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Landscaping Services

Federal landscaping services are quite varied and can consist of many activities, including routine maintenance (e.g., mowing, fertilizing, watering), development of new sites (from design to execution), and/or the rehabilitation of existing space (e.g., tree removal, installation of irrigation systems). Landscaping services have the potential to have significant negative impacts on the environment. For example, water used for landscaping and irrigation purposes accounts for close to 20% of a facility’s overall consumption. As the largest land owner in the nation, the federal government has a responsibility to employ sustainable landscaping practices in attempt to reduce such impacts. Federal buyers can employ sustainable landscaping practices by considering and accounting for environmental factors in federal solicitations and contracts. Below are some tips to help get you started.  This type of service typically falls under NAICS code 561730 and Product Service Code (PSC) S208.

Downloadable Resources

Selected Past Solicitations If you have past Landscaping Services green solicitations that would be informative to the green procurement community, please submit them to sftool@gsa.gov.

In accordance with FAR Subpart 23.1, federal contracts for landscaping services must require contractors to use or supply products covered by the following environmental programs:

Includes compost, compost activators and accelerators, fertilizers, and mulch.
Includes, compost, fertilizers, hoses, edging, and more.
Includes landscape irrigation services and weather or sensor-based irrigation control technologies.

In the Downloadable Resources section above, you may download a suggested list of related products covered by federal environmental programs. 

FAR clause 52.223-2, Affirmative Procurement of Biobased Products Under Service and Construction Contracts, requires service and construction contractors to report their purchases of biobased products to the new reporting portal within the System for Award Management (SAM)You should also consider requiring contractors to submit regular reports identifying the quantity and type of all green products used or delivered during contract performance.

There are many other commercial practices and design principles that will result in a more sustainable and environmentally preferable service.  Consider these when defining performance requirements and developing evaluation criteria.  Many of the principles identified below are taken from the Guidance for Federal Agencies on Sustainable Practices for Designed Landscapes, which applies to agencies constructing new, or rehabilitating existing owned or leased facilities or otherwise implementing landscaping practices on agency owned or leased land or space.  Note that an addendum to this guidance, Supporting the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, was issued in October 2014.  Users are encouraged to review the complete guidance for more detailed information.

  • Use a decision-making hierarchy of preservation, conservation, and regeneration.
  • Consider the land, climate, and site history before developing a landscaping design.
    • Strive to re-establish and maintain the integral and essential relationship between regenerative systems (natural processes) and human activity.
    • Inventory the site’s current ecological resources to determine the potential for restoration.
    • Protect existing natural areas to the greatest extent possible (woodlands and wetlands, stream corridors, and meadows).
    • Avoid development of areas containing habitat for threatened or endangered plant and animal species.
    • Maximize and mimic the benefits of ecosystem services by preserving existing environmental features, conserving resources in a sustainable manner, and regenerating lost or damaged ecosystem services.
  • Implement recommendations in the guidance document, Supporting the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, to incorporate pollinator-friendly practices.
  • Provide regenerative systems so that future generations may have a sustainable environment supported by regenerative systems and resources.
  • Use prescribed burns to establish and maintain natural landscaping.
  • Attempt to create additional wildlife habitat to partially compensate for land lost to urban/suburban sprawl.
  • Preserve existing native vegetation.  Integrate existing plants, especially mature trees, into the site design as much as possible.
  • Choose pollinator-friendly plant species that support the forage, reproduction, shelter and/or hibernation of pollinators specific to your ecoregion.
  • Use native or climate appropriate plants to decrease or completely offset both water requirements (Xeriscape) and maintenance (i.e., fertilizer, pruning, mowing, and landscaping labor) costs.
    • Select native plants that thrive under conditions present at the site (soil, water, sunlight, space, etc.).
    • Choose plants that require minimal resources, including drought tolerant plants.
    • Avoid invasive plants. 
  • Allow space for proper growth.
  • Use alternatives to turf, such as woodland, meadow, or other natural plantings.
  • Plant perennials (or longer-lived plants) vs. annuals (or shorter-lived plants).
  • Plant neonic-free plants, shrubs, and trees, as well as seeds, starts, and plugs that have not been treated with neonicotinoids.
  • Limit or eliminate plants that shed seeds and fruit.
  • Group together plants with similar water needs to reduce water use and protect plants from both under- and overwatering.
  • Use vegetation to minimize building heating and cooling requirements.  For example, landscaping should block or filter summer sun and permit winter sun to reach most occupied areas.
  • Use vegetation to reduce heat island effects.
  • Plant sites densely, in layers to improve water retention and cooling ability.
  • Enforce a “water only as needed” policy.
  • Reduce, with aim to eliminate, the use of potable water, natural surface water, and groundwater withdrawals for landscape irrigation and water features.
  • Manage stormwater on site. Capture water runoff and recharge groundwater by utilizing rain gardens, green roofs, and rain barrels. Use recycled or reclaimed water instead of potable water for irrigation.
  • Reduce the amount of irrigated areas.
  • Optimize irrigation schedules and controls to deliver water to the landscape only as needed based on weather conditions.
    • Use water saving devices, such as WaterSense labeled irrigation controllers.
    • Use drip irrigation when feasible.
    • Where irrigation systems have been installed, adjust irrigation scheduling seasonally to the evapo-transpiration rate for the plants in that particular climate.
    • Water early in the day.
  • Design rainwater/stormwater features to provide a landscape amenity.
  • Use gravity for water movement and recirculation whenever possible.
  • Maintain water features to conserve water and other resources. 
  • Protect and enhance on-site water resources and receiving water quality.  For best practices, see EPA’s Low Impact Development site.  
  • Use mulch to retain as much water as possible.
  • Raise lawn mower blades, as mowing too close to the ground will promote thirsty new growth.  Consider seasonal performance-based mowing (e.g., spring 3”, summer 4-5”, fall 4”)
  • Conduct water audits to identify additional opportunities for water efficient landscape practices.
  • Look for landscape irrigation professionals certified through a WaterSense labeled certification program.
  • Develop or require a soil management plan.
  • Identify and protect Vegetation and Soil Protection Zones (VSPZs)
  • Prevent/mitigate soil erosion by maximizing surface cover and minimizing slopes in site design.  If slopes cannot be avoided, stabilize slopes with natural plantings, mulch around plants, and drought-tolerant species.
  • Amend topsoil on site by using organic compost materials selected from sustainable and renewable sources.
  • Salvage on-site soil.
  • Aerate soil to improve infiltration of water.
  • Preserve areas with permeable soils to the extent possible, for use in storm water infiltration and ground water recharge.
  • Address soil deficiencies.
    • Perform and use Soil and Plant Tissue Analyses to determine soil deficiencies and nutrient use.
    • Conserve existing healthy soil by mapping soils, testing for disturbed and reference soils, and limiting landscaping work to avoid disturbing soils as much as possible.
    • Conserve healthy soil during landscaping by mapping soils on site, perform tests of disturbed soils and reference soils, conserve the healthiest soils in topsoil salvage areas, and limit work to appropriate sites for building construction. 
  • Prevent, detect, control, and manage invasive plants.  Develop or require a comprehensive plant management plan or integrated vegetation management (IVM) plan that addresses early detection, removal, prevention, and long-term management.
  • Do not plant right next to buildings and avoid the use of vines that climb building walls.
  • Consider plants that do not have low branches, which could provide shelter for rodents, and keep tree branches close to the building trimmed.
  • Design grounds so that water does not pool for any period of time.
  • Place outdoor lighting away from the building, but focus light on the building if lighting is necessary (insects are attracted to sources of light, not where the light is directed).
  • Avoid use of ground covers, such as bark and wood chips, as these types of coverings encourage insects to breed and rodents to burrow. If necessary, consider decorative gravel instead.
  • In planters and planting areas, require installation of heavy gauge galvanized screening below the soil surface in order to discourage rodent burrowing.
  • When chemicals are necessary, use biodegradable and less or non-toxic chemicals, and avoid chemicals toxic to pollinators.  Consider mandating a "no neonicotinoids policy" when safer substitutes exist.
  • If your landscaping contract will include a pest management component, review the GPC guidance on Pest Management.
  • Limit the use of fertilizers. Use organic and slow-release fertilizers if necessary.  Apply sparingly and at the correct time, according to directions.
  • Consider leaving grass clippings on site after mowing, as they quickly decompose and provide valuable nutrients to the site.
  • Develop or require a site maintenance plan that incorporates composting and/or recycling 100% of vegetation trimmings and appropriate compostable organics on site, where feasible.  Use compost for landscaping activities.  Composting organic matter on site supports nutrient cycling, improves soil health, and reduces transportation and disposal costs and materials going to landfills. 
  • Use materials, plants, and soils that are grown or produced locally in order to reduce energy use for transportation and increase demand for local goods.
  • Use vegetation to promote community/employee morale and well-being activities.  Consider rooftop gardens, community gardens, and vertical gardens in order to promote educational programs, food access, and gardening activities for morale and community engagement.
  • Implement outreach efforts to educate staff and visitors on design concepts, including the importance of pollinators to both natural and agricultural resources.
  • Plan for ongoing sustainable landscape improvements. 
  • Use sustainably harvested, certified wood.  Avoid wood species listed as threatened or endangered.
  • Use landscape design to reduce light pollution on site. “Light trespass” from landscaping on Federal sites should be minimized to reduce sky-glow, increase nighttime visibility, minimize negative effects on nocturnal animals, and improve human health and functioning.
  • Consider principles and strategies developed from the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).
  • Limit the use of power tools when possible. Use electric tools rather than gas tools and 4-cycle engines rather than 2-cycle engines.

There are many opportunities to consider environmental criteria in your evaluation of offers.  A Pass/Fail approach may be appropriate for establishing basic green product requirements or when market research shows that other sustainable practices are common in the commercial marketplace.  For example, you might require that contractors use only native or climate appropriate plants – an offeror can either meet this requirement (pass) or it cannot (fail).  

In some cases, it may be appropriate to consider environmental aspects through a Best Value Tradeoff approach in lieu of, or in addition to, pass/fail criteria.  By incorporating environmental criteria into your evaluation factors, you can weigh a vendor’s ability to offer desirable sustainable practices above and beyond minimum contract requirements in relation to other factors, such as price. Several potential opportunities for incorporating environmental considerations into your evaluation factors are listed below.

Sustainability Plan – Require contractors to propose a comprehensive sustainability plan that details how they will help the Government achieve its environmental objectives, including sustainable acquisition requirements. This may address areas such as water efficiency and conservation, soil management, composting, plant selection and layout, invasive plant management, and other sustainable design principles).

Technical Approach – Require contractors to address sustainable practices, develop environmental project goals and objectives, and develop a project plan (site design, installation, and management) that will maximize sustainability objectives.

Past Performance – Evaluate how well the contractor performed previous projects where they have successfully implemented green landscaping practices, including the use of green products.

Previous Experience – Require contractors to demonstrate their experience and capability to provide green landscaping practices similar in size, scope, and complexity to the required work.

Staffing Plan – Give consideration to staffing plans that propose persons with green certifications or to contractors that require employees to take environmental training.

Your evaluation should also consider all costs over the life of the project, not just the initial cost. For instance, some landscaping solutions may call for re-planting, require less water, or result in higher maintenance costs.

Federal agencies may purchase a full range of landscaping services under GSA Multiple Award Schedule 03FAC.  While these contracts include basic terms and conditions, the ordering agency is responsible for inserting the appropriate green requirements and language into the solicitation.  More information on ordering through GSA Multiple Award Schedules can be found here.

 SourceAmerica (formerly NISH) also offers federal agencies a full selection of grounds maintenance services, with an emphasis on environmentally sound practices.