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Public procurement is a complicated process. Adding an increased focus on environmentally friendly products only increases the complexity. This is something I know firsthand as Director of Custodial Services for Davis School District, located in Farmington, Utah. That’s why it is critical that you understand the procurement process and that your suppliers have a clear understanding of what you are looking for.

Follow the Rules

Every school district, university, and state have their own procurement policies, rules, or laws. You must follow whichever is the most stringent regarding the specific purchase you are making. There are also additional rules that you must comply with if you are using federal money. Below are a few areas that can cause issues when purchasing something innovative, new to your district, or environmentally friendly.

If there is nothing like the product you are purchasing on the market, then it is considered a “sole source procurement.” This can be a very difficult process in public procurement. Along with securing the best possible price, it is the responsibility of public procurement officers to encourage competition. Because of this, there can be many additional steps to verify that all suppliers are given an opportunity to be considered before a contract can be put into place or you are permitted to regularly buy a product that will exceed the small bidding amount (cumulatively over one year). For example, in Utah, all sole and single source procurement of this type must be publicly advertised for a minimum of five days and all suppliers are given an opportunity to dispute the validity of that single or sole source claim. The procurement officer then needs to disprove every claim before the single or sole source supplier can receive the award. Frequently, a supplier or manufacturer will offer a letter from their company stating that their product is the only one that preforms in a specific way and that they are the sole supplier of the product. Beware that this type of documentation may not be accepted as a sufficient alternative to the required procurement process.

Most procurement codes look at performance specifications over technical specifications (unless those technical specifications can be tied back to better performance). Therefore, it is very important that you identify both technical and performance specifications. Let’s use an example in which you are presented with two machines that perform the same basic function. Each uses a different type of metal for a specific structural component. Unless you can prove that one metal outperforms the other, in this application, you cannot legally use the difference in metal types as the justification for disqualifying one supplier and selecting another. It is critical that the specifications you provide the procurement officer or the supplier (depending on your role) are very clear, detailed, and ascertainable. A procurement officer or supplier is only as good as the specifications they are provided.

Do Your Research

There are a number of factors to consider when looking for products to reduce your impact on the environment (and your budget). A few of these are:

  • Does the product carry a third-party certification from a reputable organization?
  • What is the amount of packaging that you disposed of (what is the cost of that disposal)?
  • Is it possible to buy a product locally to avoid the high environmental cost of transporting materials?
  • Have you talked with others using the product to verify that it works as advertised?
  • What is the lifecycle of the product (not just the warranty but the lifecycle)?
  • Are replacement components available (if applicable)?
  • What is the power usage of equipment? Does the equipment use water or chemicals and if so, how much?
  • Would a partial or complete change in process be more beneficial?

All these factors should be considered in the bid process. Be sure your procurement officer knows and understands before securing bids how each relates to decreasing overall costs and improving performance or longevity.

As more consumers demand environmentally friendly products there are an increasing number of products being represented as “green” without having any efficacy to those claims. It is extremely important to consider third-party certifications such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC® C012337) which certifies wood products and all of our Natural Pod furnitureGreen SealUL ECOLOGO, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safer Choice. These certifications can provide peace of mind and ensure that you are getting what you think you are getting.

Green Procurement Tools and Resources

There are many tools and resources available to help you transition your program into one that focuses on health and the environment. Here are a few from widely respected organizations.

  • EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools focuses on teaching you tried and true actions to improving air quality in schools with little or no added cost to your program.
  • EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Division also offers Master Class Professional Training webinars which cover important actions to mitigate building environmental health concerns in cost effective ways.
  • EPA’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) webinars provide a tremendous amount of information on how to initiate and maintain an effective green IPM program in your school.
  • Healthy Schools Campaign’s Green Clean Schools 5 Steps to Green Cleaning provides a simple and easy-to -use guide on how to update your program to focus on cleaning for student and staff health and the environment.
  • Healthy Schools Campaign’s Educational Track at the ISSA/INTERCLEAN Convention brings industry leaders together to provide schools with tools and information about how to implement a successful green cleaning program.
Going Green in the Davis School District

The Davis School District started moving toward a green cleaning program in May 2014. We involved many stakeholders such as students, parents, teachers, and administrators, as well as our New Construction, Environmental Maintenance, Risk Management, Distribution, and Nutrition Services Departments and the Davis School District School Board. In the last four years, we have made vast changes to a program that had no real green initiatives. We started by analyzing where our program was deficient and which areas would have the largest impact on student and staff health, the environment, and our budget. Some of the first areas where we implemented changes were in paper consumables, pest management, HVAC filtration, hand washing, custodial equipment, staff training, facility custodial assessments, and general use cleaning chemicals. We used the tools and resources noted above and looked at third-party certifications such as Green Seal, UL ECOLOGO, and EPA Safer Choice.

One example of a very successful change we made was to shift from using the standard chemical stripping method for VCT tile to the dry strip method.  Prior to updating our process, the district used the standard chemical stripping method once a year for all VCT floors. This process was very costly in labor, materials, and environmental impact. In addition to being time consuming and cumbersome, this method resulted in dangerously slippery floors which, in turn, led to a high number of injuries.

We analyzed several different chemical strippers that were less hazardous, looked at specialized footwear to prevent slips and falls, tested new equipment that promised better results without chemicals, and analyzed different vacuum systems to keep particles out of the air. We approached suppliers with our concerns and let them propose different solutions. We talked with neighboring school districts about their process for stripping VCT. We looked at the cost and possibility of replacing VCT with a different product altogether (one that does not require aggressive stripping). We contacted our partners at EPA and Healthy Schools Campaign-Green Clean Schools for suggestions.

After several months of testing we implemented a new dry method that utilizes a square buffer with an attached vacuum (with an SPP pad) that enables us to get along edges and corners with very little extra work required. Now we scrub the surface with the square buffer (with an SPP pad) and without additional stripping agents, verify the edges are completely stripped of the old wax, treat the floor with a neutralizer and two additional rinses with clean water, and then wait until the floor is dry before applying new wax.

Previously we would use about twenty gallons of water, six non-reusable rags, two packets of neutralizer, one non-reusable mop head, one gallon of chemical stripper, one brown floor pad (about ½ of its lifecycle) and four hours of labor per classroom. Now the process uses approximately 8 gallons of water, one SPP pad (about ¼ of its lifecycle), two packets of neutralizer, and 45 minutes of labor per classroom.

The change in our floor care process resulted in a 95% decrease of chemical floor strippers (from 504 gallons in 2014 to 28 gallons in 2017), the average cost to strip a VCT classroom has decreased by 82% (from $236.50 in 2014 to $42.75 in 2017), slip and fall injures are down substantially, and it is safer for our staff and the students. This change alone resulted in a tremendous savings with respect to the cost of the supplies and labor involved while simultaneously allowing us to raise our standard of quality, which directly effects the health and safety of students and staff.

Final Thoughts

Change is never easy, especially when it comes to procurement. As you go about implementing a green procurement program in your school, remember to:

  • Research new products and processes thoroughly before committing.
  • Talk with your procurement officer early to head off possible problems later in the procurement process.
  • Tell your suppliers and/or manufacturers what you are aiming to accomplish (often times they will have ideas that you never considered for how to reach that end result).
  • Talk with industry leaders about how they transitioned their programs to protect health and the environment.
Author Bio

Shawna Cragun has been with Davis School District for 11 years and serves as the Director of Custodial Services. She oversees 665 employees who protect the health of 72,500 students and 8,000 staff members while managing 102 buildings with a combined 10.5 million square feet of floor space. She also serves as President of the Utah School Custodial Managers Association and as Spotlight Spokesperson for EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Division. Shawna was named “2018 Outstanding Administrator of the Year” by the Utah School Employees Association and received the Green Cleaning Award for Schools and Universities’ 2018 Silver Award.

This article was originally published with our partners at the Green Schools National Network and republished here with permission.