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Growing Range of Biobased Products Offer Performance, Environmental Gains

By Chris Case

Facility managers face the daily challenge of balancing cost and performance with sustainable purchasing guidelines or requirements.  Those requirements may come from within a company or organization, or if it is a federal facility, from the federal government. Biobased products, which offer performance and environmental gains, can help meet those challenges.

I too lived with this daily challenge when I served as the facility manager for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, Mich. My goal was to find cost-effective solutions that performed well, and also contributed to the park’s comprehensive environmental leadership program.  

Many times, the perception is that if a product is “environmentally friendly” it is likely to be less effective and more expensive. In fact, I found many products that are the exact opposite. Biobased products are made with rapidly renewable ingredients from plants like soybeans.  They can offer solutions for facility managers who are striving to find cost-effective, high-performing products that contribute to sustainability goals.

During my tenure, Pictured Rocks powered its diesel vehicles and equipment with biodiesel fuel. Our natural next step was to explore additional biobased products made from soy that could also easily be integrated into our facility and maintenance operation while providing environmental benefits. This effort led to a park-wide biofluid substitution program, which reduced our dependence on petroleum-based products by 70 percent in our heavy equipment fleet and 25 percent in overall maintenance operations.

Our team replaced petroleum-based hydraulic fluids, greases, spray lubricants, parts washer fluid, diesel additives, 2-cycle engine oil, and bar and chain oil with biobased products. We found multiple companies offered products with soybean oil in their formulations to displace the harsh chemicals or petroleum content. These products can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb dependence on foreign oil. Renewable by nature, soy-based products can offer a more sustainable choice than traditional petroleum-based products, according to a peer-reviewed life cycle profile that documents multiple energy and environmental benefits of U.S. soybean farming and processing

This program provided a solid anchor from which we launched additional sustainability initiatives. We built on the program’s successes by expanding it to include replacing high hazard products — such as toilet bowl cleaners, paint strippers, graffiti removers, and other cleaning products and chemicals — with biobased alternatives. A number of park employees reported less irritation and odor when compared to traditional products made with harsher chemicals.

But these products are just the beginning of the soy-biobased story. Across the nation, U.S. companies are now offering hundreds of additional biobased products, ranging from carpet to electrical transformer fluid to spray foam insulation. These products, many of which were developed with support from U.S. soybean farmers, offer facility management solutions. For example:

Eliminating formaldehyde in plywood and cabinetry using a soy-based adhesive.

Insulating buildings with soy-based spray foam insulation.

Helping manage the electrical loads of buildings using a soy-based transformer fluid. 

• Reducing petroleum content in carpet and entry mats

Additionally, biobased products can help meet federal biobased purchasing requirements and contribute to LEED credits. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred website explains, “To date, USDA has identified 97 categories (e.g., cleaners, carpet, lubricants, paints) of biobased products for which agencies and their contractors have mandatory purchasing requirements. As USDA identifies product categories for mandatory federal purchasing, minimum biobased content is established for the category. Biobased product purchasing requirements are included in solicitations, blanket purchase agreements, contracts, and specifications. Requirements also extend to purchases made through purchase cards, electronic catalogs, and other procurement vehicles.” For more information about USDA’s BioPreferred program and mandatory federal purchasing requirements for biobased products visit, http://www.soybiobased.org/resources/federal-activities/usda-biopreferred-program/.

The www.soybiobased.org website offers additional information about the various biobased products that are on the market, how to purchase them, and the benefits of using them in facility and maintenance operations. U.S. soybean farmers have invested millions of dollars to research, test, and promote biobased products. Much of this work was done through the United Soybean Board, which is composed of 73 U.S. soybean farmers appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to invest soybean checkoff funds. 

Chris Case completed a 38-year National Park Service  career with specialized experience in facilities management and continues to consult on the use of biobased products. 


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posted on 1/26/2018