Acquiring Environmentally Preferable Products (EPP)
Developing Competitive Specifications for Environmentally Preferable Products
Many state and local governments are required to develop competitive specifications for the products they are acquiring. These specifications typically identify physical and performance features of the product. In developing these specifications, one can follow a structured approach to meeting both the needs of the end user and the needs of the environment. This approach consists of:

  • Needs Assessment
  • Developing Green Specifications
  • Using Existing Standards (Green Seal, Energy Star, etc.)
  • Life Cycle Cost Assessment
  • Best Value Assessment

Needs Assessment
When developing specifications, the very first thing that should be assessed is the need for the product. This involves determining:

  • Why do you need the product?
  • How is the product going to be used?
  • What is the product going to be used for?
  • Who is going to use the product?
  • What products are available on the market?

Answering these questions will help you determine the actual requirements of the product you are about to acquire.
Developing Green Specifications
In developing your specifications, you will be identifying and prioritizing these requirements into a biddable document. This list of requirements should include a description of the physical and performance characteristics of the product. You should also identify any or all of the environmental requirements of the product. Examples include:

  • Lead free
  • Mercury free
  • 50% postconsumer recycled content

When developing your performance requirements, you must be specific in what you expect the product to adhere to. These requirements must be obtainable, measurable, and verifiable. Using general language like "Low VOC" is not a measurable or verifiable requirement. A specific attainable level of VOCs should be identified.
In developing these specific requirements, one additional criterion must be addressed, and that is the level of competition available to meet your requirements. Establishing a set of performance requirements that limit your competition among suppliers will undoubtedly raise the cost of such products. Maintaining an equitable number of suppliers while including environmentally friendly performance requirements will enable you to achieve the best results.
Using Existing Standards
The best method of specifying your performance requirements is to identify existing environmentally friendly standards and specify product compliance with these standards. Examples of existing environmentally friendly standards include:

These standards cover a large percentage of available products on the market today and insure that the products purchased will have the least impact on the environment during product development and throughout their useful lives. For example, Green Seal conducts a life-cycle evaluation of the product category that evaluates the major environmental impacts in each life-cycle stage including resource extraction, production, distribution, use, and eventual disposal or recycling. The evaluation considers energy, resource use, and emissions to air, water, and land, as well as other environmental and health impacts. The purpose of this evaluation is to identify significant life-cycle stages to be addressed in the standard. The evaluation also ensures that the environmental criteria selected will not lead to the transfer of impacts from one stage of the life cycle to another or from one medium (air, water, land) to another without a net gain in environmental benefit. []
When purchasing products which have yet to be assessed using these environmentally friendly standards, the specifier has a couple of options. They are:

  • Life Cycle Cost Assessment
  • Best Value Assessment

A word of caution: These two unique product assessment tools require extensive research and involve detailed evaluation methodology development for assessing value of both the products and the companies supplying the products. Individuals wishing to use either one of these product assessment tools should check with their internal Procurement Departments for authorization and assistance in developing such assessment methodologies.
Life Cycle Cost Assessment
A life cycle cost assessment of a product is a true quantitative evaluation of the product's overall cost rather than simply assessing the initial purchase price of the product. The life cycle cost assessment takes into consideration the purchase price, the operational costs, the maintenance costs, and finally the disposal cost of a product. These costs are assessed throughout the product's useful life. An example of developing a life cycle cost assessment on a typical fleet vehicle with an expected life of seven years is as follows:

  • Purchase price: $14,000
  • Operational costs (Fuel Usage): $800/year x 7 years = $5,600
  • Maintenance Cost (Scheduled Service Intervals): $300/year x 7 years = $2,100
  • Salvage Value (10% of purchase price): $1,400

Therefore, the total evaluated assessed cost would be: $14,000 + $5,600 + $2,100 - $1,400 = $20,300.
As you can imagine, the various cost factors affecting the initial price, operation and maintenance costs, and salvage value will vary from one product to the next and will even vary from brand to brand. It is imperative that the evaluation criteria used to determine a total life cycle cost of a product be consistently applied to all products being evaluated. Evaluating products based on the total cost over their useful lives will help ensure the purchase of the most economic and energy efficient products available on the market.
Best Value Assessment
Like life cycle cost, best value assessment looks at other parameters outside of the initial purchase price of the product. However, best value assessment is more of a qualitative assessment rather then a quantitative assessment. Determining the best value of a product requires identifying specific attributes a product offers and assigning a weighted point system to those attributes. Such attributes associated with typical commodities could include:

  • Price
  • Embodies one or more of these environmental attributes:
    • Less Hazardous
    • Conserves Energy
    • Recycled Content
    • Prevents Waste
    • Improves Air Quality
    • Low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
    • Conserves Water
    • End-of-life Management
    • Waste/Materials Management
    • Material Availability
    • Reduces Global Warming
    • Responsible Manufacturers

Consider tracking the total purchase of environmentally preferable products in your workplace. Tracking purchases can help you note what has worked well and where problems have been encountered. Benefits include identifying whether suppliers priced the products competitively, made them readily available, and met your expectations.
Environmental Codes for Tracking Purchases
EE = Energy Efficient
A product that uses less energy (either electricity or fossil fuel) to accomplish its task relative to a comparable product by the same manufacturer.
LT = Less Toxic
A product containing a smaller amount of toxic substances relative to a comparable product or a product reformulated to be less toxic.
PB = Plant-Based
A product derived from renewable resources, including fiber crops (such as kenaf); chemical extracts from oilseeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables (such as corn and soybeans); agricultural residues (such as wheat straw and corn stover); and wood wastes generated from processing and manufacturing operations. These products stand in contrast to those made from fossil fuels (such as petroleum) and other less renewable resources (such as virgin timber).
RB = Rebuilt
A product refurbished to a level less than a total remanufacture. The warranty is by the rebuilder, and may be different from the same product when new or remanufactured. Also called reconditioned or refurbished.
RC = Recycled Content
A product containing materials recovered or diverted from the solid waste stream after consumer use ("post-consumer").
RK = Reduced Packaging
A product presented for use with less packaging or alternative methods of packaging or shipping.
EM = Remanufactured
A product restored to its original condition by extensive rebuilding, usually given an equal or better warranty than a new product.
RE = Repair
A product that has had a defect corrected and can again serve its original function. Repairing is a less comprehensive process than either remanufacturing or rebuilding.
US = Used
A product used or owned before without further maintenance.
WC = Water Conserving
A product that requires less water to operate or to manufacture than a comparable product, or a different version of the same product from the same manufacturer.
MU = Multiple Codes
A product that has several significant environmentally responsible characteristics, and could be classified under more than one code, but not one code is predominant
TO = Other
A product having environmentally responsible characteristics that does not fit into any of the categories listed above.

Other Considerations

  • Make sure your specifications are objective and verifiable. Don’t just specify “reduced environmental impact” (or worse still “green”) – choose specific attributes, such as biodegradability, recycled content, mercury-free, non-hazardous under RCRA—then specify exactly what you are looking for. Even if you are stating a preference rather than a requirement, be specific – detail the percentage of recycled content you are looking for, the biodegradation factor you require, and so forth. Many of these may be found in our product specifications.
  • Make sure you communicate clearly about your contract specifications. For instance, if you require a “mercury-free” chemical reagent, many vendors may interpret this to mean no mercury in excess of 1% (the level that triggers MSDS disclosure). If you mean that the product cannot contain any contaminant mercury, you will need to specify a different level (i.e. down to 1 ppb). You will also need to indicate how the mercury content must be verified – by indicating if independent laboratory testing results or certificates of analysis are required. Bidder and vendor conferences are a good way to make sure everyone understands your precise specifications prior to submitting bids. These need not be elaborate and may be conducted by phone.
  • As the environmental purchasing movement expands, many manufacturers and vendors make environmental claims about their products that can be difficult to assess. The US Federal Trade Commission has provided Guidance for Consumers on evaluating environmental claims and has also published Guidelines for Manufacturers and Vendors on making environmental claims. In addition, the use of clear and definite specification standards that require objective proof will do much to weed out questionable environmental claims.

IPCC would like to thank the State of California’s Department of General Services for providing Environmentally Preferable Purchasing information.