EPA, GSA want help in applying commercial standards to green purchasing

Wednesday - 11/27/2013, 12:33pm EST

Agencies soon will get help complying with five different legislative and regulatory requirements to purchase environmentally sustainable products.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the General Services Administration are seeking input on newly released draft guidelines.

EPA and GSA want comments on a "potential approach to assessing non-governmental environmental standards and ecolabels already in the marketplace."

"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," said Jim Jones, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, in a release.

The draft guidelines focus on four areas:

  • Process for developing the standard, including addressing a variety of interests, and how to maintain it in the future.

  • Environmental effectiveness of the standard, which focuses on whether the criteria to assess how products support the requirements is measurable.

  • Conformity assessment, which looks at whether there is a need for a third-party verification process and what procedures are used to assess products.

  • Management of ecolabeling programs, which considers how to address dispute resolution practices, and whether the practices and fees are transparent.

"As envisioned by EPA, guidelines for standards and ecolabels that would be used by the federal government would not be applied to products directly or to government standards and ecolabels or to non-governmental standards and ecolabels that are already mandated for procurement via statute or Executive Order," EPA stated in the notice published Nov. 27 in the Federal Register. "Moreover, these draft Guidelines are not intended to discontinue or diminish procurement of products conforming to government standards and ecolabels. Rather, EPA envisions that non-governmental standards and ecolabels determined to be in conformance with the guidelines would supplement existing mandates and government standards and ecolabels."

EPA wants feedback on the draft guidelines by Feb. 25.

The guidelines follow a laundry list of laws and regulations requiring the government to do a better job with purchasing green products. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in October 2009, Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance. President George W. Bush issued another in January 2007, Executive Order 13423 Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management. Both called for agencies to comply with sustainability purchasing requirements.

Congress got into the act several times as well with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 and the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, all addressed different aspects of green purchasing.

As part of the executive order, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and GSA on different occasions over the last five years have been trying to collect data about agency green purchasing habits, and issued acquisition rules about how the government should buy sustainable products.

EPA said since 2011 it worked with GSA and other agencies to identify existing environmental purchasing requirements, and existing guidelines and protocols for standards and ecolabels.

"An interagency group developed an initial set of draft guidelines, and, with contractor support, tested the feasibility and appropriateness of the draft guidelines," EPA stated on its FAQ site. "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 initiating this public comment process."

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