A first look at EPA’s draft guidelines for greener government purchasing.

On November 20, EPA released its Draft Guidelines for federal government procurement of greener products. Because the federal government purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services, changes in federal procurement policy can have broad ripple effects for product manufacturers and markets.

The Draft Guidelines were formulated with the General Services Administration and other agencies to help federal purchasers identify and buy environmentally preferable products; currently, agencies must meet a mandate that 95% of acquisitions be sustainable. EPA is also seeking input on how to assess existing, non-governmental environmental standards and ecolabels. Although many environmentally preferable products are identified with federal ecolabels such as Energy Star or Design for Environment, other products are not covered by such labels. When finalized, these guidelines will provide clarity regarding the term “environmentally preferable,” and help federal purchasers make consistent comparisons across different environmental standards and ecolabels.

The Draft Guidelines consist of four sets of guidelines, many of them referring to ISO 14024 and other existing standards for ecolabels, each addressing different aspects of the issue area:

  • Process for Developing the Standard
  • Environmental Effectiveness of the Standard
  • Conformity Assessment
  • Management of Ecolabeling Programs

Under EPA’s proposed approach, one or more NGO with expertise in the area would work with a multi-stakeholder panel to develop a process for applying the guidelines to private sector environmental standards and ecolabels. EPA envisions that the guidelines would be applied on product category basis to create a list of product standards and ecolabels that meet the guidelines for each product category. The resulting list would be made available to federal agencies for voluntary use and supplement existing federal standards or ecolabels.

The Draft Guidelines establish two tiers of guidelines: “Baseline” and “Leadership.” This approach was developed to allow flexibility in addressing the varying approaches to sustainability practices incorporated across different industries and product categories. According to EPA’s FAQ:

…draft “baseline” guidelines align with Federal goals and requirements, are relatively straightforward to evaluate, and are applicable across industry sectors. Draft “Leadership” guidelines represent EPA’s current assessment of best practices and are currently achievable by some standards and ecolabels.

The Draft Guidelines only address products, but EPA also expressed interest in public comments on environmental benchmarking for services such as hospitality, printing, and cleaning.

EPA is accepting comments on the draft guidelines through February 25, 2014.