Jump to main content.

Session 5: Public/Private Partnerships

Wednesday, July 16, 1997
4:15-5:30 pm



To promote the procurement and use of EPP within the Federal government, actual examples of partnering between the government and environmental entrepreneurs were presented and discussed by those directly involved. These partnering efforts focus on introducing "environmentally preferable products" into daily use by Federal agencies. The mechanics of entering into such partnerships, advantages to both sectors, and lessons learned were addressed. Mr. Zehnders began the session by underscoring the importance of public/private partnerships in introducing environmentally preferable purchasing principles. "These partnerships," he explained, "can provide both government and industry with useful information."

Speaker 1: Steve Ashkin, Rochester-Midland Company

Steve Ashkin explained that his company, Midland Corp., a chemical specialties company that produces major commercial cleaning products, worked very closely with a cleaning subcontractor to the General Services Administration (GSA) at a GSA-managed facility in New York City. Their efforts drastically reduced the number of health complaints from building tenants caused by the cleaning products being used by the cleaning subcontractor. The improved environmental performance helped GSA win a White House Closing the Circle Award.

Rochester-Midland has been manufacturing environmentally preferable cleaning products for the last 20 years because it was a way to help the environment and also differentiates their products from their competitors! He repeated some lessons learned when he participated in an international conference on Green Public Purchasing. The two most important lessons were that environmentally preferable issues vary from one product category to the next and from region to region. As a result, it was concluded that it is impossible to identify the environmentally preferable issues for every product category, but that it was possible to discuss the overall process for identifying environmentally preferable products.

Mr. Ashkin introduced the "Green Spiral" to explain the process for selecting environmentally preferable products. The spiral includes:

  1. Project Leader--finding a committed person to lead the project. This position may be different for each organization.
  2. Defining "Green Good"--identify a product category and begin defining what it means for that product to be green.
  3. Criteria & Methodology--review existing product information and develop a "wish list" that includes the environmentally preferable attributes the product should have. Identify test methods for each criteria, and a working model for products and categories. Ask yourself, "Does the criteria meet the definition of EPP?" then decide how to treat the criteria.
  4. Data & Information--gather additional information on each product's environmental attributes.
  5. Select the product--select the product or products that appear most promising.
  6. Pilot Projects--test the products in real world applications and track their performance. Are they better than what you were using? Remember failure is okay, and offer rewards and incentives. Also, track performance.

Rochester Midland defines environmentally preferable products as "...products that reduce impacts on human health and the environment when compared to similar products used for the same purpose...." Mr. Ashkin placed great emphasis on the word "compared." He explained that this is a capitalist system and that no matter how "green" a product might be, if it doesn't work, it isn't going to be used.

Mr. Ashkin demonstrated the environmentally preferable purchasing process in action by detailing a pilot project that took place in a GSA managed government building. GSA was receiving complaints from the tenants that the cleaning products were making them ill. GSA evaluated several options and decided to initiate a pilot project on 3 floors of the 43 floor building to test some Rochester Midland products. GSA found that the products performed well. Cleansing staff found that they could use less product, and the number of complaints were drastically reduced. As a result, the pilot was ended early and the product was used throughout the building. According to Mr. Ashkin, everyone benefited. GSA reduced its complaints and received a White House Closing the Circle Award for their use of an environmentally preferable product and Rochester Midland increased sales.

"Pilot projects are the way to go!" according to Mr. Ashkin. They minimize the risks because if it doesn't work, it is easy to stop, but if they work, they can be rapidly implemented across the board. He suggests establishing a controlled experiment; documenting all results, including taking photos and writing reports to demonstrate any successes; and understanding that it is alright to fail.

To summarize the importance of pilot projects, Mr. Ashkin asked the audience to remember his P3 motto: pilots, pilots, pilots. For additional information, contact Stephen Ashkin at 716 336-2308.

Questions & Answers for Mr. Ashkin:

Q: I'm familiar with the GSA/EPA Cleaning Products Pilot Project, are they looking at putting things on their list of environmentally preferred products other than cleaning products?
A: (Ashkin) Well, it's not really a list of environmentally preferred products. It is a list of attributes that allows purchasers to decide which are environmentally preferred. There really isn't any such thing as an environmentally preferable product because what is environmentally preferable in one region might not be environmentally preferable in another.
A: (Tom Murray) Tom Murray introduced himself as an EPA employee who worked on the cleaning products pilot project and explained that GSA is currently working on a similar list of attributes for paint.

Q: Does Rochester Midland identify environmental attributes for their products?
A: (Ashkin) Yes, most definitely. It is a big marketing tool. Rochester Midland provides brochures and software to help compare the environmental attributes of their products and those of their competitors.

Q: Why doesn't the federal government have approved products lists like many of the states?
A: (Ashkin) You just can't do it. You can identify the process for identifying environmentally preferable products, but the actual products will differ from region to region.

Q: How can we do this kind of thing? It doesn't ever seem to work for us.
A: (McPoland) Fran McPoland introduced herself as the Federal Environmental Executive, a position created by President Clinton to oversee federal agency implementation of Clinton's buy-recycled and environmentally preferable purchasing initiatives. She explained that the conference has a "matchmaking" display next to the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing booth that will help put manufacturers and government agencies in contact with one another. She also explained that Rochester Midland has been successful because they are so persistent. They are successful not just because they make good products, they are successful because they are always there. That's what it takes to make it. According to McPoland, they are persistent without being too aggressive.

Q: Are there any databases of pilots? How do we know if we are duplicating efforts?
A: (Russ Clark) Russell Clark introduced himself as an EPA employee working with the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Program. He explained that EPP is working on a web site that will list all of the products and case studies. He also explained that it will include a generic case study outline that will give people the opportunity to write and submit case studies online.

Q: "Why should the government purchase green? Many of the so-called "green" products I see aren't guaranteed to work. Why should I risk failure or punishment, and how can I be sure that these products work? (from GSA purchasing agent)
A: (Steve Ashkin): Newer technologies will hopefully allow all "green" products to be tested and guaranteed. Green products also offer any organization (public or private) many significant benefits (cost, environmentally-friendly, etc.). Test green products by starting a small pilot -- if it works, you can be confident in the product, and if it doesn't, don't purchase the product on a large scale. And don't be afraid to fail -- you can't wait for people to say these products are guaranteed -- you can do a little research and make an educated decision on any green product.

Q: "Is there anything being done today to organize a set of consistent standards for EPP products throughout the country?
A: (Steve Ashkin) "Not really, since different regions require different standards. I am opposed to a series of national standards or regulations for EPP products, because that will restrict the growth of EPP."

Speaker 2: Ron Buckholt, Alternative Agricultural Research and Commercialization Corporation (division of USDA)

Ron Buckhalt is the Marketing Director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Alternative Agricultural Research and Commercialization (AARC) Corporation. AARC lends money to small, private companies who are attempting to market innovative non-food, non-feed products made from agricultural materials or animal by-products.

Mr. Buckhalt played a 10-minute video that provides a general overview of AARC and showcase some of the manufacturers and products with which AARC is working. The video, entitled "Venture Capital for Bio-Based Products," explained that AARC was created by the 1990 Farm Act to find other uses for agricultural goods and to promote new crops and new products. The video provided a brief history of unique agricultural products, including a soybean plastic automobile first introduced by Henry Ford. The video also provided quick insights into a variety of companies that AARC has invested in, including companies making:

Additional information is available on AARC's web site [http://www.usda.gov/].

After the video, Mr. Buckhalt reiterated that AARC is not providing grants, but start-up capital that must be repaid by the companies receiving the funds. He also discussed several additional products, including an ethanol-based product that is being used to clean Air Force plane windows and a compostable oil absorbent being used throughout the Department of Defense.

The biggest deterrent to success, according to Mr. Buckhalt, is that many government purchasing agents, like their private-sector counterparts, are reluctant to take risks and try new products. He would like to see a government price preferential for AARC products to encourage their use, but there have not yet been any regulations.

Questions & Answers for Mr. Buckholt:

Q: Does AARC only invest in small businesses?
A: (Buckhalt) We do now. Nothing requires us to, but early on we worked with a large paper manufacturer, Weyerhauser, to manufacture corrugated boxes from wheat straw and we caught a lot of flack. Now, we only invest in smaller companies.

Q: Does AARC give money for research?
A: (Buckhalt) Not for product research. AARC does provide funds for market research to help companies learn how to promote their products, but only after the product has been developed and looks promising.

Q: How do you know if a company will survive?
A: (Buckhalt) AARC does a lot of research. Every company applying for funds must have a 5 year business plan. AARC consults with private reviewers who review the market plan, the technology, and the likelihood for success. There is a thorough investigation into each company before AARC invests in it. Each company has to have a large potential market and must persistently promote their product.In bringing the session to a close, Mr. Zehnders provided a quick summary of the meeting and reminded everyone that federal purchasing is important because it can drive or change markets. He also repeated the need for people to persistently market their products to both the federal and private markets. Persistence is the key.

Top of page

Return to 1997 EPP Symposium Notes Table of Contents

Local Navigation

Jump to main content.