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Friday, April 23, 2010

Green Procurement: Overview and Issues forCongress

Eric A. Fischer
Senior Specialist in Science and Technology

Economic and environmental concerns have contributed to rising interest in green procurement— a term used in various ways but that may best be described as acquisition of products and services with smaller-than-average environmental footprints. Fully assessing a product or service requires integrated evaluation of cost, performance, and impacts for a set of green factors over all stages of the life cycle. Green building is an example of this approach. More generally, complexities and information gaps may constrict assessment options. However, where choices are comparative, partial assessments may often suffice. Because of such considerations, green procurement often emphasizes particular attributes, such as recycled content, energy efficiency, and waste reduction. Labeling and certification programs such as Energy Star, as well as other approaches, may be used to identify green products and services. While the use of green procurement appears to be increasing nationally, the success of programs is often not clear. Barriers to broader adoption include inadequate information among decisionmakers, lack of common implementation standards, real and perceived cost obstacles, and market and technical uncertainties. 

As a major consumer of goods and services with significant potential impacts on the environment, including human health, the federal government could arguably influence the adoption of green procurement generally and the market for green products and services. Federal green-procurement efforts focus largely on acquisition of products, even though services account for about half of federal procurement spending. Various statutes, regulations, executive orders, and policy documents require or encourage the purchase of several types of products because of their environmental attributes. Agencies are required to purchase alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles, and products that are biobased, Energy Star and energy-efficient, EPEAT (a green technology labeling program), and that contain recycled content, but acquisitions may be exempt in specified circumstances. Agencies must consider purchasing alternatives to toxic and priority chemicals and ozone-depleting substances, and environmentally preferable (EPP) products and services. Only EPP and EPEAT attempt to provide an integrative approach, rather than addressing only one or a few attributes, but they lack a specific basis in enacted statutes. 

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provides broad guidance through various policy documents, as does the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE), housed at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For some kinds of attributes, procurement criteria are set by specific agencies. EPA, the General Services Administration (GSA), OFEE, and other agencies have databases that help identify green products. OMB requires agencies to have green procurement plans and to report annually on their activities. Those reporting requirements appear to be largely qualitative, but quantitative reports are available for recycled-content and alternative-fuels products. 

Green procurement raises several policy questions, especially for federal acquisitions: (1) What are the most useful and appropriate policy goals for green procurement? (2) Are the legal authorities and other means by which different green product and service initiatives have been established the most appropriate for meeting policy goals? (3) How effectively is agency implementation and performance of green procurement being assessed? (4) How successful are current programs and initiatives at meeting policy goals? (5) Are policies on the acquisition of green services sufficient? (6) Are the policies and the methods of implementing them sufficiently harmonized and integrated? (7) Are there significant gaps in the preferences for green products and services? (8) Are there implementation methods not currently used by the federal government that should be considered? (9) Is training of the acquisition workforce sufficient?

Date of Report: April 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 48
Order Number: R41197
Price: $29.95

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