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Greener Products

Introduction to Eco-Labels and Standards

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Introduction

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) Exit EPA Disclaimer. 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.

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

November 20, 2013, EPA announced it is seeking comments 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.

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Additional Resources

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.

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Footnotes:

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.

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