United States » Government Contracting » Green Purchasing

Green Purchasing

Government Contracting

Green Purchasing

Various laws, executive orders and procurement regulations now require federal agencies to purchase "green" (bio-based, recycled content, and energy efficient) products. Use the links below to increase your chances of successfully competing for these contracts.

  • Selling Environmental Products to the Federal Government

    Learn how to sell green products and services and compete for government contracts.


The Federal government is the single largest purchaser of goods and services in the United States. In addition to basing its purchasing decisions on the specific missions of each of its agencies, the government is basing its purchases more than ever on environmental impact. Many companies in the private sector currently manufacture products and provide services that pose fewer burdens on the environment. These companies—especially small to medium size companies—have had difficulty accessing the Federal market place, stemming in part from the complex and sometimes arcane Federal acquisition process. Often, companies are uncertain where to begin, or whom to call with questions about selling their environmental products. The purpose of this document is to provide you, the vendor, with information to facilitate access to the Federal marketplace and thereby also increase the availability of environmental products to the Federal government.

In this document you will find information about:

  • The Federal government's efforts to incorporate the environmental attributes of products and services into its purchasing decisions,

  • Answers to some commonly asked questions about selling environmental products to the Federal government,

  • Helpful hints to make it easier for you to market and sell your environmental products to the Federal government,

  • Information about where you can go for help, and

  • Specific information about whom to contact in the major purchasing agencies, the kinds of items these agencies purchase, and ways to make it easier for you to sell to the agencies.

Guiding Principles

Executive agencies, under a presidential Executive Order (E.O. 12873 on Federal Acquisition, Recycling and Waste Prevention) have been directed to identify and give preference to the purchase of products and services that pose fewer burdens on the environment. Federal consumers have been asked to consider the following seven guiding principles when making purchasing decisions. Vendors should consider these principles when assessing the environmental performance of their own products and when providing information to Federal consumers about their products. These guiding principles are:

  1. Pollution Prevention: Consideration of environmental preferability should begin early in the acquisition process and be rooted in the ethic of pollution prevention that strives to eliminate or reduce, up front, potential risks to human health and the environment.

  2. Multiple Attributes: A product or service's environmental preferability is a function of multiple environmental attributes.

  3. Life-cycle Perspective: Environmental preferability should reflect life-cycle consideration of products and services to the extent feasible.

  4. Magnitude of Impact: Environmental preferability should consider the scale (global versus local) and temporal aspects (reversibility) of the impacts.

  5. Local Conditions: Environmental preferability should be tailored to local conditions where appropriate.

  6. Competition: Environmental attributes of products or services should be an important factor or "subfactor" in competition among vendors, where appropriate.

  7. Product Attribute Claims: Agencies need to examine product attribute claims carefully.

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) ensures that environmental considerations are included in purchasing decisions, along with traditional factors such as product price and performance. The EPP program provides guidance for Federal agencies to facilitate purchases of goods and services that pose fewer burdens on the environment.

Common Questions

A number of fundamental questions recur frequently as vendors, especially small businesses, attempt to promote and sell their environmental products to the Federal government. Answers to many of these questions follow below.

Where do I start? Which agencies do I contact and with whom should I speak first? Who are the right people at the agencies to contact about selling my product?

Examine the agency-specific sections of this document that list the products most often purchased by the agencies and important agency contacts. This information also will help you to determine the agencies to contact that may be interested in purchasing your product. You also might investigate the U.S. Business Advisor, which is a one-stop electronic link to all the information and services (including procurement opportunities) provided by the Federal government.

When I do reach the right contact, what questions should I ask and what information should I offer?

Ask the person for a current agency procurement forecast and how to reach the appropriate individuals in the agency departments and offices that use and may purchase your products. With this information, you will be able to market to these individuals directly. Also, ask the person about any procurement programs that the agency may have specifically for environmental products and for small businesses. You should be ready to provide as much information as possible about your product (e.g., environmental attributes, performance, cost, specifications, comparison to comparable products known by the agency) to the various individuals at the agency you are trying to market.

What role does the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) play in Federal procurement?

GSA and DLA are the major supply and purchasing agencies for the Federal government. Each of these agencies manages different kinds of products. GSA manages the majority of common, commercial type items that both civilian and military agencies need to perform their everyday activities; although, GSA also provides some defense-oriented products as well. Conversely, most of DLA's items are defense oriented, with the exception of a few items that also can be used by civilian agencies (e.g., light bulbs). In order to achieve the benefits of economies of scale, GSA and DLA both establish large contracts with vendors on behalf of the entire Federal government. Even though neither GSA nor DLA are mandatory sources of supply, most agencies utilize these sources due to the ease of ordering from them and the usually favorable prices. Therefore, it is to your advantage to explore the possibilities of selling your product through GSA and/or DLA.

What are the different ways GSA and DLA manage their products?

  1. Stock/Inventory Program—Both GSA and DLA use the Stock/Inventory method. Vendors ship large quantities of products to various GSA Distribution Centers or DLA Inventory Control Points (Defense Supply Centers). Customer agencies order through GSA or DLA. The items are identified by National Stock Numbers (NSNs), which are used by the government to identify specific items. In some instances, orders (usually large orders) are forwarded by GSA and DLA to the vendors for direct delivery to the customer agencies.

  2. Federal Supply Schedules Program—Under this program, GSA contracts for products and services at stated prices for given periods of time. Orders are placed directly by the customer agency with the vendor, and deliveries are made directly to the Federal customer. The products are identified and categorized according to their Federal Supply Classification (FSC), which is a system used to classify all the different products used by the Federal government, and some have NSNs assigned.

  3. New Items—Products that are new to the supply system may be put on GSA's New Item Introductory Schedule after initial review for classification. After a three-year period, if sufficient demand has been demonstrated, the item will be transferred to either the stock or the Federal Supply Schedule programs. DLA will put new items, that are in the categories that they manage, into their inventory program if there is demand for the items from military activities.

How do I get my product into the GSA or DLA supply systems?

For the GSA supply system, contact the nearest Business Service Center (BSC) listed in the GSA section of this document. For the DLA supply system, contact the appropriate Defense Supply Center listed in the DLA section of this document. Individuals at these centers will assist you with determining the appropriateness of your item relative to the demand, as well as applicable specifications and/or standards. They also will assist you with completing any necessary paperwork.

What are the Commodity Centers and how do they differ from the Business Service Centers?

The BSC's primary role at GSA is to provide information and guidance about contracting opportunities with GSA. The Commodity Centers perform the actual contracting and related functions (e.g., soliciting bids and entering into contracts). Each of these Centers has responsibility for specific kinds of items (e.g., office supplies and paper products, paints and chemicals, tools and appliances, furniture, etc.).

Are there any marketing efforts required for products that I sell through GSA and/or DLA?

If your products are placed in GSA's stock or DLA's inventory programs, normally, there is no further marketing on your part that is required. However, if your products are placed in any kind of schedules program, it is to your benefit to aggressively market your products to all civilian and military consumers, especially, if your product is new or if there are similar, competitor products under contract.

You can market your product directly to the various agencies that may purchase your product. Refer to the contacts identified in the agency-specific sections of this document. The best marketing strategy is a multi-tiered approach that utilizes the advantages of GSA and DLA and also involves direct marketing and communications with Federal consumers that may purchase products from sources other than GSA and DLA, and possibly making direct purchases using government credit cards.

How do I get on an individual agency's bidders list? What forms do I need and how do I get them? Where can I get help on filling out the forms? Is there a way to expedite the process?

Each agency contact will be able to provide you with a Solicitation Mailing List application (Standard Form (SF) 129) that, when completed and returned, will place you on that agency's bidders list. The agency contact may be able to assist you in completing the form and any other necessary paperwork. Each agency's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) will be able to provide a SF 129 and assist you with its completion. The best way to expedite this process is to contact the appropriate OSDBU and ask if you can receive and complete the SF 129 electronically or by fax. The Small Business Administration (SBA) maintains the Procurement Automated Source System (PASS), which is a nationwide database of small businesses seeking prime contract opportunities with the Federal government and subcontract opportunities with large businesses that have their own prime contracts. Listing in PASS is free by calling (800) 231-PASS (-7277).

In order to be most efficient in my marketing, I'd like to find out what agencies purchase and which agencies might use products similar to mine. How can I find this out? How can I keep informed about opportunities to sell products to the Federal government?

There are several sources available to provide you with information on how much of a certain product agencies use and plan to use in the future. The OSDBU contact at each agency can provide you with procurement forecasts for the agency. Agency procurement forecasts are for large contracts and procurements (excluding purchases of less than $100,000 and credit card purchases) that the agency predicts will occur in the next fiscal year. GSA's Federal Procurement Data Center can provide you with a report of what each agency (civilian and defense) has purchased directly from the GSA schedules in the previous fiscal year. The contacts listed on each agency-specific section of this document also can direct you to the appropriate people and offices that purchase products similar to yours and can provide you with information on how much of that product the agency uses and plans to use in the future. The most effective way to stay informed about opportunities to sell to the government is to complete an SF 129 for the appropriate agencies, maintain agency contacts, contact your local GSA BSC, and check the Commerce Business Daily (CBD) regularly. The Helpful Hints section of this document provides information on receiving the CBD and finding it on-line.

What is E.O. 12873 and how can it help me market my products?

Executive Order 12873 "Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention," (Federal Register, Page 54911, October 20, 1993) promotes waste prevention, recycling, and energy efficiency in the daily operations of Executive agencies and promotes the acquisition and use of environmentally preferable products and services by each Executive agency. E.O. 12873 is raising the awareness of Federal consumers with respect to environmental products and, therefore, can help you in your efforts to promote and market environmentally-oriented products to the Federal agencies.

What are preference programs? Do environmental products enjoy any special, formalized advantages among products offered to Federal agencies?

Federal agencies encourage participation in procurement and contracting activities through preference programs for:

  1. Small businesses that meet small business size standards for their industry;

  2. Small disadvantaged businesses that are at least 51 percent owned by one or more socially and economically disadvantaged individuals or stockholders; and

  3. Women-owned small businesses.

Regarding environmental products, Federal agencies provide purchasing preferences for products containing recovered materials, which are designated by EPA under RCRA section 6002. To date, EPA has designated 24 items in seven product categories, including paper, vehicular, construction, landscaping, transportation, park and recreation, and office products. Agenies are required to purchase EPA-designated items "to the maximum extent practicable," considering price, performance, and availability. While there is no formalized Federal policy on providing price preferences for products containing recovered materials, some Federal agencies may choose to adopt their own unofficial price preference policy for these products (e.g., by soliciting only for such products).

Helpful Hints

GSA and Other Allies

There is no one strategy that is best to use in marketing your product or in determining which agencies might use your product. GSA is an effective avenue for small businesses to market and sell their products, but it should not be the only avenue used. Keep in mind that getting your product listed in one of GSA's schedules will not ensure sales. As in marketing to any other potential buyer, you should employ as many options as possible in marketing your product to each agency and finding out the agencies that are most likely to buy your product. In this way, you can help to create demand for your product on the part of agencies that are buying from the GSA schedules.

GSA's 12 Business Service Centers (BSCs) may assist your company with its marketing strategy by placing your product in the GSA catalog. The first step is to contact the nearest GSA BSC to fill out the necessary paperwork to have your product considered for listing in the GSA supply system. The next step is to contact the appropriate individuals at each agency to ask for their assistance in obtaining a procurement forecast for the agency and to ask for their help in identifying the appropriate offices and individuals at the agency that may be interested in buying your product. You should also contact GSA's Federal Procurement Data Center to request a report on what products each agency buys. This report will include forecasts for large (i.e., more than $100,000) purchases. Finally, you should talk to as many contacts as possible and send out marketing material to these contacts to help them learn about your product. Refer to the section of this document on individual agencies to obtain lists of agency contacts and phone numbers.

Small businesses also should contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) at each agency. These offices can provide information on what each agency purchases, the appropriate people to contact, and special programs for small businesses. Refer to the section in this document on individual agencies, which lists the contacts and phone numbers for each agency's OSDBU.

Some small businesses with limited experience selling to the Federal government have chosen to work with larger or more experienced companies that will work as a distributor for their products. Advantages to this approach include benefiting from the guidance and Federal sales experience that a distributor may be able to provide, as well as from existing Federal contracts that the distributor may have under which your product could be promoted. Potential disadvantages include a loss of flexibility and another party with whom you must share your profits.

Complying with FTC Guides

As indicated at the beginning of this document, Federal consumers are being required to consider the environmental impacts of the products and services they purchase. To effectively market your products to these individuals, you should provide the information necessary to assess the environmental impacts of your products accurately and completely. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published Guides for ensuring that environmental claims are appropriately used in the context of product marketing. You must ensure that any environmental claims that you make about your product (e.g., recyclable, low VOC, CFC-free) comply with the FTC Guides for use of Environmental Marketing Claims.

The FTC Guides establish four general principles for environmental marketing:

  1. Clarity and prominence of qualifications and disclosures;

  2. Clarity about whether claims apply to the product, package, or components of either;

  3. Avoidance of overstating environmental attributes and claims; and

  4. Presentation of comparisons in a manner that makes the basis for the comparison sufficiently clear.

The FTC Guides also provide guidance on the appropriate usage of the following categories of claims:

  • Claims of general environmental benefits;

  • Claims that the product is "degradable," "compostable," or "recyclable;" and

  • Claims of "recycled content," "source reduction," "refillable," or "ozone safe/ozone friendly."

You can obtain a copy of these Guides from the FTC Web site or from the FTC Public Reference Branch (202) 326-2222.

Small Business-Small Purchase Set-Aside Programs

Small business-small purchase set-asides are small purchases (generally less than $100,000) that use simplified procurement procedures to target the procurement to a specified type of vendor (e.g., small business) or organization. The purpose of set-asides is to ensure that the small disadvantaged and women-owned business community receives a fair share of government contracts and is afforded the opportunity to grow and prosper. You should contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) to have them assist you in determining if your business qualifies as a small business. Next, contact the OSDBU at the agencies with whom you plan to market and sell your product and ask them if the agency has any small business-small purchase set-aside programs planned for the fiscal year. These programs may provide your company an immediate marketing and selling opportunity. The SBA's Office of Government Contracting' Web site with "hot-links" to other Federal agencies. The site also has information for small businesses seeking government contracting opportunities.

Financing the Sales of Your Environmentally-Oriented Products

Like most companies in a growth mode, yours might require financing for new equipment, or perhaps more likely, accounts receivable and inventory. Several firms with whom we spoke during the development of this document recited a similar theme: financiers will be hesitant to lend money for a product - environmentally oriented, or otherwise - with little or no track record. In the face of this reluctance, you must develop a thorough and well-conceived marketing plan, complete with realistic sales projections. The plan must make clear the value of the product, not only in environmental terms, but also in basic business terms.

The most appropriate type of financing (e.g., term, line of credit) will depend upon both the purpose of the loan and the overall financial strength of your business. For term loans, your best starting point is a commercial bank. Should the bank require some type of guarantee, you might seek financing through SBA's standard "7(a) Loan Guaranty Program."

For inventory and accounts-receivable financing, you might consider a commercial finance company, or a commercial bank with a unit or subsidiary that specializes in asset-based lending. A listing of asset-based lenders is available from the Commercial Finance Association (225 W. 34 th Street, Suite 1815, New York, NY 10122; (212) 564-3490; http//www.cfonline.com/cfa.htm).

Should your prospective lender require a guaranty, you might seek line-of-credit financing under SBA's CAPLines Loan Program. You should be aware, however, that this is a new loan program with which many lending institutions are unfamiliar. For a listing of participating lenders in your state, contact the SBA (check the blue Government pages in your telephone book for your local SBA District Office) or call (800) 8-ASK-SBA.

    For free advice on:

  • How to craft your business plan;

  • The appropriate type of financing for your particular situation; or

  • Any other aspect of your business planning needs; you should visit your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). To locate the nearest SBDC, you may call the Association of Small Business Development Centers ((703) 448-6124).

Finally, many states have financing programs, including grants, for economic development activities. For example, the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance actively seeks in-state vendors for participation in its grant program. Depending upon the location of your firm, and the type and amount of financing needed, you might qualify under one or more of these programs. To find out what is available in your state, you should call both your state department of commerce and your state environmental agency.

The Commerce Business Daily

The Commerce Business Daily (CBD) is published every weekday (excluding Federal holidays) by the Department of Commerce. The CBD lists proposed government procurement actions (generally in excess of $25,000), subcontracting leads, sales of surplus property, and foreign business opportunities. Proposed procurement actions appear only once in the CBD, unless revisions are made to the procurement notice and terms, and potential suppliers generally have 30 days to respond.

To review current copies of the CBD, visit your local GSA BSC, an SBA office, a Department of Commerce field office, or your local public library. To receive a subscription to the CBD, write to the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. The cost of the CBD is $325/year (first-class) or $275/year second class. Some services offer to send you the CBD over e-mail at a cost of approximately $200/year.

Selling Environmental Products

There are many resources available to assist you in selling your environmentally-oriented products to the Federal government. Many of these resources are identified in the agency-specific and Helpful Hints sections of this document. This section identifies other resources and points of contact that will be able to assist you in your efforts.

Small Business Administration

As indicated elsewhere, the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a wide array of helpful resources. In addition to the specific resources mentioned elsewhere, SBA provides numerous loan, financing, and procurement assistance programs. SBA can also provide information on the three basic procurement methods (simplified acquisition, sealed bid, and negotiated procurement) used by the Federal government.

SBA provides a wide array of consulting, information, and advocacy services for small businesses. Some of the key items on this menu of services are:

  • Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs):

    The 56 state and territorial SBDCs, along with over 900 sub-centers, provide both management and technical assistance to small businesses, in addition to the consultation on financing discussed previously in this document. SBDCs are operated in cooperation with universities and colleges, as well as the private sector and state governments. In addition, SBDCs use paid consultants, consulting engineers, and testing laboratories from the private sector to help clients needing specialized expertise (e.g., process engineering, analytical, or accounting services).

  • Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE):

    SCORE matches volunteers with small businesses that need expert advice (e.g., related to legal, marketing, engineering, retail, and financial matters). These 12,400 volunteers, including previous Federal employees, in over 400 offices share their management and technical experience with small businesses. This service is offered one-on-one and is free.

    • Procurement Center Representatives (PCRs).

      SBA has PCRs stationed at many Federal installations, both military and civilian, that have major buying programs. For the names and locations of PCRs in your area, contact SBA.

      Additional details about these organizations, as well as numerous other SBA resources, can be obtained through:

    • SBA Answer Desk (800) 8-ASK-SBA

    • Electronic bulletin board (800) 697-4636

    • SBA Home Page

    • U.S. Business Advisor

Procurement Technical Assistance Program

The Procurement Technical Assistance Program is a Department of Defense program administered by the Defense Logistics Agency. Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs), which may be co-located with SBDCs, assist small businesses in selling their products and services to local, state, and Federal agencies. PTACs assist businesses with marketing, financial, production, contract administration, electronic commerce, electronic data interchange, and quality assurance. This service is generally free, and may be provided one-on-one. PTACs provide information about prior Federal contract awards (e.g., successful bidders, product type and specification, quantity, and price), guidance on military, Federal, and industrial specifications, and information about trade fairs. A list of PTAC offices is available by calling the DLA Headquarters OSDBU or by going to their Web site http://www.dla.mil/db/procurem.htm Exit Disclaimer.

Directory of Small Business Information Providers

This resource provides a directory of 66 different small business information providers. For instance, Minnesota Project Innovation, Inc. (MPI), which is a PTAC, is identified as a resource for businesses in Minnesota. MPI's charter includes "assisting businesses in successfully bidding on Federal, state, and local government contracts" as well as "maximizing the receipt of Federal funds by high technology companies."

The Directory of Small Business Information Providers can be accessed on their Web site http://www.lowe.org/.

Agency Specific Procurement Informatio

These agencies were included in this document because of the large volume of procurement with which each is involved. Included are: products most often procured (total dollars, as reported by GSA's Federal Procurement Data Center); individual purchasing offices; procurement contacts; and information resources available from each of the six agencies. This information is provided to assist you in determining what products each of the agencies buys and how to effectively market your products to these agencies.

This document provides agency-specific procurement information and contacts for the following agencies:

The full text of Selling Environmental Products to the Federal Government (PDF) (26pp, 1.1 MB, About PDF)

Share This Page With Your Social Networks

Other Articles Related To Government Contracting

Quick Navigation

Green Purchasing