Green Building, Sustainability/Business Continuity

Environmentally Preferred Purchasing Programs, Part 2: Building Your Policy

In Part 1, we looked at the benefits of implementing an EPP policy and discussed how to get started prioritizing what you want to include in an EPP. As the champion of an EPP in your facility, your input will be crucial in the construction of your facility’s EPP. Today, we’ll present specific recommendations of what to consider when building an EPP.

Warehouse managers and worker working together in warehouse office

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What’s included in an EPP?

EPP policies can be written to be flexible to suit your particular business needs. They should consider the product’s impact, including emissions, effect on habitats and biodiversity, and human exposure to toxic or hazardous substances. In addition, some EPPs may consider prioritizing products from companies that have fair labor practices within the supply chain. The following are some items to consider when writing your policy.

 Avoid ‘greenwashed’ products

Many buzzwords on products such as biodegradable, natural, earth-friendly, and eco-safe have no legal definition—that means that a manufacturer does not need to adhere to any standard or substantiate the claim. Marketers may add these labels to mislead consumers into thinking they’re buying something less harmful to the environment when they actually aren’t.

You can avoid these false claims by purchasing products that have been third-party-certified (usually by a nonprofit organization or government entity) for specific and measurable environmental and health benefits.

 Consider how a product is sourced

How raw materials are harvested matters—this stage in a product’s life cycle may have significant negative environmental impacts. However, you can make purchasing choices that lessen those impacts.

  • To reduce deforestation or illegal harvesting, and promote responsible land management, purchase sustainably produced paper and wood products (look for products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), American Tree Farm System, and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)).
  • To ensure that agricultural products (like coffee and tea, paper products, and some lumber) you purchase are grown sustainably, look for the Rainforest Alliance certification
  • To reduce the demand for raw natural resources, purchase products made of postconsumer recycled content (such as printer paper and janitorial paper products). There are different percentages of postconsumer content, so select the highest, 100 percent, when possible.
  • To ensure you are working with vendors and manufacturers that have a strong environmental record and transparency in how they source or harvest their raw ingredients and materials, do some research before entering into a contract. You may research the company to see if they have a sustainability report that is available to the public.
  • To reduce GHG emissions from transporting products over long distances, purchase locally sourced products, when possible.

 Consider the life cycle of a product

How much use a product gets before it is disposed of is important. The worst-case scenario are single-use items, which should be avoided whenever possible. An EPP should give preference to:

  • Durable goods—opt for reusable products. In addition, purchasing or leasing equipment along with service agreements for maintenance and repair can extend the life of the goods.
  • Renting or sharing equipment for occasional use.
  • Used, refurbished, and/or remanufactured goods over new items.
  • Rechargeable batteries.
  • Working with companies that practice extended producer responsibility through reuse, buyback, or recycling programs when you are finished using their product. For example, Cisco has a Takeback and Recycle Program that is “designed to harvest and reuse the materials contained in the equipment collected.”

 Consider how a product is packaged

Packaging can contribute substantially to your wastestream—think about how it can be reduced in your facility.

  • To reduce the amount of waste from packaging, give preference to buying in bulk instead of in smaller quantities of the same item.
  • To reduce your waste hauled to the landfill, purchase products with recyclable packaging. Compostable packaging is good, but you must have a contract with a composting company or compost on-site to take advantage of this type of packaging.
  • To encourage manufacturer/vendor responsibility, work with vendors that take back and reuse pallets and/or packaging materials.

 Consider the efficiency of a product

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, buildings consume about 39 percent of all the energy in the United States. In commercial buildings, the sources of GHG emissions from plug loads and lighting are 15 percent to 21 percent each. To reduce energy consumption, GHG emissions, and your electric bill, purchase energy-efficient equipment and appliances, such as:

  • ENERGY STAR®-certified electronics (computers, monitors, tablets, printers, scanners, copiers, fax machines)
  • ENERGY STAR®-certified appliances (refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers, air purifiers, dishwashers, washing machines)
  • Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) -certified IT equipment (servers, computers and displays, imaging equipment, cell phones, and TVs)
  • Light-emitting diode (LED) lighting—these bulbs can use up to 80 percent less energy and can last 3 to 25 times longer than traditional compact fluorescent lighting (CFL).

 Consider the toxicity of the product

Indoor air quality is often worse than outdoor air quality—this is because the consumer use and janitorial products as well as building materials can lead to levels higher than allowed by environmental regulations in outdoor air.

  • To reduce chemicals in the indoor environment, purchase less toxic cleaning products (look for products with the EPA Safer Choice, Green Seal® or ECOLOGO labels)
  • Use the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) BioPreferred® Program Catalog to purchase a variety of products that are made from natural materials instead of from synthetic or harmful chemicals. This catalog includes less-toxic household and cleaning supplies, custodial products, etc. The catalog also includes plastic alternatives that are sourced from plant-based materials such as resins derived from corn. Unlike traditional plastics, these alternatives are free from petrochemicals and are often able to be composted.
  • Due to off-gassing from common items found in homes and offices, volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations are often many times higher inside than outside. Choose low-VOC- emitting furniture and flooring (GREENGUARD-certified and FloorScore®-certified) to improve indoor air quality (IAQ).

 Consider which products to avoid

It is important to include in your policy which products should be avoided due to their negative environmental impact. An EPP may explicitly prohibit the purchasing of certain items such as polystyrene foam used to serve food or beverages, wood treated with certain chemicals, janitorial paper products that have been bleached or processed with chlorine, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics that contain phthalate.

 Draw a bright line

The recommendations contained in this series can be a good starting point for your EPP, but you can go further by customizing your EPP to suit your particular business needs and sustainability goals.

Companies are becoming increasingly transparent. Numerous types of documents are available that can educate you before you make your purchasing decisions. These documents disclose information such as the ingredients and chemicals in a product (see the Declare label), the health impact of ingredients in a product (see Health product declarations (HPDs) , and information about the environmental impact over a product’s life cycle (see Environmental product declarations (EPDs). You can search these databases to find specific items that should or shouldn’t be purchased.