An official website of the United States government.

This is not the current EPA website. To navigate to the current EPA website, please go to This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2021. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work. More information »

Sustainable Marketplace: Greener Products and Services

Department of Interior Focuses on Cleaning Products

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) recognizes the importance of a clean working environment that also is healthy and safe. In November 1998, in an effort to procure recycled-content 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 make environmental preferability a significant factor in the selection of the new contractor and included "greening" language in the solicitation. The 5-year, $6.28 million contract (including option years) for cleaning 1.4 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 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 the mandatory requirements and that DOI determined would result in a more environmentally favorable product. In determining which environmental characteristics would be mandatory under the contract, DOI considered those that were relevant locally (e.g., prohibiting the use of products that contain "Toxics of Concern" to the Chesapeake Bay) those that would make a significant environmental difference (e.g., preferring restroom paper products with a high percentage of postconsumer recycled content that were not deinked or bleached using elemental chlorine), and those that would be healthier for its employees (e.g., cleaners that minimize 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 products in all. The DOI team, which included technical staff, building management personnel, and legal representatives, developed the contract solicitation in part by reviewing environmental attributes used by Santa Monica, California, in its custodial contracts, as well as the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA's) cleaning products pilot project and the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) cleaning products wizard. In the solicitation, DOI requested that bidders identify five products by brand name in five representative chemical cleaning product categories that they would use if awarded the contract. These categories included: all-purpose cleaner, general degreaser, general disinfectant, floor stripper, and bathroom cleaner. Bidders were required to include material safety data sheets or other product information to substantiate claims made about the products.

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 with the following desirable characteristics:

  • Minimal skin, eye, and respiratory irritation.
  • Biodegradability.
  • Avoidance of undesirable or unnecessary dyes and fragrances.
  • Recyclable containers and minimization of nonrecyclable waste.

Recycled-Content Products and Other Environmental Attributes

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, 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 product categories:

  • Bathroom tissue - minimum 100 percent recovered materials and 20 percent postconsumer content.
  • Toilet seat covers - minimum 100 percent recovered materials and 40 percent postconsumer content.
  • Paper towels and general purpose industrial wipes - minimum 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 any other chemicals listed in the Toxics Release Inventory in the manufacture of paper products.
  • No use of chlorine or chlorine derivatives in bleaching processes for paper products.
  • 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.

In addition to their ability to provide environmentally preferable chemical cleaning products and recycled-content products, bidders were requested to demonstrate their ability to develop and implement strategies to enhance recycling in the building. Bidders were asked to explain how their services would help DOI accomplish the following:

  • Efficiently collect and manage recovered materials.
  • Monitor the volume of waste and recyclables recovered.
  • Measure the rate of employee 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 contractor to have one person identified as the Stewardship Coordinator. This individual 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 of the Stewardship Committee was drawn from the new ASTM standard E-1971, "Stewardship in the Cleaning of Commercial and Institutional Buildings."

Cost Considerations

Cost was obviously a consideration as DOI moved forward with this effort. Staff wondered if services they deemed environmentally preferable would cost more. As it turned out, the bid selected as the most environmentally preferable also had the best overall cleaning operations plan. In addition, the same bid had the lowest price of those under consideration. Establishing best value to the government was not difficult under these circumstances. Finally, as an added surprise, the new contract cost projected over the 5-year, full option period will cost significantly less than the previous custodial contract, mainly because the contract is written to be performance-based. For example, instead of vacuuming every day, the contractor will vacuum only when carpets are dirty.

Lessons Learned

DOI was pleased with the solicitation process and would follow a similar procedure for future environmentally preferable purchases. DOI believes that incorporating requirements for environmentally preferable purchasing into service contracts is critical to the realization of the affirmative procurement goals of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Executive Order (EO) 13101, and other environmental purchasing mandates, since these types of contracts have a large indirect purchasing component. In fact, DOI staff members are chairing the interagency workgroup charged with creating model language for revising service contracts typically used by government including fleet management services, facility operations and maintenance, cafeteria services, construction, space leases, groundskeeping and landscape services, conference services, and waste disposal. In addition, DOI feels it would be an enormous benefit to integrate environmental attributes into GSA Advantage, so that it would be clear to purchasers what products they should be buying to comply with RCRA or EO 13101.

For more information on DOI's custodial services contract, contact Heather Davies of DOI at 202 208-7884 or