What Should We Make of the EPA’s New Sustainable Purchasing Guidelines?

This post, written by Jonathan Messinger, originally appeared on Public Spend Forum

On Monday, the Twitter stream was filled with people wishing the EPA a happy 43rd birthday—nothing brings out the Twitter well wishes like the big four-three. But the EPA has been front and center in our view the last couple weeks for another reason: The middle-aged agency is working on new green purchasing guidelines, and looking for comment. The guidelines, both contractors and acquisitions officers will be glad to know, are voluntary, but fill an interesting gap.

The EPA, of course, already has a series of ecolabels, including Energy StarWaterSense, and Design for the Environment, all of which meet federal standards for energy, water, and safer chemical use. But equally obvious, there are hundreds of categories that don’t fall under those labels that the government purchases, and there are a multitude of private sector ecolabels with varying degrees of credibility. As Thomas Landreth writes in his blog post about the process: “Key components are the development and use of environmental standards and “ecolabels” to help make the environmental performance of products, such as energy output efficiency or the amount of biomaterial used during development, a seamless part of comparison shopping along with unit prices.”

What’s interesting to me about the new guidelines is that it comes at a time when the federal government is making strides to be more sustainable, and in that effort is expanding its definition of acceptable green standards—a trend that’s coinciding with a proliferation of unstandardized, haphazard “green” labeling in the private sector.

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