Sustainable Marketplace: Greener Products and Services

Draft Guidelines for Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement

From November 20, 2013 through April 25, 2014, EPA received input from more than 75 individuals and organizations on its proposed Draft Guidelines for Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement to help federal purchasers select greener products and meet sustainability purchasing goals.

The majority of public comments supported EPA undertaking—with key external entity and stakeholder participation—additional work to further refine the Guidelines and test a potential approach to assessing standards and ecolabels. Therefore, in this next phase of work, EPA has contracted with Resolve Inc to convene a multi-stakeholder Governance Committee and purchase category-specific panels to develop and pilot test an approach in a few sectors.

EPA has chosen the following three product categories to pilot in 2015 – building paints/coatings/removers, building flooring, and furniture. In addition, EPA is interested in the potential for the Guidelines to be augmented/edited to apply to service sector standards and ecolabels (e.g., services related to building maintenance, cafeterias, and professional consultants, among others). The pilot for this sector will not assess service sector standards; rather the panel's analysis and recommendations could potentially position the Guidelines to accommodate such assessments in 2016 and beyond.

These sectors were chosen because they meet some or all of the following criteria:

  • Potentially significant environmental and/or human health impact (based on lifecycle assessments and hazard and risk assessments)
  • Opportunity for environmental and/or human health improvement through private sector standards/ecolabels
  • Significant volume of federal purchases
  • Current federal sustainable acquisition mandates in the category are limited, out-of-date, and/or could be augmented with private sector standards


What is the purpose of the guidelines?

They are a set of criteria that could help identify which private sector standards and ecolabels federal purchasers should consider when buying greener products.

The US government is directed via Executive Order 13693 to specify federal standards and ecolabels, such as Energy Star, WaterSense, and Safer Choice -- labels that identify products meeting strict federal standards for energy efficiency, water efficiency, and safer chemicals. The Executive Order recognizes, however, that there are hundreds of non-federal standards and ecolabels in the marketplace claiming to validate environmental and human health benefits. This presents the federal acquisition community both great opportunities and challenges. EPA's goal in developing the guidelines is to create a "transparent, fair, and consistent approach to selecting environmental performance standards and ecolabels to support the agency's mission and federal sustainable acquisition mandates." The fundamental aim of the guidelines is to establish a cross-sector framework to be used in recognizing non-governmental environmental standards and ecolabels (and consequently, environmentally preferable products meeting these standards) for use in federal procurement. 

How would the guidelines be used?

Under the approach currently being piloted, key stakeholders and experts would convene to develop purchase category-specific criteria, based on the cross-sector guidelines. That criteria would be used to assess environmental standards and ecolabels that volunteer to be assessed. A list of product standards and ecolabels that meet the guidelines could be created, informing EPA’s Recommendations per Section 3(i)(iii)A of Executive Order 13693. Read more about the pilot. Exit

Would the guidelines apply to household consumers?

Not directly. The guidelines are intended to inform federal purchasing. That said, there are many products, like cleaning products, paper, and building materials, that both government and households purchase. Therefore, the guidelines have the potential to affect the broader consumer marketplace by potentially increasing the availability of greener and safer products.

What do the draft guidelines address?

The draft guidelines are actually four sets of guidelines that address various aspects of product environmental performance standards and ecolabels:

  • Process for Developing the Standard — Are the procedures to develop, maintain, and update an environmental standard transparent? Do they allow for a balance of different stakeholder interests? Is there an appeals process for disputes?
  • Environmental Effectiveness of the Standard — Are the criteria in the standard/ecolabel that support environmental preferability measurable? Do they differentiate among products? Does the standard address key stages in the product lifecycle that may pose environmental and human health risks?
  • Conformity Assessment — Are the procedures and practices by which products are assessed transparent? Are there provisions for independent verification that products meet the standard, if necessary?
  • Management of Ecolabeling Programs — Do the organizational and management practices provide for dispute resolution? Are the practices and fees transparent?

How were the guidelines developed?

The Draft Guidelines were developed by EPA, the General Services Administration (GSA), and other federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce, following several listening sessions with a wide range of stakeholders. These agencies came together to identify existing environmental purchasing requirements for federal buyers and existing guidelines and protocols for standards and ecolabels. An interagency group developed an initial set of draft guidelines, and tested the feasibility and appropriateness of the draft guidelines. This included conducting a survey of a subset of government and non-governmental environmental performance standards and ecolabel developers. Based on the results of the study and external stakeholder input from more than 30 listening sessions and discussions, EPA took the lead in completing the draft guidelines and framing the pilot.

Read more information about how the guidelines were developed:

Supplementary Materials