By Ilana R. Morady and Craig B. Simonsen

In November 2013 EPA released its Draft Guidelines for Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement for public comment. The public comment period has now been extended until April 25, 2014.

The Guidelines are the Agency’s criteria for assessing private sector standards and ecolabels in order to help the federal government buy greener and safer products. As Jim Jones, the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, has said, “the government buys everything from furniture to lighting to cleaning products. These guidelines will make it easier for federal purchasers to meet the existing goal of 95 percent sustainable purchases while spurring consumers and the private sector to use and demand safer and greener products.”

Accordingly, the Guidelines consider factors such as how standards are developed and managed, as well as their environmental effectiveness. EPA’s ecolabels, such as Energy Star, WaterSense, and Design for the Environment, are labels that identify products meeting federal standards for energy, water, and safer chemicals. Another similar federal program is the USDA’s BioPreferred label for bio-based products. However there are many products not covered by federal ecolabels, and also many products covered by private ecolabels and standards. Thus, the Guidelines will help federal buyers select those private ecolabels and standards that are environmentally preferable and appropriate for federal procurement.

Under the new proposed Guidelines, one or more “non-governmental” (private sector) organizations with expertise in environmental standards and ecolabels would work with EPA and “key stakeholders” to develop a process for applying the guidelines to private sector environmental standards and ecolabels. The guidelines would be applied on a product category by product category basis. The result would be a list of product standards and ecolabels that meet the guidelines. That information would then be considered by federal purchasers, along with other federal mandates and requirements for federal purchasing.

Industries that manufacture and sell goods and products to the federal government may wish to review the Draft Guidelines. As the aim of the program is to “develop a process for applying the guidelines to private sector environmental standards and ecolabels,” the private sector has a definite stake in the outcome.

Comments on the proposed Guidelines may now be submitted to the Docket #EPA-HQ-OPPT-2013-0579 on or before April 25, 2014.