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NASA's Recycled-Content Product Procurement

At a Glance

Environmental Attributes:
Recycled-content office products.

Contract Language:
Not available. Products are purchased through the General Services Administration Federal Supply Schedule.

Key players:

Environmental Information Sources:

Since the project's inception, the Langley Research Center has increased purchases of recycled-content products by 500 percent.

Contact Information:
Listed at the end of the case study.

In June 1996, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Langley Research Center (LaRC) began a pilot project called "Affirmative Procurement Model Office." The pilot project was prompted by LaRC's desire to be a leader in environmental purchasing and to comply with Executive Orders (EO) 12873 (PDF) (8 pp, 35KB, About PDF) and 12902, which encouraged the purchasing of recycled-content and energy-efficient products. Since the project's inception, LaRC has increased purchases of recycled-content products by 500 percent.

The Model Office Program

Initially, LaRC chose to focus on "green" office products for its pilot project, and established the following five goals:

Initiating the Pilot

In initiating its model office pilot project, LaRC set up processes for choosing which products to purchase, evaluating their performance, encouraging their use, and tracking and monitoring purchasing activity related to the items.

Identifying a Volunteer Office to Test Products With Recycled Content

LaRC decided to test potential products on a small group of employees to determine which ones would be appropriate for purchase by all of LaRC. LaRC selected its Electronics Branch as the volunteer office because it is typical in terms of the number of people and the mix of office and research functions. In addition, the branch's office manager was particularly motivated to test the recycled-content products. A total of 60 products were tested and evaluated by employees who used them in their everyday work. Products included white paper, stenographer notebooks, computer paper, manila folders, Post-It notes, desk accessories, waste receptacles, recycling containers, and toner cartridges.

LaRC purchased the selected recycled-content products from an office products distributor listed on the General Services Administration's (GSA's) Federal Supply Schedule (FSS). The FSS allows federal agencies to access government-wide contracts that have been established by GSA. As such, agencies can buy products directly from vendors without having to write their own contracts or negotiate prices. LaRC simply ordered recycled-content products directly from the distributor's catalog. No new specifications for recycled-content products had to be written. LaRC ensured that all products purchased met EPA's CPG recommendations.

Evaluating Products and Posting Results

LaRC developed evaluation criteria that the testers used to judge the recycled-content products and compare them to their virgin material counterparts. The criteria included durability, performance, appearance, and cost. The criteria were intended to minimize subjectivity during product evaluation and to force the user to define what is important in achieving product satisfaction. Over an 8-month period, the testers used the selected items and completed evaluation forms. The forms were collected and the results recorded.

Based on the results, LaRC classified each product using the following categories:

Overall results indicated the majority of recycled-content products were as good or better than their virgin material counterparts. Of the 60 products evaluated, 34 were unanimously determined reliable, 22 products were deemed acceptable, and 4 products were considered unsuitable. Reliable products included most folders and notepads. Acceptable items included index cards and envelopes. Items that were deemed unsuitable included plastic covered binders, which reportedly had problems with tearing.

Replacing Virgin Products with Recycled-Content Products

LaRC uses an online "just-in-time" purchasing system that makes ordering office supplies easy and convenient. The just-in-time system simplifies purchases by automating labor-intensive tasks and providing an efficient and accurate means of recordkeeping for LaRC.

LaRC modified the online system based on the results of the product evaluations. "Reliable" products costing up to 10 percent more than the comparable virgin material product replaced the virgin material product in the online system. Now, when a LaRC employee selects a product for which a "reliable" recycled-content substitute is available, the recycled-content product is selected automatically. The purchaser is not given the option of purchasing the comparable virgin material item. Reliable recycled-content items costing more than 10 percent above the cost of the virgin material product are offered in the online ordering system, but are not mandated. "Acceptable" items are offered as both recycled-content and virgin options, and "unsuitable" recycled-content products are not offered at all.

Tracking and Monitoring the Program

After the recycled-content items were added to the just-in-time online ordering system, LaRC began tracking their purchase. Monthly purchase reports indicate the quantity ordered and cost of the recycled-content products.

Lessons Learned

According to LaRC, the key to its environmental purchasing program is education and outreach to employees. LaRC staff have developed customized education materials, a "buy recycled" Web site, a formal training program for facility environmental coordinators, and articles for LaRC's environmental newsletter. Through these and other outreach efforts, personnel are kept apprised of existing and new environmental purchasing procedures and requirements.

The Electronics Branch found the model office pilot project to be a great way to publicize the buy recycled program to all of LaRC. Many people have been convinced that recycled-content products can perform as well as, and sometimes better than, those made with virgin materials. In addition to promoting recycled-content products with its online ordering system, the office has adopted other environmentally preferable practices such as using e-mail to send messages, sharing reports and filing systems, using bulletin boards for announcements, reusing office supplies, and increasing the amount of double-sided copying.

Current Status

All 56 office products found to be reliable or acceptable are still in LaRC's online ordering system and are part of everyday purchases by LaRC personnel. LaRC plans to continue implementing a proactive program and will test and evaluate products as they become available. Currently, LaRC is planning a recycled paint project. In addition, as mandated by EO 13101 (PDF) (11 pp, 97KB, About PDF), all paper available in the system now has 30 percent recycled content.

For more information on LaRC's model office project, contact Kristen Poultney in the Environmental Engineering Office at 757 864-8759.

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