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Correctional Facilities Can Become Leaders in Sustainability
By Michael Wilson
Published: 11/21/2016

With little fanfare, federal correctional facilities in the United States may become leaders in the sustainability movement…a movement that is expected to grow considerably over the next few decades. This is because of executive order 13514, signed by President Barack Obama in October 2009, which is being phased in over the next few years.

The goal of the order is to find ways to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce petroleum consumption, conserve water, reduce waste, and address a number of issues related to the environment. As it may apply to federal correctional facilities, the executive order requires federal agencies “to measure, manage, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions [and] requires agencies to meet a number of energy, water, and waste reduction targets,” such as the following:
  • 30 percent reduction in petroleum use by vehicle fleets by 2020
  • 26 percent improvement in water efficiency by 2020
  • 50 percent waste diversion and recycling by 2015
For many correctional facilities, meeting these targets likely will be a challenge. And while janitorial (jansan) supply distributors will not be able to help correctional location administrators address all the challenges created by this executive order, they certainly can help address those that relate to such things as cleaning chemicals, equipment, and paper products.

But first we must realize that solutions that work in office buildings or convention centers, for instance, might not make sense in correctional facilities. As an example, one way to reduce paper waste and related greenhouse gas emissions is to remove paper products used for hand drying and install electric hand dryers.

But while this may prove effective in other buildings, in a correctional facility, installing electric hand dryers may have some unexpected drawbacks, including vandalism. In many restrooms in correctional facilities, the two big vandalism targets are urinal flush handles and electric hand dryers. An additional concern is that vandalized components removed from a hand dryer may be used in unscrupulous ways.

However, a way to still use paper products but cut down on waste is through recycling paper as well as using paper products made from recycled materials. When paper is not recycled, it is estimated that as much as 80 percent of it ends up in landfills. When the paper begins to decompose, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that has several more times heat-trapping power than carbon dioxide released from cars.

And when correctional facility administrators select 100 percent recycled paper, no trees are destroyed in manufacturing the paper; trees are left standing and help to remove carbon dioxide from the air; and energy costs to produce the paper are reduced by as much as 50 percent when compared to traditional paper made from wood products. Further, recycled paper can often be recycled again and used to make new paper products [1].

But reducing the amount of waste generated and helping reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere is not as simple as it might seem. Correctional facility administrators and jansan distributors working with them must do a little homework when it comes to selecting green paper products to help them meet the Executive Order mentioned earlier. For instance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, environmentally preferable toilet paper must be made from a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled content; for hand towels, the minimum is 40 percent.

But to be certified by Green Seal, a leading certification organization, paper towels and toilet paper must be made from 100 percent recovered materials, 20 percent post-consumer waste for toilet paper, and 40 percent post-consumer waste for paper towels. This paper would have a high percentage of post-consumer content, helping to make the paper greener and more sustainable and helping meet the goals of the executive order [2].

Even when correctional facility administrators have the best intentions, taking steps to reduce waste and greenhouse gases, to be sustainable, and to protect the environment may not always be successful. Here is what administrators must realize: They are in the correctional facility administration business, not the recycled paper business or for that matter, the green cleaning supply business.

For that, administrators must turn to astute janitorial distributors, especially those now having access to online “dashboard” systems that help them evaluate what products are available—in our example, recycled paper—and which will best meet the facility’s sustainability initiatives. Essentially, these dashboard systems are designed to elevate the purchasing process and eliminate trial-and-error purchasing, which can be a costly problem when purchasing supplies for a large facility such as a correctional institution.

Executive order 13514 has raised the bar and is causing many administrators to look for new and more effective ways to reduce consumption and promote sustainability. With the help of knowledgeable distributors—along with new purchasing technologies—correctional facilities can lead the way.

[1] Paper recycling statistics: How Recycling Paper Fights Global Warming, published by the Paper Recycling Coalition

[2] “Recovered material” means fiber waste generated during the manufacturing process, such as envelope cuttings, bindery trimmings, and printing waste and cuttings. “Post-consumer” refers to waste produced by the end consumer of a material.

Michael Wilson is Vice President of Marketing for AFFLINK, developers of the ELEVATE process, an online system that allows users to learn about and select products that will help operate their facilities in a greener, more sustainable, healthier, and more cost effective manner. He can be reached at wmwilson@afflink.com. (Please note, AFFLINK is always capitalized)


  1. StephanieCasey on 08/25/2019:

    blog commenting packages Nice to read your article! I am looking forward to sharing your adventures and experiences.

  2. CBerl on 11/22/2016:

    Many correctional facilities us the World Dryer Model A and the World Dryer AirMax for correctional facilities. These come with cast iron covers and have been extensively tested for vandalism. They are the most durable hand dryers out there that I know of. I had a conversation with one correctional purchaser that he only uses the automatic (sensor operated) version because he is afraid of the push button being used as a weapon. It would be difficult to get that off, but where there's a will, there's a way. http://www.restroomdirect.com/World-Dryer-Model-A-hand-dryers.aspx

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