Introduction to Eco-Labels and Standards
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- Interagency Efforts to Develop Guidelines for Selecting Product Standards and Ecolabels for Greening Federal Procurement
- Additional Resources
Eco-labels are often affixed to products by manufacturers to indicate to customers that the products meet certain standards. These standards can be developed by private entities, by public agencies under their authorities, or jointly by stakeholders and experts from the public and private sectors.
As part of its mission, EPA works with a variety of non-governmental standards developers to promote the development of voluntary consensus standards for environmentally preferable goods and services. The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA) and OMB Circular A-119 direct the federal government to use, participate in the development of, and reference standards developed in voluntary consensus processes, where those standards meet government needs.
Many non-governmental developers of voluntary standards for greener products follow the Essential Requirements (PDF) (26pp, 106.5K) of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) . While not identical to the procedures under the NTTAA and OMB Circular A-119, these public and private sector processes have important similarities (e.g., openness, balance of interest, due process, etc.)1 Sometimes technical standards are set by private groups without government participation.
EPA also develops standards, criteria documents, and eco-labeling programs for products as part of its mission to protect human health and the environment. Examples of EPA eco-labeling programs include ENERGY STAR™, WaterSense®, and Design for the Environment (DfE). They are noteworthy examples of Federal leadership in advancing energy efficiency, water efficiency, and green chemistry, respectively, and reflect EPA's commitment to objective, fact-based decision-making, grounded in scientific reasoning and principles, and using the best available data.
The number of standards for green products has increased in recent years due to growth in market demand for "green" products. Recent examples include standards for electronics and products used in buildings (such as furniture, carpet, and flooring). More are likely to arise as retailers, governments, and other buyers seek to expand their green purchasing.
However, along with this changing marketplace has come increasing concern regarding "greenwashing" and uncertainty about which environmental claims related to standards and labels can be trusted. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created its Green Guides to help ensure that marketing claims regarding the environmental attributes of products are truthful and substantiated.2 However, these guides largely address when and how very specific and narrow environmental attributes can be claimed, not how to construct a broad-based environmental standard or eco-labeling program.
Interagency Efforts to Develop Guidelines for Selecting Product Standards and Ecolabels for Greening Federal Procurement
Per Executive Order 13514, the General Services Administration convened a Section 13 Workgroup which, after completing the April 2010 report,Vendor and Contractor GHG Emissions, is now moving forward in answering the "areas of further exploration" outlined in that report. The Section 13 Working Group has stood up several sub-working groups to focus on specific topics, including product standards and ecolabels.
The Product Standards and Ecolabels Subgroup is co-chaired by GSA and EPA and includes DOD, DLA, USDA, NIST, NIOSH, VA, NASA, DOC, DOI, and other federal agencies. The objective of this subgroup is to facilitate the product-related acquisition goals of Executive Order 13514 (§§13 & 2) being met by developing guidelines for selecting environmental sustainability standards and/or ecolabeling programs.
During the fall of 2011, the subgroup held listening sessions with key stakeholders to gain critical input on the development of the guidelines and potential implementation approaches to recommend in the subgroup's report. In late 2012, it is expected there will be a comment period announced in the Federal Register to gain further public input.
The EPA's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program website provides additional guidance and resources on product environmental standards. GSA has created a Green Products Compilation Tool to help vendors and procurement officers understand federal procurement requirements for products. A wide variety of related links on voluntary standards can also be found on this website.
1. For background materials and useful links about the use of standards in government, please see http://www.standards.gov/
2. The FTC is currently revising its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims.