DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR TURNS TO GREEN CLEANERS
AS EDITED BY HEATHER DAVIES 8/19/99

Background

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The Department of the Interior (DOI) wants to be taken to the cleaners-the "green" cleaners, that is. In November 1998, in an effort to in an effort to procure RCRA-designated recycled-content and environmentally-preferable products, and to address concerns over the indoor air quality in its Main and South Interior Buildings in downtown Washington, DC, DOI embarked on a quest to initiate a contract for custodial services (e.g., window washing, floor stripping, maintaining restroom supplies) using environmentally preferable cleaning products and supplies. The Department decided to take make environmental preferability a major factor in the selection of the new contractor in addition to 'Greening' language was introduced not only into the Scope of Services. This made for a little more work during solicitation evaluation, but DOI expects that having a contractor who is committed to being "green" will make a big difference in how well this works. The 5-year, $6.28 million award fee contract (including option years), for cleaning 1.5 million square feet of office space, was awarded in August 1999.

Environmentally Preferable Products

In the contract solicitation, DOI established both "mandatory" and "desirable" characteristics for evaluating five categories of cleaning products and additional recycled-content products such as bathroom tissue and paper towels. Mandatory characteristics were rated on a pass or fail basis. Desirable characteristics were those above and beyond mandatory requirements that DOI determined would result in a more environmentally favorable product. In determining which characteristics to require of the products used under the contracts, DOI considered those that were relevant locally (such as prohibiting the use of products that contain 'Toxics of Concern' to the Chesapeake Bay), those that would make a difference to the greater environmental (such as preferring bathroom paper products with a high percentage of post- consumer recycled content and that was deinked/bleached without the use of elemental chlorine), and those that would be healthier for its employees (e.g., cleaners that minimized irritation to the respiratory system, eyes, and skin).

Cleaning Products

In designing its solicitation strategy for chemical cleaning products, DOI first counted the number of cleaning products currently being used in the buildings-19 in all. The DOI team, which included technical staff, building management personnel, and legal representatives, (with technical assistance from EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics) developed the solicitation for the contract in part by reviewing environmental attributes used by the City of Santa Monica, California, in its custodial contracts, as well as EPA/GSA's Cleaning Products Pilot Project and Cleaning Products Wizard. In the RFP, DOI requested bidders to identify by brand name five products they would use, if awarded the contract, in five representative chemical cleaning product categories and to evaluate these products (using the MSDS and other product information) against the Solicitation's mandatory and desirable characteristics. The chemical cleaning products evaluated included: all-purpose cleaner, general degreaser, general disinfectant, floor stripper, and bathroom cleaner.

Even though DOI only evaluated five categories of cleaning products, it required the successful bidder to meet or exceed mandatory criteria for all 19 cleaning products used at DOI. The mandatory characteristics DOI chose included the following restrictions:

  • No Chesapeake Bay Toxics of Concern or EPA 33/50 Program 17 Target Priority Pollutants.
  • No sealed aerosol spray cans.
  • No carcinogens.
  • No hazardous wastes.
  • DOI gave more favorable consideration to bidders who included products in their offers that had the following desirable characteristics:

  • Minimizes skin, eye, and respiratory irritation.
  • Biodegradability.
  • Avoidance of undesirable or unnecessary dyes and fragrances.
  • Recyclable containers and minimization of nonrecyclable waste.
  • Recycled-Content Products

    DOI is fully committed to the goals of the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG), EPA's program that designates recycled-content products for purchase by federal agencies and recommends recycled-content levels for those products. To achieve compliance with this program and exceed its minimum reauirements, DOI required bidders to identify specific brands of recycled-content products meeting the CPG recommendations that they proposed to use under the contract for the following five product categories:

  • Bathroom tissue-minimum 100 percent recovered materials and 50 percent postconsumer content.
  • Toilet seat covers-minimum of 100 percent recovered materials and 50 percent postconsumer content
  • Paper towels-minimum of 100 percent recovered materials and 50 percent postconsumer content.
  • General purpose industrial wipes-minimum of 100 percent recovered materials and 40 percent postconsumer content.
  • Plastic trash bags-minimum of 25 percent postconsumer content.
  • DOI also included desirable characteristics for recycled-content products in its solicitation, which would earn bidders more favorable consideration. These features included the following:

  • No use of deinking solvents containing chlorine or other chemicals listed in the Emergency Preparedness and Community Right-to-Know Act.
  • Additional recycled-content products (e.g., cleaning supply carts, waste collection carts) and use of higher postconsumer recycled-content percentages than those required for the five product categories.
  • The third area of environmental preferability that bidders were requested to demonstrate was their ability to develop and implement strategies to enhance recycling in the building. Bidders were asked to explain how their services would the Department accomplish the following:

  • efficiently collect and manage recovered materials.
  • monitor the volume of waste and recyclables recovered
  • measure the rates of building occupant participation in the recycling program,
  • promote participation and avoid contamination of recovered materials,
  • ensure custodial staff participated fully in these efforts
  • Finally, to help ensure successful implementation of these green efforts, the contract calls for the custodial contractor to have one person identified as the Stewardship Coordinator. The Stewardship Coordinator will be the point person for all environmental performance issues under the contract and will facilitate a Cleaning Stewardship Committee composed of custodial employees as well as building management, and building tenants. The idea for the Stewardship Committee was drawn from the new ASTM Standard: "Stewardship in the Cleaning of Commercial and Institutional Buildings."

    Cost Considerations

    Cost was obviously a consideration as Interior moved forward with this effort. How much more would this environmentally preferable services cost? Well, the outcome was, in the words of the involved legal counsel, "charmed." First, there was good correlation between the way the Technical Evaluation Panel evaluating the cleaning operations plan and that part of the panel evaluating the environmental preferability of the bids: The bid evaluated to be the most environmentally preferable had the best cleaning plan. This bid also happened to have the lowest price of those considered in the Competitive Range. Establishing best value to the Government was not difficult under these circumstances. Finally, and most surprising, the new contract cost projected over the five year full option period will cost about $2.1 million less than the past custodial contract (which was considered pricey).

    Lessons Learned

    DOI has been pleased with the solicitation process and would follow a similar procedure for future environmental purchases. DOI believes that indirect purchasing is often the largest component of an agency's purchases, and that the goals of RCRA 6002 will only be realized when contracts are written or revised to require environmentally preferable products and services. In fact, DOI staff are chairing an interagency workgroup charged with creating model language for revising contracts typically used in government, including (in addition to custodial services): fleet management services; facility operations and maintenance; cafeteria services; construction; space leases; groundskeeping/landscape services; conference services; and waste disposal.

    For more information on DOI's custodial services contract, contact Heather Davies of DOI (202) 208-7884.