Going green has become big business, and government contracting firms are cashing in on the green trend, led in part by sustainability initiatives backed by the Obama administration. Ever since Executive Order 13514 (Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance) has required 95% of new contract actions, including task orders, to be green, there is a growing consciousness amongst federal agencies to procure "green" services.

For instance, the federal government spends about $80 billion annually on information technology and is using its formidable buying power to encourage vendors to go green. The Department of Defense (DOD) is also going green, developing a Green Procurement Strategy. Requirements and preference programs may be assessed at the DOD "Going Green" website. The General Services Administration (GSA) Public Buildings Service has taken it to the next level. In 2009, the agency announced that each and every federal building -- roughly 9,000 in the nation must meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver standards by 2017. By 2030, the GSA would like to see all federal buildings meet net zero in terms of energy savings and sustainability. As part of the GSAs leadership initiatives, they teamed with the Environmental Protection Agency and the DOD to lead an interagency work group to determine whether contractor greenhouse gas emissions can be used in the federal procurement process to make the governments supply chain more sustainable.

In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will contribute funds to more than 160 energy producers in 41 states to support the expansion of advanced biofuels. The purpose of the USDA Biopreferred program is to promote the increased purchase and use of biobased products. The program is expected to promote economic development, help create new jobs and provide new markets for farm commodities. For example, by FY 2012, the USDA will increase the number of contracts issued that contain designated biobased products by 50%.

In October 2011, the USDA announced a series of live seminars to educate public and private sector acquisition officers, procurement officials, contractors, and others responsible for determining purchasing needs and requirements for biobased products, materials, and services. An upcoming seminar will be held on December 6.

Recently, the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy released a report acknowledging that small businesses are leading the way in green technology. The report, "Analysis of Small Business Innovation in Green Technologies," highlights the differences in the patent activity of small and large firms in green technologies and industries. There were several small firms whose patent portfolios are almost entirely green, which is not the case for any of the large firms that were surveyed.

These initiatives are increasingly compelling the federal government to utilize green contractors, and with the advent of green technology, it has become a goal of government leaders to carve funding ear-marked for research and project plans to include green ingredients. In 2010, small businesses received about $98 billion in contracts but the government still missed its 23% small business contracting goal. That means there are still hundreds of billions of dollars in opportunities left on the table by small businesses. So what do business owners need to know to take advantage of the government's green initiative?

Federal purchasers usually have one of two things in mind when they hear about green services. The first is services that directly address environmental issues, such as waste management or energy metering services. The second is any service performed in an environmentally friendly manner. These are things business owners should keep in mind if they're thinking of becoming a green business and/or trying to get a contract from the federal government.

Other key essentials are:

  • Explore the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Green Contracting Opportunities: Visit www.sba.gov/content/green-contracting-opportunities and become familiar with how the federal government purchases green products and service.
  • Broaden your industry codes to open up green contracting opportunities: Visit www.naics.com/search.htm to determine your NAICS codes.
  • Develop a green-specific capability statement: A capability statement is a necessity when doing business with the government. A successful capability statement includes, but is not limited, to company overview, core competencies, past performance, differentiators, company data and contact information.
  • Work with green government contractors: Register on www.teamingUSA.com to find potential teaming partners that can help you compete for green contracts.
  • Visit the Environmental Protection Agency's website at www.epa.gov/epp/pubs/guidance/index.htm and learn about the Five Guiding Principles providing a framework for GREEN federal purchases.
  • Go to the Department of Energy website at www.energy.gov for free webinars that small businesses can attend to learn more about how to green their businesses.
  • Also visit the GSA Public Buildings Service website at www.gsa.gov/portal/content/104444 to learn what makes a green building, what the different levels are and whats involved in making a building green.
  • And last but not least, learn from those who preceded you: Use available resources to find information that will save you time and money. Through American Express OPENs Victory in Procurement program at www.openforum.com/governmentcontracting, you can find how-to articles, guides, videos and tips for business owners looking to do business with the government.

Think about how you could incorporate those measures into your business. Any small business having the capability to help the government meet their green initiative is definitely going to have a huge edge in the world of government contracting.

Lourdes Martin-Rosa is the American Express OPEN Advisor on Government Contracting and has nearly 20 years of experience in the federal procurement arena.