Green Purchasing to Reduce Toxic Hazards and Procure Safer Products:

Best Practices for Pollution Prevention in New York


In recent years, government agencies, businesses and healthcare institutions in New York City (NYC), New York State (NYS) and across the country have adopted environmentally preferable purchasing policies and practices to reduce the purchase of hazardous chemicals and materials of concern such as phthalates and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) in products and building materials. In the following fact-sheet, we summarize some key examples that schools and government agencies in NYS can build from and expand upon, to inform their own purchasing policies.

NYC and NYS purchase greener computers, save New York taxpayers over $100 million annually
Since 2007, New York State Office of General Services (OGS) has required all computers purchased by state agencies to meet federal green electronics Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) criteria. This has led to the purchase of more environmentally preferable computers and at the same time has realized significant cost savings for NY governmental agencies. This program saves New York taxpayers over $100 million annually, has led to the reduction of over 30,000 pounds of toxic chemicals and also led to significant energy savings, equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to power 16,756 US households. The NYS 2008‐09 aggregate buy enabled government agencies across the state to purchase computers that meet the highest standard in the country for reduced toxics use: the EPEAT Gold standard, plus 7 criteria include the reduction or elimination of heavy metals, flame retardants, short chain chlorinated paraffins, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. i The PVC-free criteria requires that suppliers meet the following criteria, “Large Plastic Parts Free of PVC. In all covered products, except cables and interconnect parts, parts greater than 25 grams shall not contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC).” ii The statewide aggregate buy even enables local municipalities, such as New York City, to also purchase the greener computers off of state contracts. NYC has separately adopted regulations to eliminate the purchase of electronics that contain lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls or polybrominated diphenyl ethers.iii

NYC reduces purchase of hazardous chemicals in office supplies
New York City has been working to reduce the purchase of products like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and chlorine-bleached paper that form hazardous dioxin to implement NYC Local Law 120 of 2005.iv ,v In January 2012, the NYC Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) announced it is working with Staples to reduce the purchase of PVC office supplies by city agencies. MOCS Director Marla Simpson testified at a City Council hearing that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and, “MOCS have also met with Staples, the vendor that holds the requirements contracts for all City office supplies, in order to increase the sale of non‐toxic and PVC‐free products. While the City may purchase very small quantities of other types of products that contain PVC, we have targeted office supplies as the area where our purchasing quantities, though small relative to the market, are more than negligible. The Staples contract is a requirement contract, meaning that it encompasses all of the City’s office supply needs and we do not purchase such products through other means…But already, based on the usage information that we have collected from Staples, we have been able to move City agencies toward the purchase of PVC‐free and other environmentally preferable products. DCAS and Staples are working to establish more detailed shopping lists to guide agency users. Once these are finalized, the City will conduct additional educational efforts to inform buyers on their use, and how to ensure that they select the environmentally friendly options.”vi

In 2012, MOCS also adopted new environmentally preferable purchasing rules, which requires the City’s purchase and use of paper to be process-chlorine free, to reduce the release of hazardous dioxin.vii

NYC and NYS reducing use of PVC and VOC’s in Carpeting
New York City and State government agencies have begun to make progress in reducing the purchase of hazardous chemicals of concern in building materials. In March 2012, DCAS issued a request for bids for a new NYC carpet contract. This multi‐year, multi‐million dollar contract states that all carpets sold to NYC must be completely PVC‐free. The specifications specially state that, “the Contractor shall ensure that all products, carpeting (Broadloom or Tile), interior finishes, trim, decorative materials, and adhesives submitted for consideration are free of PVC (polyvinyl chloride).”viii Similarly in 2010, the NYS Interagency Committee on Green Procurement tentatively approved new specifications for carpeting that do now allow PVC in carpet fiber and facing, and also shows preference for carpet backing that is PVC-free. The specifications also restrict volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions and shows preference for carpet backing that does not contain styrene butadiene latex.ix NYS developed these procurement criteria to implement a guidance policy encouraging all NYS agencies to consider avoiding 85 chemicals of concern in products purchased by the state.x,xi

NY institutions installing greener bio-based flooring materials

Healthcare institutions and schools across New York and the country in recent years have taken steps to reduce the use and purchase of hazardous chemicals of concern in products and building materials. A major focus in recent years has been on flooring, as vinyl flooring often contains and releases hazardous phthalates into the indoor environment. Safer and more sustainable materials like bio-based linoleum are widely available and environmentally preferable.xii,xiii Two examples of institutions in NY that have made the switch in recent years are the Maimonides Medical Center and SUNY Oneonta.

Maimonides Medical Center, one of the largest independent teaching hospitals in the nation and located in Brooklyn, committed to avoiding vinyl flooring and instead specified bio-based linoleum flooring throughout a 9‐story, 100,000 sq. ft. hospital addition, and 50,000 sq. ft. of related renovations in 2007. The hospital chose to use linoleum flooring to improve indoor air quality, reduce the use of hazardous cleaning products, and achieve a more “natural” aesthetic. The colorful linoleum patterning received positive feedback, especially in the pediatric wing, and staff also found that it was softer and quieter. The institution is also realizing cost savings as maintenance costs were reduced, with a 3‐5 year expected payback accounting for higher upfront costs.xiv

SUNY Oneonta has also had success utilizing linoleum flooring over vinyl. The university installed over 30,000 square feet of linoleum flooring for a Science Building. A key driver for the school was to find a product that was more sustainable but perhaps more importantly could hold up from significant wear and tear in a Science building. According to a university official, colleges are second only to prisons in terms of the wear and tear their space is put through. They found that in recent years, VCT/vinyl flooring systems have not been performing as well as they’d like from significant foot traffic and use on campus. The university asked custodians to perform extensive tests on linoleum samples to make sure it would hold up from use in the building under real life conditions. Janitors were encouraged to run desks across it, drop hammers, pour chemicals, and try to deface it. After conducting this testing, the janitors concluded the linoleum would perform well even under intense use. As a result, the school installed linoleum on four floors throughout the Science building, including corridors, classrooms, offices, and laboratories. One official from the university that worked on the project noted they were very happy with the appearance of the flooring. “The old tag that linoleum doesn’t hold up doesn’t hold with me,” he said. “I love the colors and patterns. It’s been terrific.” Since installation in the Science building, the university has expanded the use of linoleum in other buildings on campus. The official noted that it’s important, like any material, for it to be properly installed. Thankfully, their architecture firm was very helpful in making sure it was installed properly.xv

Large NY architectural firm adopts model precautionary list to reduce toxic chemicals in buildings
Architectural firms nationwide are working to specify less toxic products and chemicals in building materials. Perkins+Will, a large architectural firm based in NYC and with 21 offices around the world, has adopted a “precautionary” list of chemicals of concern to “to highlight chemicals, which are listed by government agencies as having negative health issues and the classes of building materials where they might be commonly found, while offering available alternatives in an effort to push the building industry to embrace healthier buildings.”xvi The list features 25 chemicals, including PVC and phthalates, broken into typical building categories such as wood treatments, indoor air quality, ozone depleting gasses and heavy metals. Each entry describes the chemical and provides links to vetted government databases, such as California`s Proposition 65 list, which catalogs chemicals and their known health hazards. The Perkins+Will Precautionary list also highlights where the chemical is or may be found in specific building products and provides alternative product suggestions when available. The firm states that, “It is our belief that products that are harmful to humans, animals, and the environment should not be used in our projects, and to that end, we seek to inform our clients of available alternatives so as to permit them to make informed decisions.”xvii The firm’s list is a good starting point for schools and government agencies to model their efforts on.

Healthcare institutions nationwide collaborate to purchase greener products
Across the country, many of the largest group purchasing organizations (GPOs) who together, represent over $135 billion annually in purchasing volume, are working collaboratively to buy less hazardous products through a nationwide Greening the Supply Chain Initiative. One of their most notable projects has been the development of Standardized Environmental Questions for Medical Products, to create an industry standard for evaluating the sustainability of medical products.xviii It is a set of supplier questions that can be used in the procurement process for medical products to identify environmentally preferable products. The questions cover key areas of concern in packaging, manufacturing, use, and the end-of-life of medical products based on environmental priorities in health care. Among the questions, they are asking their suppliers whether or not their products contain hazardous chemicals of concern such as PVC, phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), flame retardants, and mercury.xix They have all agreed these questions will be asked on contracts pertaining to medical products. These include: Amerinet, Inc., HealthTrust Purchasing Group, MedAssets, Inc., Novation LLC, and Premier healthcare alliance. These organizations collectively represent over $135 billion in annual purchasing volume.xx



Leading businesses phasing out hazardous plastic in products and packaging

In response to environmental health concerns associated with PVC, many of the world’s biggest Fortune 500 companies have committed to phase out PVC and switch to safer materials. The following is a sampling of companies that have developed policies to reduce or phase out the use of PVC in products and/or packaging.

Athletic Shoemakers

Automobile Interiors
Daimler Benz
General Motors

Building Materials & Furnishings
Carnegie Fabrics (wall covering, upholstery)
Firestone Building Products (roofing membranes)
Herman Miller (office furniture)
Milliken (carpet)
Shaw (carpet)

Consumer Products & Packaging
Body Shop
Bristol Myers

Crabtree & Evelyn
Estee Lauder
Helene Curtis
Hennes & Mauritz (H&M)
Honest Teas
Johnson & Johnson
Limited Brands (Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works)
SC Johnson

Hewlett Packard

Food Packaging
Dean Milk Chug brand
Eagle Brand Cremora Brand
Federated Groups

Abbott Laboratories
Baxter International

B. Braun
Catholic Healthcare West
Kaiser Permanente
Tenet Healthcare Corporation

Bed, Bath & Beyond
Best Buy
Sears Holdings
Toys “R” Us

Big Toys (playgrounds)
Early Start
First Years
Lamaze Infant Development
Lego Group
Little Tykes



For more information, please contact:

Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)
212.964.3680 /


Funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Environmental Conservation




i NYS OGS. 2010. First Annual Progress Report on State Green Procurement and Agency Sustainability. Online:
ii EPEAT. Computer Display Criteria. Online:
iii NYC Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. 2012. EPP Adopted Rules. Online:
iv New York City Local Law 120 of 2005. Online:
v NYC Council Committee on Contracts. 2005. Report of the Governmental Affairs Division. Online:
vi Marla Simpson, Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. January 27, 2012. Testimony of Marla Simpson, City Chief Procurement Officer and Director of Citywide Environmental Purchasing, Before the City Council Committees on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management and Contracts: Compliance With Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Laws.
vii NYC Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. 2012. EPP Adopted Rules. Online:
viii NYC DCAS. February 22, 2012. Bid Title: Carpeting: Broadloom & Tile, To Furnish & Install. Bid No: 1200017. Section 8.5.
ix NYS OGS. 2010. Carpeting:
x Executive Order No. 4 Interagency Committee on Sustainability and Green Procurement. 2010. Consideration of Chemicals in the Development of Green Specifications. Online:
xi Preliminary Worksheet on Chemicals for Consideration in Green Procurement. Online:
xii Lent, T., Silas, J. and Vallette, J. 2009. Resilient flooring & chemical hazards – a comparative analysis of vinyl and other alternatives to health care. Arlington, VA: Health Care Without Harm. Online:
xiii Dubose, J. and Labrador, A. 2010. Sustainable Resilient Flooring Choices for Hospitals – Perceptions and Experiences of Users, Specifiers and Installers. Online:
xiv Lent, T., Silas, J. and Vallette, J. 2009. Resilient flooring & chemical hazards – a comparative analysis of vinyl and other alternatives to health care. Arlington, VA: Health Care Without Harm. Online:
xv Telephone interview between Mike Schade, CHEJ and SUNY Oneonta official. May 12, 2011.
xvi Perkins+Will. 2009. Press Release: Perkins+Will Unveils Its Precautionary List. Online:
xvii Perkins+Will. 2013. Transparency. Online:
xviii Practice Greenhealth. 2013. Greening the Supply Chain Initiative. Online:
xix Practice Greenhealth. 2011. Standardized Environmental Questions for Medical Products, Version 1.0. Online:
xx Practice Greenhealth. 2013. Standardized Environmental Questions for Medical Products. Online: