, helping them evaluate the risks associated with new technologies. The area of environmental technology is a very fast evolving field. There are lots of new disruptive technologies coming out all the time. To what extent do you think governments have been able to evaluate the risks associated with new environmental technologies in the past?

Mark Heilig: I definitely think there is that challenge of municipalities looking at investing in new infrastructure, new technologies, and not being familiar with innovative technologies that actually perform and are very effective. Past experience has shown that specifically procurement programs that have been very successful in a specific industry is where there’s a protocol that has been established for that particular technology. It creates a level playing field for vendors and also helps a municipality compare a different technology or the same type of technologies but from different vendors.

To give you an example, in the area of stormwater management devices, we’ve seen a lot of success and benefits for municipalities, where a specific technology test protocol was developed known as the procedure for laboratory testing of oil-grit separator devices. That’s specifically one type of technology for stormwater management that was developed for the Canadian ETV program several years ago, but it is being used by municipalities as a benchmark or as a requirement so that when they accept new vendors of technologies those technologies must be tested in accordance with the procedure for laboratory testing of oil-grit separators. What we’re finding is that that has really helped those cities and regional districts to identify and compare the technology. We’re finding that it reduces the risk and they’re now in a better position to evaluate one technology over the other because there are key parameters that have been tested. So cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Ontario have implemented that requirement as part of their green procurement process or their procurement process for oil-grit separator devices. We have jurisdictions such as the entire province of Quebec which essentially requires that vendors and developers follow that particular test protocol. And so that’s really been instrumental. There is street sweeper test protocol for example, that was developed for and by the city of Toronto. So when they procure or purchase a new fleet of street sweepers all the vendors contending or the ones that they’re being evaluated, they need to have gone through a specific test protocol before they’re considered. They need to be ETV verified. And so that again, I think is where we see municipalities being proactive. Their Procurement programs have been able to eliminate the risks for the purchase of new technologies has been reduced.

Una Jefferson: So when you say a test protocol, this is a protocol for verifying whatever claims it is that a manufacturer makes about their product, but it’s up to the manufacturer to identify the parameters that are important as compared to a certification, right? Do you think government decision-makers have the information to identify which parameters are important?

Mark Heilig:  Well, I definitely think that individual municipalities, and this is based on our discussions with municipalities, they have obviously core teams that work closely together with the procurement side of the house. So they do have the expertise, whether it’s in house engineers or external consultants that they engage to help them in that procurement process. What we find is that the knowledge and the expertise is there to evaluate technologies on an individual basis and also to understand what those parameters are and where the risks are, but where there’s potential risk or where there’s a bit of a disconnect is that we don’t see a harmonized approach from one municipality or one region to another. So for example, let’s say the city of Vancouver has a group of engineers and consultants working on evaluating a particular technology that might be quite different from what another city in Canada is doing. I would say the expertise exists, it certainly exists because there are engineers, highly qualified technical professionals that work in conjunction with procurement departments, but we see that there are differing approaches. What we’re ultimately also looking at is how can these procurement processes and practices be harmonized to a certain degree. Obviously recognizing that each region or each city or municipality has a different need or requirement. So that’s where we see challenges and that’s also been recognized.

Una Jefferson: So just to clarify what you mean by this unharmonized approach to testing the claims. So let’s say a manufacturer makes a claim that they have a filter that will filter out x per cent of a certain contaminant. You’re saying that different municipalities will take different approaches to test whether that claim is true?

Mark Heilig: Municipalities that have seen a lot of success with reducing risk and as part of their procurement process are implementing the need for ETV. For example, if you have a set testing protocol that has been established, that industry agrees upon, you have manufacturers that are required to use that testing protocol to conduct testing and that test and data and the performance claims arising from that testing activity is then considered for ETV and is used by the municipalities, that’s where we see the most benefit, when there’s a harmonized approach, where a group of municipalities will say, we require ETV and we require the vendor of this particular technology to have undergone testing in accordance with a particular protocol. That’s where we see a standardized approach, a harmonized approach. It makes it a lot easier to compare one technology to the other.

In the absence of a test protocol, they would test according to their own understanding of what is important, what parameters are important. You may have technologies that are similar, but if each technology has been tested in a slightly different way or certain different parameters are being examined, it makes it very difficult for the purchaser of that technology to compare whether one technology performs better than the other. And so that’s where we’re looking at a two-fold approach, with a test protocol in place and at the same time, similar practices being implemented across municipalities, procurement practices, that’s where we see the greatest success in reducing risk and advancing the adoption of innovative technologies in the marketplace.

Una Jefferson: So to be clear, I guess the overall negative outcome of an unstandardized approach to testing or verifying claims of technology is that municipalities might not necessarily select the best technology that’s on the market. Is that a fair characterization?

Mark Heilig: Well, what I would say is in the absence of ETV and having that standardized approach there is often a tendency for procurement officer to look at a select group of technologies, the kind of the tried and true approach where they see that these are the technologies that have been used in the past, there might be a certain brand name associated with that. And so there’s that comfort level of using and employing particular technologies that are already well known, but at the same time, what that might result in is overlooking newer technologies that perform in a superior, manner.

I would say that is potentially a drawback where it’s easy to go with what you’re familiar with. But when you have a system in place where you have the ability or the opportunity for newer and innovative technologies to be tested and verified, then they’re able to actually compete with some of the other products and technologies that are already recognized in the market. By virtue of having more information about what technology really helps advance green technologies and reduce risk in the marketplace.

Una Jefferson: We’ve been talking about this so far in terms of municipalities responding to advances in green technologies, but I’m wondering whether green public procurement programs, which a lot of large municipalities and countries have, whether these types of procurement programs have been able to drive advances in environmental technologies. Also, are there any barriers that exist to this type of push coming from green public procurement programs?

Mark Heilig: Well, I think our experience has shown that by having a strong or solid procurement approach within a municipality, like a green procurement approach, that really helps to advance and improve existing technology.

I can cite an example specifically with regards to stormwater management and the oil-grit separators. So by having the requirement for the oil-grit separator technologies to be tested and verified in accordance with ETV and also based on the test protocol, what we found is that it really brings the industry together to meet a certain level or a certain standard of quality. But more so, once you have a protocol in place, it also results in regular updates and regular review of these key procedures. What we’ve seen with respect to oil separators and the procedure for laboratory testing of oil separator technologies is that on a regular basis there is a review, the industry provides feedback to municipalities and to key stakeholders. The procedure has been updated, there’s been updated bulletins on a regular basis that may tweak certain procedures. That ultimately leads to an improvement in the review of technology and if you go down the line, then vendors or developers of that technology ultimately adjust and improve their technologies in accordance with that. So we see that it actually helps the process that’s really helping improve the technologies that are out there. By having an established test protocol and then ETV requirement, it really fosters that environment of regular review and updating which leads to an improvement in the green technology.

Una Jefferson: Where do you anticipate this standardized ETV method for verifying environmental claims from technology be most useful in the future? Is there a business case where there is not a public requirement, as in Quebec, for example, that ETV is met?

Mark Heilig: To the first point of your question, I probably look at the growing importance of ETV with respect to climate change, with respect to our desire as Canadians globally, to support the global clean economy. Where I see ETV playing a big role is really in larger projects, hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars invested by municipalities or companies, private industry.

Una Jefferson: Is that just because it’s a resource-intensive process, but the stakes are high when you’re spending so much on technology?

Mark Heilig: Absolutely. So if the municipality or even a private company were to purchase a technology that is a low investment, or where the stakes are relatively low, then you see that ETV is not always useful. I mean it provides tremendous value to understand and to have confirmation that the technology works and performs in accordance with performance claims. But once you’re using public funds or large corporate funds to invest you, you obviously need to assure and be assured that the technology performs accordingly. And so where we see a large potential and specifically with respect to resiliency, whether it’s flood prevention, earthquake or infrastructure development.

Also, specifically related to climate adaptation, we recognize that there is a change in climate and we need to adapt accordingly, whether it’s due to higher tide levels or more rainfall or less, all of these phenomenon tie into adaptation to climate change. And so that’s where we see a lot of potential where investment in these types of technologies will be key to ensure that as we move forward investing in climate change adaptation technologies that the technology performs. Other areas where technologies will need to be implemented are renewable energy , energy consumption, Arctic permafrost melting.

So from a policy approach, we would really see a strong tie to some of the initiatives that even at the Federal government level are being put into place. Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada, plays a large role in science and innovation. That’s where ETV can play a key role in helping support the development of innovative technologies. Canadian technologies that ultimately are used not only within Canada, at a domestic level, but beyond Canadian borders, helping our innovators succeed in the domestic and the international market.