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Environmentally Preferable Products Final Guidance Brochure

Key Policy, Guidance Documents

EPA's Final Guidance on EPP

Executive Orders

Federal Acquisition Regulation

Green Purchasing Guides

Information on Standards for Green Products, Services

As published by the EPA in June 2000.

The federal government is committed to minimizing the adverse environmental impacts of its purchases. Spending more than $200 billion annually on the purchase of products and services, the federal government’s commitment to environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) is helping increase the availability of products and services with improved environmental performance. EPP, however, does not only protect the environment; it also protects human health, saves money, and improves the overall quality of government purchases.

Environmentally preferable purchasing is the purchase of "products and services [that] have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared to other products and services that serve the same purpose."

- Executive Order 13101, Greening the Government Through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition September 14, 1998

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Final Guidance on Environmentally Preferable Purchasing outlines the federal government’s approach for incorporating environmental considerations into its purchasing decisions. In addition to establishing five guiding principles, EPA’s final guidance includes specific recommendations for implementing EPP, a list of available resources, a glossary, and a list of environmental attributes to help federal agencies compare the environmental preferability of products and services. The final guidance reflects lessons learned from numerous EPP pilot projects conducted since the release of the proposed guidance and from federal agency and public comments.

Guiding Principles:

To help government purchasers incorporate environmental considerations into purchasing decisions, EPA developed five guiding principles. The guiding principles provide a framework federal agencies can use to make environmentally preferable purchases. The five principles are:

  1. Include environmental considerations as part of the normal purchasing process.
  2. Emphasize pollution prevention early in the purchasing process.
  3. Examine multiple environmental attributes throughout a product’s or service’s life cycle.
  4. Compare relevant environmental impacts when selecting products and services.
  5. Collect and base purchasing decisions on accurate and meaningful information about environmental performance.

Principle One: Include Environmental Considerations As Part of the Normal Purchasing Process

EPA encourages all purchasers to examine environmental considerations along with traditional factors such as product safety, price, performance, and availability when making purchasing decisions. Each of these factors, including environmental performance, provides important information about a product’s or service’s overall value and quality, which are the ultimate criteria for all government purchasing decisions. As a result, environmental considerations should be a regular part of the normal purchasing process.

Principle Two: Emphasize Pollution Prevention Early in the Purchasing Process

Preventing pollution is far less costly and more effective than correcting a problem after it has occurred. EPP can be an important part of any pollution prevention effort by identifying environmental implications before purchasing a product or service. Emphasizing pollution prevention throughout the purchasing process can lead to significant savings (such as avoided disposal costs) and to improvements in product performance.

Principle Three: Examine Multiple Environmental Attributes Throughout a Product’s or Service’s Life Cycle

EPA encourages purchasers to select products and services with as few adverse environmental impacts in as many life cycle stages as possible. A product’s life cycle includes activities associated with raw material acquisition, manufacturing, packaging and transportation, product use, and ultimate disposal. When examining the life cycle of a service, particular emphasis is placed on the use phase of the products required to provide the service, although the entire life cycle of the products being used should be examined carefully. To determine environmental preferability, EPA suggests purchasers compare the severity of environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of the product or service with those of competing products and services.

Environmental preferability should also reflect the consideration of multiple environmental attributes such as increased energy efficiency, reduced toxicity, or reduced impacts on fragile ecosystems at each phase in the life cycle. Although the determination of environmental preferability should be based on multiple environmental attributes examined from a life cycle perspective, purchasing decisions can be made based on a single environmental attribute such as recycled content or energy efficiency when that attribute is the strongest distinguishing characteristic of a product’s or service’s environmental preferability.

Principle Four: Compare Relevant Environmental Impacts When Selecting Products and Services

EPA recognizes that competing products might have different environmental impacts. For example, one product might consume significantly less energy while another might be less water polluting. While the ideal solution would be to find a product that maximizes both of these environmental attributes, sometimes purchasers must choose between them, which can be a challenging endeavor. To compare the environmental impacts of products or services, EPA recommends considering the following:

Principle Five: Collect and Base Purchasing Decisions on Accurate and Meaningful Information About Environmental Performance

Making an environmentally preferable purchasing decision requires accurate and meaningful environmental attribute information for each stage in a product’s life cycle. EPA encourages purchasers to seek this information from manufacturers or suppliers when researching products and services and to base their decisions on this information. Environmental attribute information also is available from a variety of government and nongovernmental sources. This information is being collected and made available on the EPP Web site.

For Additional Information

EPA’s Final Guidance on Environmentally Preferable Purchasing was published in the Federal Register on August 20, 1999. In addition to detailed descriptions of the guiding principles highlighted on the back of this page, the guidance includes specific recommendations, a list of resources, a glossary, and a list of environmental attributes to consider when making purchasing decisions. A link to the guidance is available on the EPP Web site. Copies are also available by calling the Pollution Prevention Clearinghouse at 202 260-1023.

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