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Materials Management

Achieve Greatness in Materials Management




Getting Started is Easy!

Read the Workbook to learn the goals, key performance indicators, outcomes, and strategies.

Fill out the Self-Assessment and get a baseline of where your garden is on Materials Management and gain access to peer support. Download the Assessment Questions here to work offline/share with others.

Gain Recognition 

Demonstrate garden achievements on Materials Management and receive Excellence in Materials Management recognition.

A wide range of best practices set the standard to minimize water consumption and promote surface and groundwater quality. Goals, Strategies, Resources, and a Network of Peer Support help your garden meet Key Performance Indicators and Achieve Outcomes.

What Recognition for Your Garden Means 

A Garden Profile on your garden’s unique achievement of Excellence in Materials Management featured on the Association website and in communication platforms. 

Excellence in Materials Management badge of recognition will be awarded for your garden’s use.



The world’s growing population has increased the demand for materials, thus increasing the decomposition of materials in landfills that contribute to climate change. According to the EPA, landfills are the second largest producer of methane emissions (a far more potent GHG than carbon dioxide) in the United States. Many businesses and institutions are now reliant on what is called the “spatial fix,” partnering with suppliers in distant states or countries for cheaper materials. By recycling and reusing, public gardens can reduce the amount of new materials from distant sources that need to be mined, harvested, and processed, which significantly decreases energy use and environmental pollution.

The Materials Management Attribute focuses on how public gardens can protect ecosystems and respect cultural and community values through responsible use and disposal of materials. Best practices for reducing, reusing, and recycling materials can reduce harmful impacts to ecosystems and human health. Salvaging materials and waste reduction are essential components to the productive and sustainable use of materials across their entire life cycle. Materials management is an opportunity for gardens to showcase their regional identity by thinking sustainably about all facets of public garden management. Its also a way for public gardens to encourage conservation efforts by educating communities on how to reuse and recycle effectively.


Goal 1: Recycle and reuse materials from garden visitors, construction, renovation, restoration, maintenance, and demolition activities.

Goal 2: Reduce toxic and hazardous waste from all public garden management activities and strive for organic gardening practices.

Goal 3: Implement a plan/policy to purchase and select materials that are extracted using sustainable practices and contain non-hazardous chemicals and recycled content.

Goal 4: Divert, reduce, or eliminate waste to landfills.

Goal 5: Purchase and select products for visitors and staff that do not need to be recycled.

Goal 6: Gardens contribute positive outcomes in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 by creating a framework for sustainable consumption and production that is integrated into community and strategic planning on the management of hazardous chemicals and wastes.


1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline 

2. Identify Stakeholders 

3. Data Collection/Resources

4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action 

5. Evaluate and Maintain Success 

6. Report, Communicate, Educate

7. Resources and Case Studies 




1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline


Use the Materials Management Self-audit worksheet for the self-audit and use it to further track your planning decisions (see Develop and Implement a Plan of Action section below).


A materials management audit requires establishing a thorough list and tracking system for what materials are being purchased, where they are coming from, and where they are going. Board members and key leadership staff for marketing, finance, facilities and operations maintenance, and waste consultant professionals will ideally be part of this scoping process. The following questions should be considered as part of an initial self-audit of materials management at your garden:




  • Does your garden purchase products with recycled content?
  • Do new garden areas/hardscapes utilize:
    • Recycled materials
    • Certified wood products from non-threatened species
    • Salvaged material or materials with recycled content
    • Paints, sealants, coatings with reduced VOC emissions associated with air pollution
    • Construction materials sourced regionally or on site (reducing transportation)
  • Does your garden make a list of materials you intend to avoid purchasing or plan to phase out (e.g., office supplies, styrofoam, chemicals)?
  • Does your garden purchase materials from local/regional sources when possible?
  • Does the garden make purchasing decisions based on what can be recycled locally?
  • Has your garden established partnerships with local manufacturers?
  • Does your garden track which staff are involved in the purchasing of materials?
  • Does your garden have a sustainable purchasing policy? Have relevant staff and contractors read and signed off to follow this policy?
  • Does your garden regularly maximize re-use of materials?




  • Does your garden favorably consider local and sustainable sources in purchasing decisions for soil, amendments, and plants?
  • Does your garden record/assess the annual quantity of flora and plant supplies procured from outside sources?
  • Does your garden track how much flora is produced on site, locally, and /or sustainably?
  • Does your garden use the same standards for flora purchases for seasonal displays or special events?
  • Does your garden track which plant collections or gardens require the most use of pesticides and insecticides?
  • Does your garden have areas that restrict chemical use?
  • Does your garden track which plant collections or gardens require the most maintenance?
  • Does your garden use peat-free soil?
  • Does your garden have a large annual bulb display? Does your garden track the carbon footprint of bulb procurement and removal?
  • Does your garden have a plant production facility on site?




  • Has your garden taken quantifiable measures to reduce food miles with procurement of local, seasonal products?
  • Does your garden set long term goals for increasing food sustainability?
  • Does your garden serve edible plants grown on your property?
  • Do all food service areas (internal and external) contain multi-stream recycling and composting options and interpretation?
  • Do garden café/catering procurement regularly include:
    • Produce from environmentally responsible farming practices
    • Sustainable seafood
    • Fair Trade products
    • Sustainably raised meat and dairy




  • Does materials management fit into your garden mission?
  • Does your garden have guidelines, manuels, procedures for sustainable materials management that are part of staff on-boarding processes and training? 
  • Does your garden have current or future initiatives aimed at reducing hazardous waste?
  • Does your garden rely on a waste management company or utility company to pick up and dispose of waste?
  • Does your garden have a recycling and/or compost program?
  • Does your garden track where waste goes when it leaves your property?
  • Does your garden employ contract staff for operations and are they aware of their role within materials management (abiding by sustainability guidelines)?
  • Does the garden minimize use of tools and equipment for maintenance that have adverse environmental impacts?
  • Has your garden identified the closest recycling facilities, landfills, and transfer stations in your community/region?
  • Does your garden track where all materials that are recycled end up off site? 
  • Does your garden have reduced or no mowing zones in conservation areas?
  • Does your garden minimize materials/equipment use on lighter use trails and pathways?
  • Does your garden schedule maintenance of existing structures, hardscape, benches to extend life and minimize new resource use?



2. Identify Stakeholders


Materials Management requires coordinating several aspects of public garden management and planning. This includes public garden facilities, activities and events, horticulture, building design and management, greenhouses, grounds management, administration, guest activities, and retail operations. Working across departments is vital to establishing best practices and holding individuals accountable for sustainability management goals. Continue to have an open dialogue with all suppliers about your current and future projects and the associated sustainability goals and needs.


  • Are leaders involved in facility and operations, horticulture, and finance following the flow of material purchases?
  • Does your garden identify potential partnerships such as local organizations and government agencies involved in projects and initiatives addressing sustainable waste management? For example, Revolution Recovery has donated space in their warehouse to the local non-profit RAIR. Click on this link to learn more:
  • Does your garden contact local and regional nurseries and other plant producer associations to identify growers using sustainable practices in plant production?
  • Does your garden partner with local schools (K-12, colleges and universities) on research projects and educational programming concerning responsible waste management?



3. Data Collection/Resources


Making goals for reducing waste and recycling means being aware of the variety of materials used to construct infrastructure and buildings and maintain the landscape of your garden. A step in the right direction is collecting data that tracks the flow of all waste and recycled material and then comparing costs of internal and external services for waste management. Once you begin tracking and creating a comprehensive materials list you can begin seeing what is being used most often compared to what is being used least often. Let the data inform how you decide to phase out certain products or change the way you operate and maintain your landscapes, internal operations, and public facilities.


  • Does your garden track how much of your waste material is being recycled, composted, and mulched annually? 
  • Does your garden track where material is being recycled or composted (e.g., on site; off site, if so, how many miles away)?
  • Does your garden rely exclusively on organizations like Waste Management for data and information?
  • Does your garden quantify and inventory all resources and tools for maintenance (number of pesticide applications, etc)?
  • Does your garden have recycling bins at all indoor facilities on your property? (If so, how many?).
  • Are recycling bins/composting located within a close proximity to waste bins? Is there equal opportunity to divert or are landfill options favored?
  • Does your garden track all pesticides and insecticides used daily (e.g. most used versus least used)?
  • Does your garden track the amount of petroleum used per year?
  • Does your garden know what percentage of your material waste is ending up at a landfill?
  • Does your garden know what percentage of building/construction materials is reused or that you plan on reusing for future projects?
  • Has your garden tracked how often waste and recycling is picked up and disposed?
  • Has your garden completed some form of a waste audit? There are a variety of waste audits depending on your needs/capacity:


Process Audit:

Disposal-Collection-Removal: Does your garden have bins in several locations so that a guest can dispose of recyclables and waste? Who/how often are these collected and where are they disposed of (do they all end up in a waste dumpster)? How are the products removed and what is their final destination?

Service Provider Audit:

Most waste removal organizations such as Waste Management will provide annual “Waste Reports” which will include your organizations weighted recyclable materials, waste materials, and potentially compost. While this provides useful estimates of your garden’s performance they are typically based on average pick up weights and are not precise measurements. The weights are typically based on dumpster weight pick-ups and do not account for contamination rates (e.g. waste that is in the recycling dumpster and shouldn’t be there).      

Visual Audit:

Check what ends up in disposal bins or dumpsters. Does there appear to be items in each stream of waste diversion that shouldn’t be there? Is there a lot of a particular item you may be able to phase out or find a more sustainable variation? Items being misplaced in the wrong bins frequently could mean you need to improve the labeling of each stream/disposal bin or provide additional educational resources.                                         

Detailed Audit:

This requires the most resources in staff hours (or a consultant service). Empty all collected waste to sort out correctly placed items and misplaced items (by weight). This process can be used to calculate diversion rate, capture rate, contamination rate. 



4. Develop/Implement Plan of Action


Once you have started collecting data and creating systems for tracking your materials, you then can implement strategies for reducing waste, recycling materials, and rethinking the way you maintain and design the different areas of your garden. Creating a long-term comprehensive plan for sustainable site maintenance of all areas of your garden will help inform future decisions for expansion or reduction. Coming up with ways to replace any deteriorating or damaged components and listing all appropriate maintenance techniques will be imperative to achieving sustainable initiatives for materials management.




The garden has implemented a solid waste reduction plan if some or all have been addressed:

  • Waste disposal and rate of contamination have been measured. 
  • Areas of concern are identified (e.g. lack of education concerning waste management, number of recycling bins, etc.) and strategic plan focuses on effective solutions.
  • Solid waste reduction targets have been set and communicated to garden staff and the public. 
  • The garden's short and long range goals for solid waste reduction are part of educational and interpretive programming and communicated via marketing and advertising campaigns on social media, garden website, newsletter, or other materials disseminated to the public.




  • Compost or recycle vegetation trimmings on site for use in nursery operations or for sale to the public.
  • Staff members are educated about composting methods.
  • Visitors are educated about garden composting methods.
  • Visitors are offered classes on composting methods.
  • Recycle paper, glass, plastic, metal, batteries, fluorescent bulbs, paint, computers, scrap metal, waste oil in both public and staff areas. 
  • Compost some or all of the following with target dates:
    • Food waste from on-site food sales
    • Food waste generated in staff
    • Waste generated from garden events
    • Garden waste from horticulture activities




Eliminate and reduce toxic and hazardous waste by:

  • IPM, Integrated Pest Management: Employ a certified IPM practitioner or use an IPM-certified nursery.
  • EBPM, Ecological Based Pest Management
  • Managing diseased plants with alternatives to chemicals
  • Cleaning products chosen from SC Johnson's Greenlist or equivalent
  • Planting native species to promote beneficial insects
  • Using plants that thrive in their soil and temperature conditions
  • Fertilizing with compost made on site
  • Recording fertilizer applications and methods
  • Recording pest control management applications
  • Recording chemical use (fungicides, herbicides)
  • Recording use of toxic cleaning products
  • Developing chemical inventories covering all chemicals used (pesticides, insecticides, fertilizer, cleaning products etc). In cases where the compilation of a complete chemical inventory is not feasible, the inventory requirements should cover chemicals and their life cycle stages thought to present the greatest hazards to employees, visitors, plant collections, and wildlife.
  • Providing staff training for the appropriate departments on chemical handling utilizing some or all of the following:




  • Form a multi-departmental team dedicated to materials management and tracking supply chains. Identify material and product suppliers who can help achieve goals created in your strategic plan that focus on sustainable materials management. 
  • Make sure your plant selections coincide with your commitment to use sustainable materials. Plants selected that require frequent use of pesticides may not align with your mission and the values of your community. Develop plant collection policies that prevent the introduction and accessioning of disease-prone plants that require chemical maintenance. Identify and reuse plants that are disease-free and show no signs of deterioration. Some native plant societies will rescue plants prior to construction and can also be a resource for conserving plants off site until they are ready to be replanted. This is where horticulture, grounds management, and building and design teams need to collaborate and come up with a strategic plan for all future plant collection policies.
  • Ensure proper soil conservation and nutrient management. Construction can damage soil irreparably so test and evaluate soil conditions post construction activities.
  • Train your employees to justify their purchases and maintenance practices. Workshops and meetings with all staff can lay the groundwork for what products should and should not be purchased and when/where tools/pesticides/insecticides should be used for site maintenance.
  • Work with landscape architects internal or external to select resistant and sustainable materials (e.g. pipes, fences, boardwalks) and plants (e.g. drought tolerant, less reliant on chemicals) that won’t require excessive maintenance when developing new garden areas. For gardens whose mission is driven by organic practices, select plants that can survive with organic fertilizers and by applying IPM.
  • Establish a materials worksheet to be used by all maintenance, finance, and operational staff. Keep track of amounts, cost, and sources for where material is being purchased and what is being used to manage your landscape and public facilities (i.e. paper towels as opposed to electronic dryers in bathrooms).  For landscape management, include a list of product names used (fertilizers, pesticides, etc) and the number of acres treated using that product, including where.
  • Develop partnerships with local/regional suppliers. Submit a letter, email, or call all materials/product suppliers asking them to disclose sustainable extraction practices, chemical inventories, or chemical hazard assessments.
  • Recycle wrist bands and other paper products and brochures that fall under the umbrella of visitor and guest services.
  • Practice what you preach internally-buying environmentally friendly office supplies (paper products) and furniture. 
  • Collect used batteries monthly from staff and volunteers for proper recycling.
  • To reduce or eliminate disposable plastic water bottle usage, install bottle filling stations throughout your garden.
  • Establish a composting facility or develop program(s) to educate the public on the benefits to composting and recycling waste.




  • Establish zones where no gas powered equipment or chemical spraying are allowed, especially zones that are adjacent or nearby valuable ecological public lands outside garden walls and conservation areas. Use greener equipment in display gardens areas during visitor hours (battery operated/non-motorized tools). Consider using hazardous materials and equipment only when occupants/visitors are expected to be at their lowest - to reduce exposure to air and noise pollution.
  • Identify regional sources for plants, soils, and other landscape materials, including those that are salvaged, reused, or contain recycled content.
  • Pre-Design Phase: Consider before building new structures with new materials what can be reused on site. For example: Use stumps, dead trees, and other debris and convert them into signs/posts/markers/wayfinding or other ways that can serve a purpose.
  • Utilize product certification systems (standards and ecolabels) that incentivize transparency and safer chemistry. For example, track whether all new wood products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or local equivalent for purchase orders outside the United States and purchase from suppliers who use non-threatened tree species.
  • Determine maintenance costs for all plant collections and compare which are highest and lowest. Establish a plan for reducing costs for specific plant collections through more sustainable maintenance practices (e.g., keep fuel logs for all mowers and vehicles). 
  • Identify and perform required maintenance for weed suppression manually whenever possible
  • Use cover crops and amend soils with compost, manure, or other sustainable sources.
  • Implement a system for tracking material type and where it’s coming from. This will help your garden calculate the percentage of materials purchased that are local/regional and the distance travelled. See section 5 of SITES v2 Credit 5.6: Use Regional Material. 



5. Evaluate/Revise/Monitor and Maintain Success


To achieve sustainable materials management goals, adaptive management is necessary. Public gardens need to constantly adapt as their landscapes and employees change over time. For strategies and plans directed at addressing materials management to be successful; constant evaluation, revision, and monitoring must take place. It’s important to know what is working and what is ineffective when monitoring and evaluating your gardens operational procedures.


  • During construction or design of new garden areas, monitor to ensure that the specified local materials, plants, and soils are installed or used.
  • Confirm that plant re-wholesalers and retailers obtain their products regionally.
  • Monitor pipes, hoses, and irrigation components (See Water Quality & Consumption Attribute)
  • Monitor to ensure the use of greener equipment in display gardens areas during visitor hours (battery operated/non-motorized tools).
  • Test new plant maintenance practices (e.g. soil amendments) in one section/zone of the garden before standardizing.
  • Evaluate how you are moving tools, equipment, and materials. Determine if there is a way to reduce the use of all drivable resources (mowers, tractors, vehicles).
  • Monitor effectiveness of chemical applications and pilot more sustainable practices (i.e. manual maintenance for weed suppression). Ensure areas where chemical application is prohibited is being monitored and evaluated thoroughly.
  • Stay in contact with product suppliers and external resources about all material inventories to ensure current products have not become more toxic and to see what else is available that is less toxic.  
  • Continually evaluate the types of pesticide controls used.
  • Maintain and evaluate record keeping practices for purchased materials (miles travelled, eco-labels, certified products).
  • Evaluate and monitor use of natural or organic fertilizers.
  • Compare pre and post soil samples for construction, maintenance, and infrastructure projects.
  • Determine annual pest counts and evaluate better ways to track, monitor, and find solutions for better pest management.



6. Report, Communicate, Educate


Recycling and salvaging materials can become part of a gardens story. Practice what you preach and make that visually apparent to your visitors when possible, whether that’s signs, classes, or tours.


  • Disseminate a materials worksheet across all departments/stakeholders, make it an iterative process with frequent updates and input from employees. Establish a monthly workshop to discuss new ideas and provide feedback.
  • Any completed projects that are examples of how your garden is taking a leadership role in green design should be highlighted. For example, The Cornell Plantations’ Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center has an informational panel when visitors walk in that explains how the building was built and designed using regional products, durable wood, double glass, and recycled materials (See Resources and Case Studies Section).
  • On website, magazine, e-blast, or newsletter include what the garden has done to divert waste from the landfill and how that benefits your community.
  • Educate, market, and communicate to your stakeholders what you plan to do to reduce waste and what you have done that shows a commitment to sustainable materials management. Find ways to show this through pictures, blogs, or stories on your website or social media. Announce important sustainability milestones to the public through press releases, newsletters, and new web content (e.g. composting program, conservation partnerships).
  • Demonstrate sustainable materials management that can be practiced by visitors at home. (e.g. sustainability at home in brochures/newsletters with factoids about recycling, composting, and waste).
  • Connect visitors to regional and national conservation organizations and to the science behind sustainability initiatives.
  • Implement sustainable materials management classes with exercises, activities, and programs for children, teen, and adult visitors. 
  • Prepare a detailed annual report for multi-department team evaluation.
  • Make publicly available a statement that includes all or some of the following:
    • A commitment to reducing environmental harms from extraction and any manufacturing processes through purchasing and using sustainably certified products.
    • Evidence of diverting waste from landfills and a commitment to composting and recycling programs.
    • Evidence of using recycled materials/content and reusing materials and sources that are local.
    • Evidence of sustainable foods at your garden.  
    • Evidence of IPM and reducing pesticide use.
    • LEED certified buildings that are designed using regional products.
  • Report the methods used to track waste flow and recycling and disseminate that to staff so that they can communicate that process to the public.
  • Report the total weight or volume of materials that are used to produce the garden’s primary products and services quarterly by:
    • Non-renewable materials used
    • Renewable materials used



7. Resources and Case Studies


GOAL 1: Implement a plan/policy to purchase or select materials that are extracted using sustainable practices and contain non-hazardous chemicals and recycled content.

Chemical Hazard Assessments, Protocols, Tools, Programs:

Materials Management Guidance:

EPA Sustainable Materials Management Program Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2017 – 2022:

SITES Rating System and Scorecard (see sections 5, 7, 8):


GOAL 2: Recycle and reuse materials for construction, renovation, restoration, maintenance, demolition, and educational purposes.

EPA Sustainable Materials Management Program Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2017 – 2022:

SITES Rating System and Scorecard (see sections 5, 7, 8):

Materials Management Guidance:

Green Restaurant Association:


GOAL 3: Reduce toxic and hazardous waste from all public garden management activities and divert, reduce, or eliminate waste to landfills.

Waste Audit:  Appalachian State University:

Chemical Hazard Assessments, Protocols, Tools, Programs:

Zero Waste Resources:

Cornell Waste Management Institute:


Materials Management Guidance:


For more Materials Management resources found in our Library & Media Center, click on the photo below: 


The Public Gardens Sustainability Index Working Group is made up of diverse field-wide professionals. Does your expertise lie within an Attribute area? Help us build content for Principles and Best Practices. Have success stories? Let us collect your Case Studies. Contact Tommy Rosenbluth:


Case Study 

Queens Botanical Garden


Queens Botanical Garden is partnered with the New York City Department of Sanitation for the NYC Compost Project. QBG serves as one of several compost sites for this project and uses the compost for food production and education on their urban farm.

Queens Botanical Garden has served as one of the five composting sites for New York City’s Compost Project since 1993. The Compost Project is part of New York City’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and collects food scraps from each of the five city boroughs to be composted at participating sites. In 2013, QBG became the first site to establish an urban farm as part of the project. With education as a primary focus, the farm uses the compost to give garden visitors lessons in environmental sustainability and showcase connections between food waste and growing food. Production is still a key part of the farm, though--last year, they donated thousands of pounds of produce to local food banks. To accomplish all this, the QBG Farm brings on dozens of volunteers and a handful of interns to maintain the farm, further expanding their education impact. The QBG Farm demonstrates how a unique partnership between a city department and botanic garden can reduce food waste (a major contributor of greenhouse gases) and recycle nutrients back into food while educating their local community and visitor base.


Smithsonian Gardens

The 2016 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan is an institution-wide initiative for all Smithsonian Institutions, including Smithsonian Gardens, to report sustainability successes and challenges from 2015. It identifies the sustainability strategies to be pursued in the year ahead, how progress will be measured, and the milestones to reach. It is a map the Smithsonian can follow towards a sustainable future. Within the Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations, Smithsonian Gardens is also engaged in a department wide strategic plan. The second goal, care for distinctive buildings and grounds, has the objective of promoting environmentally sustainable practices.


Cornell Botanic Gardens 

The Cornell Botanic Gardens' Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center was designed by Canadian architects, Baird Sampson Neuert, the Nevin Welcome Center is the culmination of many years of planning for improved visitor services. The completion of this building was the "grand finale" of improvements to infrastructure and visitor services at Cornell Botanic Gardens over the last decade.           

LEED Gold (Leadership in Environmental Design) certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Welcome Center advances the identity of Cornell Botanic Gardens as a “green garden” and promote its leadership role in environmental stewardship initiatives.


  • REGIONAL PRODUCTS. Products like new york state bluestone and others within a 500-mile radius were used. 
  • DURABLE WOOD: The hardwood façade and louvers, made of Ipe wood, are durable and sustainably harvested.
  • DOUBLE GLASS: The windows used throughout the building are made of double glass panes that reduce heat loss.
  • RECYCLED MATERIALS: Thirty percent of the buiding’s materials are made from recycled content.

In concert with the construction of the Nevin Welcome Center, Cornell also made significant improvements to the surrounding botanical garden.  These improvements started with a new parking area and tour-bus drop off zone. The parking area and arrival plaza were partially constructed of Cornell Structural Soil, a special substrate design that allows better root penetration to encourage vigorous tree growth.  The arrival plaza at the parking area is shaded by trees that will become part of their Urban Tree Collection.  

Adjacent to the parking area, a new bioswale provides an innovative landscaping approach that precludes the need for conventional underground drainage systems. The bioswale garden includes plants that can withstand dry and wet conditions, all of which filter surface water runoff from the parking lot and surrounding areas.

All Attributes

Water Quality & Consumption

Biodiversity & Conservation

Energy Use
& Impacts


Climate Adaptation & Risk Management

Business Planning
& Management

Strategic Planning, Design & Governance

Economic Health