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Lessons Learned

Cleaning Products Pilot Project (CPPP)

Project History
Project Status
Lessons Learned

The Cleaning Products Pilot Project is the first pilot project established under EPA's proposed Guidance for Acquisition of Environmentally Preferable Products and Executive Order 12873. As a result, many of the lessons learned could help guide future pilot projects. The following are highlights of some of the most important lessons learned:

Interagency Partnership Works

Interagency teamwork is not always easy due to different agency missions and cultures. In the Cleaning Products Pilot Project, for example, Public Building Service (PBS) officials were originally hoping for a list of environmentally preferable cleaning products that it could immediately begin using in the 7,700 Federal buildings it oversees. At times, PBS officials felt that EPA was taking too long to reach consensus with manufacturers, trade associations, and vendors. PBS officials would have preferred to "just do it" and at times felt that things would have progressed more rapidly without EPA's participation. Similarly, GSA's Federal Supply Service (FSS) was primarily concerned with the demands of their customers -- the federal purchasers -- and feared that some of EPA's technical proposals were too difficult to convey and would be ineffective.

EPA, on the other hand, wanted to accomplish three goals:

Despite these differences, GSA and EPA's collaborative effort produced a more effective and scientifically sound approach to the pilot project than would have been developed if the agencies had acted independently. GSA contributed extensive cleaning product and procurement experience and EPA brought significant scientific, technical, and environmental expertise to the project. As a result, the project developed an approach that successfully meets the objectives of a broad audience, including cleaning product trade associations, manufacturers, unions, vendors, janitorial contractors, and users.

Be Patient as New Stakeholders Are Introduced

One of the unexpected difficulties encountered by the Cleaning Products Pilot Project team was identifying all of the stakeholders. Although attempts were made to identify all potential stakeholders before the project began, new stakeholders appeared at various times throughout its development. Each new stakeholder presented their own understanding of environmentally preferable purchasing and these understandings were not always compatible with the previous consensus. As a result, significant time was spent explaining, defending, and modifying decisions that had been made earlier in the process.

Satisfy the Customer

The customers in the Cleaning Products Pilot Project are Executive agency personnel who purchase cleaning products through GSA. Procedures for identifying environmentally preferable products must be easy for them to follow. Otherwise, the ultimate goal to increase the purchase of such products will not be achieved.

While the environmental attribute matrix was under development, the GSA/EPA team consulted with some of the government purchasers who would be using it. Their input was invaluable. For example, the language used in the catalog to explain how to use the matrix was crafted with the help of purchasing agents. Customer input helped guide the direction of the project and will help ensure its success.

Adopt Well-Defined Objectives and Be Pragmatic

The Cleaning Products Pilot Project has been successful, in part, because the project began with a narrow, but well- defined scope. The project was not designed to develop criteria for evaluating the environmental preferability of all cleaning products purchased by the government. Instead, the team decided to focus on evaluating a particular subset of cleaning products, daily-use general purpose cleaners and 15 degreasers, and identifying specific environmental attributes that would allow purchasers to select appropriate products. Additional cleaning products, such as floor care systems, carpet cleaners, sweeping compounds, and de-icing compounds, were not included in the pilot project because the additional attributes necessary for evaluating their environmental preferability were too numerous to include in one pilot project.

Additional Product Experience Is Important

The information gathered during the Cleaning Products Pilot Project's small-scale Philadelphia pilot project and the RM1 provided an objective framework for comparing the relevant environmental attributes. Direct product experience is invaluable and necessary for adequately understanding the environmental and health and safety issues that must be considered when evaluating a product's environmental preferability. This further illustrates the importance of bringing together a team that includes the product's end user, along with procurement and environmental experts.

Does the Informational (Matrix) Model Work?

One of the earliest debates within the Cleaning Products Pilot Project was whether to use a "green dot" to identify environmentally preferable cleaning products or whether to adopt an informational (matrix) model. The supporters of the "green dot" approach were concerned that customers would not use additional environmental information if it were provided. Initial responses to an informal customer survey suggests otherwise. Customers have found the information "very useful." The GSA/EPA team is continuing efforts to assess the effectiveness of the informational approach through more formal means.

Change Is Slow

At the time this report was written, the GSA Commercial Cleaning Supplies catalog had been available for less than a year. While sales of biodegradable cleaners have steadily increased, they are still only a small part of the overall cleaning products market, even among government customers. Information dissemination is slow because government procurement is so decentralized. One GSA official compared changing the government's procurement procedures with turning the Queen Mary cruise ship in a bathtub, "It's not impossible, it just takes time and patience."

Vendor Cooperation Is Mutually Beneficial

Despite constraints limiting GSA and EPA's ability to gather complete cleaning product formulations, the Cleaning Products Pilot Project succeeded in developing practical and effective methods that allow purchasers to make environmentally preferable decisions based on information voluntarily provided by vendors. While not all vendors cooperated equally, those that provided information for the matrix have enjoyed increased visibility in GSA's Commercial Cleaning Supplies catalog.

EPA's Non-Regulatory Role

While the GSA/EPA team members acknowledge that EPA's involvement with the Cleaning Products Pilot Project was a crucial component in its success, some manufacturers and vendors were reluctant to voluntarily provide product information because of concerns that EPA was preparing to regulate the industry. These fears were alleviated once they understood EPA's non-regulatory role and realized that the project was for their benefit, as well as the benefit of government customers, the general public, and the environment.

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing and Reinventing Government Share Important Goals

The Clinton Administration's Reinventing Government initiative is intended to improve federal government efficiency and responsiveness. Consistent with those goals, the Cleaning Products Pilot Project developed simplified methods that can be used by thousands of federal government purchasers worldwide to identify and buy environmentally preferable cleaning products. The matrix developed by the GSA/EPA team also allows the procurement agents to be more responsive to building tenants, custodial staffs, and local communities' environmental needs.

Government Procurement Flexibility Is Important

One of the most important reasons for the continued success of the Cleaning Products Pilot Project is a recent change in the way in which products and services can be purchased. Under President Clinton's Reinventing Government initiative, federal agencies are allowed to purchase commercially available products. This change allowed GSA to introduce environmentally preferable cleaning products to federal buyers faster than it could have under the previous system. It used to be necessary to develop government specifications for each cleaning product, a process that required significant time and resources. The increased flexibility under the new procurement procedures allows government buyers to immediately switch to environmentally preferable cleaning products.

The additional flexibility has also allowed GSA to expand its role beyond managing government contracts and overseeing supply. GSA is becoming a vital source of product information. GSA's Commercial Products Acquisition Laboratory (CPAL), for example, is currently investigating numerous commercially available products that could be made available to government customers at GSA's discounted rates. The performance and attribute information GSA is collecting will be made available to government customers to help them select products appropriate for their needs. GSA's new role will save federal buyers significant time and money because they will not have to independently collect the information necessary to compare products.

A more general benefit of the federal government's increased purchasing flexibility and emphasis on environmentally preferable purchasing results from the influence the government's purchasing preferences have on the consumer market. The government market is large enough that manufacturers will begin developing additional products with beneficial environmental attributes. These products will also be available to the public, which will result in an increase in the availability and use of environmentally preferable products.

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