• Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

Biobased Procurement at the NASA Kennedy Space Center


National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has championed the use of biobased products, going beyond the basic compliance requirements set forth in Executive Order (EO) 13693. In this study, you will learn about the actions taken by NASA managers, the decisions that they made, the challenges faced, their upcoming plans, and the lessons that have been learned. It makes sense that KSC would be first in class in implementing biobased products, because everything NASA does is founded on ingenuity. From the historic 1969 space ship launch that brought Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon to the final touchdown of Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011, KSC has had a long and exciting history of space exploration. The mission continues as NASA works on the Space Launch System (SLS), promising to bring astronauts into deep space. All the while KSC has become a leader in biobased procurement, using the renewable resources available here on earth to further their missions to space.

What is Biobased?

Biobased products are commercial or industrial products that are composed in whole, or in significant part, of plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials. Commercially available biobased products include such things as bioplastics, oils, lubricants, cleaners, degreasers, shampoos, soaps, inks, carpeting, disinfectants, electronic components cleaners and disposable cutlery. To promote the development and use of biobased products, in 2002 Congress established the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) BioPreferred program. The program includes mandatory purchasing requirements for federal agencies and their contractors and a voluntary labeling initiative for biobased products. From meager beginnings and just five product categories, by 2015, the program had expanded to include 97 product categories covering approximately 14,000 products.

New products are in the pipeline and will be added to the BioPreferred program, which will continue to grow over time. The program has been successful in its aim to “spur economic development, create new jobs and provide new markets for farm commodities.” As of 2013, it is estimated that the biobased products industry contributed $369 billion to the U.S. economy and employed four million workers. To learn more about the BioPreferred program, visit the Tool Box section of this website.

Why Biobased?

Biobased purchasing contributes to a bioeconomy that promotes the use of sustainable resources to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil and to support rural America.  According to a report submitted to USDA entitled, “Why Biobased? Opportunities in the Emerging Bioeconomy,” authors Jay Golden and Robert Handfield define the bioeconomy as “the global industrial transition of sustainably utilizing renewable aquatic and terrestrial resources in energy, intermediate, and final products for economic, environmental, social, and national security benefits.” While the term “bioeconomy” may seem contemporary, biobased products formed the basis of the U.S. economy up until the 20th century. Agricultural resources have a long history of use for non-food purposes such as energy, clothing, and shelter. Only after the development of transformative technologies in the past century did petroleum-based products become feasible and increasingly cost effective, replacing their biobased predecessors.

Today, the U.S. economy remains petroleum-based, yet there is a renewed interest in the bioeconomy. U.S. dependence on foreign oil has significantly contributed to the push for biobased alternatives. The energy crisis in the 1970s prompted real concern for energy security which has only increased in the post-September 11th era. Political instability in the Middle East continues to cause oil supply and price fluctuations. Environmental concerns and climate change awareness has spurred research into fossil fuel reduction and the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In a 2015 report “An Economic Impact Analysis of the U.S. Biobased Products Industry: A Report to the Congress of the United States of America,” it is estimated that the use of biobased products displaces about 300 million gallons of petroleum per year, the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road.

The same economic impact report defines the major modern sectors of the bioeconomy as agriculture and forestry, biorefining, biobased chemicals, enzymes, bioplastic bottles and packaging, forest products, and textiles. The report most notably found that the biobased products industry contributed to four million American jobs, added $369 billion to the U.S. economy, and had a job multiplier of 2.64. This means that for every one job created in the biobased industry, 1.64 more jobs are created.

A History of Federal Engagement

This displacement of the bioeconomy with the petroleum-based economy occurred despite the efforts of small group agriculturalists, scientists, and industrial leaders in the 1920s-40s who actively sought to develop new, non-food uses for existing crops; to develop new farm commodities useful to industry; and to find profitable uses for various agricultural wastes and residues. Notable pioneers of biobased products include George Washington Carver and Henry Ford. Carver developed hundreds of non-food uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes in the early twentieth century and Ford established a research laboratory devoted to finding new industrial uses for farm crops. Research at Ford’s laboratory focused on the soybean and by 1931 researchers had developed enamels, lubricants, and plastic car parts derived from soybean meal. In 1940, the Federal Government also took up research efforts, establishing four regional research laboratories devoted to “the industrial utilization of agricultural resources.” World War II spurred increased funding to the laboratories because of shortages in raw materials due to wartime demand. However, in the years following the war, advances in oil refining and drops in oil prices led to the rise of the oil economy.

These research labs established by USDA in 1940 were just the beginning of federal interest in the bioeconomy. The 1938 Agricultural Adjustment Act established the Western, Eastern, Northern and Southern Regional Research Centers, which are now a part of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Since their inception, the centers have developed many uses and applications derived from agricultural products. 

Sixty years after the regional centers opened, Congress passed the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000. The legislation reignited public sector involvement in the development of a bioeconomy. Congress designated USDA and the Department of Energy (DOE) as the lead departments and instructed them to cooperate and coordinate policies and procedures that would “promote research and development leading to the production of biobased industrial products.” Two years later, the 2002 Farm Bill (see Toolbox) extended the previous act and provided $75 million to USDA for six years to support biomass research and development. The 2002 Farm Bill also established mandatory biobased purchasing requirements for federal agencies. A biobased product was defined as “a product determined by the Secretary to be a commercial or industrial product (other than food or feed) that is composed, in whole or in significant part, of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials (including plant, animal, and marine materials) or forestry materials.” The program was reauthorized in 2008, expanded in 2014, and purchasing requirements were reaffirmed in Executive Order 13693. Though federal investment in product research, development, and demonstration was previously directed primarily to USDA and DOE, the purchasing requirements established by the Farm Bills and Executive Orders require other federal agencies to become more actively involved.

One indicator of progress in biobased product use across the Federal Government is found in a review of the GreenGov Presidential award nominations. The awards were established in 2010 to “celebrate extraordinary achievement in the pursuit of President Obama’s Executive [Orders] on federal sustainability.” Since the program began, there have been over forty GreenGov award nominations that highlight biobased activities from a total of twelve different federal agencies: the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Commerce (DOC), the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Interior (DOI), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the General Services Administration (GSA), NASA and USDA.

The GreenGov award nominations provide evidence of a wide-variety of biobased practices across the agencies. Many of the agencies, including HHS, DoD, DOI, NASA, and USDA, introduced biobased cutlery in agency dining facilities. The VA piloted a range of biobased products from degreasers and cleaners to lubricants and penetrating oils at the Riverside National Cemetery. DOJ Inmates at the U.S. Penitentiary and a Secure Female Facility in Hazelton, WV helped organize a green purchasing plan that included biobased sanitation materials. The primary firearms instructor, Special Agent Ron Oberhelman, at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) purchased biobased weapons cleaner for use at his training events. The DOL constructed a new dormitory at the Albuquerque, NM Job Corp Center using straw bales in the exterior envelope and biobased linoleum flooring. Biobased use at the DoD Sustainable Product Center and the DOI Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park are also featured in the applications section of this case study website.

NASA has had particular success in biobased acquisition. While KSC leads the way, accounting for 39.5% of NASA’s biobased expenditures, Ames Research Center (ARC), Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), and Johnson Space Center (JSC) have also developed robust biobased portfolios. Of the 97 biobased product categories designated by USDA, ARC, MSFC, and JSC recorded purchases across more than half of the categories in 2014, demonstrating a sizable commitment to biobased products.

Kennedy Space Center

KSC is located on Merritt Island in Florida. There are nearly 8,000 civil servants and contractor employees working at the 219-square mile KSC campus, which features a 525-foot Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), various launch complexes, a mobile launching platform, orbiter processing facilities, a 457,000 square foot Space Station Processing Facility, as well   as the Visitor Complex. The Visitor Complex includes exhibits, shops, restaurants, a space shuttle experience and an IMAX theater.

Hollywood has set high expectations for NASA. Maybe you have seen the 2015 movie The Martian, starring Matt Damon or maybe you remember with fondness the 1995 movie Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks. These are just two of many movies that capture the intelligent, cutting edge science we have come to associate with NASA. So when we visit KSC, we expect the best and we expect to be amazed. More than 42 million people have toured KSC or have traveled to Cape Canaveral to view a shuttle launch, and likely all have been inspired.

KSC witnessed the conclusion of the celebrated Space Shuttle Program in 2011 as Atlantis touched down for the last time. After holding 135 launches over the course of thirty years, KSC employees have begun working on new adventures. But the shifting mission has resulted in some significant changes. The population of KSC employees has been nearly halved in the post-shuttle years. Downsizing has not altered the drive or mission preparedness of the KSC team who continue to manage, develop, integrate and sustain space systems with a palpable sense of pride. KSC employees have a wide range of backgrounds, expertise, and many of them are also managers, as over half the remaining KSC population is made up of contract employees.

KSC’s initial move toward biobased procurement was prompted by the federal mandates, but, in true NASA style, the center has gone above and beyond. Frank Kline, Team Leader, NASA Principle Center for the Recycling and Sustainable Acquisition program (RSA), stressed that “the agency takes [the mandates] very seriously and we try to push [biobased procurement] as hard as we can.” He went on to praise his contractor colleagues, a first glimpse at the camaraderie that would become increasingly evident, “We are lucky here at Kennedy, our contractors naturally go green. They push us.” The commitment to biobased products from both KSC and its contractors creates an environment in which employees are encouraged to seek out alternatives and to independently take steps toward a more sustainable workplace.

Of the top eight support contractors and launch services contractors at KSC, two have been greatly involved in biobased acquisition for KSC. The first, Jacobs Technology Inc., is KSC’s prime contractor for the Test and Operations Support Contract (TOSC) and they are responsible for “the overall management and implementation of ground systems capabilities, flight hardware processing, and launch operations.” The second contractor, URS AECOM, administers the Institutional Services Contract (ISC) providing base operations support and managing “operations, maintenance, and engineering for specific Kennedy facilities, systems, equipment and utilities.” A third contractor, Delaware North, also contributes to the biobased success at KSC through its independent operation of the Visitor Complex. Their mission statement is “to provide stewardship and hospitality in special places dedicated to creating memorable guest experiences as unique as the destination.”

Both NASA and KSC place a strong emphasis on long-term sustainability. KSC plans and reports on its sustainable activities annually. The Environmental Program at KSC seeks to “promote, maintain, and pioneer green practices in all aspects of our mission, striving to be an agency leader in everything we do.” KSC hosts the Principle Center for NASA’s agency- wide Recycling and Sustainable Acquisition program (RSA) which provides technical resources and program support for NASA Headquarters Environmental Management Division. NASA and KSC set ambitious sustainability goals and work with their contractors to achieve them. The following goal from KSC’s 2013-2015 Sustainability Plan reflects the significant commitment this organization has made to sustainable and biobased acquisition:

Ensure 95% of new applicable contract actions, including task and delivery orders under new contracts and existing contracts, require the supply or use of products and services that are energy efficient (Energy Star or Federal Energy Management Program designated), water efficient, biobased, environmentally preferable, non- ozone depleting, contain recycled content, or are non-toxic or less toxic alternatives

KSC has successfully achieved this goal, in part due the commitment to biobased purchasing. In 2014, KSC spent $697,115 on designated biobased items across twenty-five product categories. Among those product categories, biobased cleaning products are used at both the KSC facilities and the Visitor Center complex; biobased hi-temp grease is used on the VAB doors; biobased coolant is used for metal working operations; Cargill’s biobased FR3 replaced transformer fluids; and 330 yards of biobased backed Signature Accord carpet has recently been installed at the Visitor Complex.


Steve Ross, Systems Engineer for Jacobs, describes the use of biobased grease used on more than a mile of rails in the VAB. Dan Clark, KSC Sustainability Team Lead, discusses KSC's success with biobased FR3 di-electric fluid, lubricants, and anti-seize fluid. 

Getting There

KSC takes great care in deciding which products to acquire. As an aerospace agency, it must also meet stringent equipment specifications. For this reason, when choosing to replace petroleum based products with biobased alternatives, KSC technical experts have to be sure that the products will work and will meet all performance standards. Mike Omans, ISC Environmental Engineer and Subject Matter Expert for Sustainability (URS), warns against solely relying on manufacturers’ claims as they can be biased and “often their products performance tests are conducted in laboratories under carefully controlled settings.” Omans prefers to rely on word-of-mouth method to obtain unbiased product reviews, but there is no one correct way to decide. In fact, Amy Mangiacapra, TOSC Environmental Engineer and Recycling Coordinator for Jacobs Technology, favors the use of both the BioPreferred Program resources and the independent research conducted at their Materials and Processing (M&P) Laboratory.


Amy Mangiacapra and Dan Clark, KSC Sustainability Team Lead, discuss biobased product selection. 

The sustainability conferences to which Clark refers in the video promote vendor and expert interaction, providing great opportunities to learn about product possibilities. KSC’s willingness to test and purchase biobased products also brings vendors and industry experts right to their very large front doors. On Earth Day in 2015, KSC hosted six biobased manufacturers and representatives from the United Soybean Board (USB).

Pilot projects are the natural next step after KSC selects potential biobased products. Alice Smith, Program Manager for KSC Recycling and Sustainable Acquisition, pointed out why these pilots are essential to the adoption of biobased products, “We are always met with some apprehension based on the fact that the biobased product is something new.” The team must demonstrate to the users that the products actually work. In one instance, when met with opposition to toner cartridge replacement, Smith quietly substituted some of the cartridges. The switch went unnoticed and Smith was able to prove that employees would not have to sacrifice quality to adopt biobased products. Omans also advises the use of small scale pilot projects to demonstrate the materials “on a limited basis so that local users can see the products in use prior to making a full scale product change.” This promotes local user buy-in, a critical step both Omans and Clark stressed.

Janet Bethay, Contractor Support for NASA's Principle Center for RSA, and Alice Smith on pilot projects. 

Training has also contributed to KSC’s biobased success. KSC hosts both requisitioner training and BioPreferred training. In fiscal year 2015, KSC had eight four-hour classes for forty-four requisitioners and two sets of two hour refresher classes. All requisitioners were required to attend a training and the chief financial officer community (CFO) were “strongly encouraged” to do the same. According to Smith, “the results included 100% participation by the over 150 requisitioners and probably about 80% of the CFO community.” Requisitioner training includes federal procurement mandates, and therefore biobased purchasing, but KSC also held a BioPreferred/Biobased Training Course on April 15, 2015. The course was delivered by United Soybean Board consultants and the Program Manager for the BioPreferred program. Twenty-four trainees attended in person and eighteen others attended the three-hour course remotely. It covered the Federal BioPreferred Program, examples of biobased product use, success stories, how to find biobased products, biobased requirements of E.O. 13693, contract provisions, reporting requirements, purchase card use, and pilot projects.

KSC tracks it biobased usage through the NASA Environmental Tracking System (NETS), an automated application and database maintained and coordinated by RSA. The system is mandatory for all NASA Centers and provides agency-wide performance metrics. Since 2008 and the BioPreferred Program’s designation of biobased product categories, NASA has used NETS to track biobased and recycled content product procurement. The results are used for internal and external reporting requirements, benchmarking, and Center- to-Center information sharing. While there is no formal comparison or competition between centers, through information sharing, “the Centers are able to strengthen their own procurement programs based on what has proven effective (or not) for other Centers,” according to RSA.

Was it really that easy? 

A major challenge for KSC has been the additional costs associated with biobased products. There is a price premium on most biobased products and pilot projects cost money to implement. Smith noted that employees are encouraged to submit for use of recycling funds to launch pilots, but revenues from the recycling program are limited and not all submissions can be granted. Omans also agreed, “Green products do cost more, requiring you to manage the budget and decide which product will provide the most benefit to the center.” The difficulty lies in quantifying the non-monetary benefits of biobased products which can range from health, safety and sustainability to improved operational efficiency. 

New products are also often met with opposition. Gina Parrish, Environmental Manager for Delaware North Parks and Resorts, elaborated, “The biggest barrier is sometimes just changing people’s minds. It’s a culture change. When you first bring it up, people automatically think it will cost more or that the product won’t work as well.” There is a trend of negative reactions to biobased products based on early experiences with what were then unsatisfactory products. Omans confirmed, “If a product came out ten years ago that had a lot of shortcomings, it sticks in their minds.” Fortunately, through their pilot projects and really getting the products into the hands of the uses, KSC has been able to combat this tendency. Smith also noted that the younger generation of employees has been more willing to embrace the new products and that they will likely incite more change in the future.

KSC employees Dan Clark, Amy Mangiacapra, Gina Parrish, Randal Mick and Don Ritter elaborate on some of the challenges they faced in the video segments below.

Why do they do it? 

With the Shuttle Program behind them, NASA and KSC are looking into the future. The Space Launch System (SLS) is “an advanced launch vehicle for a new era of exploration beyond Earth’s orbit into deep space.”11 Everyone at KSC from the receptionists and camera crew to the shop technicians and engineers showed commitment to their mission and conveyed a sense of pride. With an eye on the future, it is no wonder that the employees at KSC have initiated such a successful biobased program. 

The importance of environmental stewardship was also evident at KSC. Located on a 140,000 acre wildlife refuge with over 500 species, KSC has a significant responsibility to reduce its impact on the surrounding environment. With alligators, ospreys, and bald eagles abounding, nature is hard to avoid at KSC. During the Shuttle Program, a special crew would have to clear the runway of all debris, alligators included, before shuttle landings. GW’s media escort, Brian Emond, used to spend his days (and sometimes nights) working on the shuttles at KSC and even he slowed to a near crawl on the NASA causeway to point out their goliath of an eagle’s nest at 300 pounds.

The 300-lb nest off of NASA’s causeway. Alligator eggs Luke and Leia during their incubation at KSC.

It is no coincidence that NASA is the world’s leading climate research agency. By venturing out into space, NASA was actually able to better observe earth. Through satellites, NASA monitors the “vital signs of the planet” through their mission on Global Climate Change. Satellites are capable of providing information on smaller and smaller scales, increasing the potential environmental data available and the ability to observe species on the ground.

How about some advice from the experts?

What’s next? 

Despite the barriers and challenges KSC faces, it has proven to be best in class in biobased acquisition and implementation and it intends to stay ahead of the pack. According to Smith, KSC tries “to model what is happening at other companies and come up with private projects to bring in and apply to KSC.” Contractors will continue to be encouraged to take on different projects and to explore new products. Jacobs Technology, Inc. is proactively looking at items in affirmative procurement categories, seeking biobased replacements and hired an intern to research biobased and BioPreferred products. 

Clark shared a brilliant observation on the ability of KSC to bring about real progress. He first described a recycling effort last year where KSC employees recycled 112 tons of office paper “because thousands of people were taking small steps.” He went on to point out, “We have a lot of stories and examples like that where you can’t point to any single big contribution to a sustainability effort but it is the contributions of many people, and biobased products are no different in that regard.” These small contributions of many people can add up to big results. When people think about sustainability, they are often discouraged by their inability to make a difference, often thinking their contribution will be meaningless. With over 7 billion people in the world it seems impossible that one person or even one group of people could actually move the sustainability needle, but KSC does not work in impossibilities. From putting people on the moon to launching the space station, KSC employees have worked together to complete their missions. Integrating biobased procurement into standard operating procedure is an ongoing effort, but one that KSC employees have embraced with the creativity and determination for which NASA is known.  

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