Sustainable Acquisition: Labels to Look For


When striving to meet the 100% green purchasing goal put forth by the Executive Order 13693 — Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade, incorporating green into market research is going to be essential.

Surprisingly, the biggest hurdle is not a lack of eco-labeling. It’s an overabundance of it.

So Many Labels, So Little Time

There are well over 400 different eco-friendly designations in the marketplace. These labels vary widely in terms of quality and standards.

Some labels are made up by manufacturers who, by virtue of wanting to turn a profit, make their standards fairly lax. Other labels, like those created by some environmental groups, suffer the opposite problem; they’re too stringent to adhere to because their standards are too high.

Federally Managed Eco-labels

In order to simplify market research and ensure consistency, the Federal Government has created and/or manages the following green designations. These may be used to evaluate the environmental impact of products:


Managed by the USDA. Federal purchasers are required to give preferential consideration to biobased products within the USDA’s 97 BioPreferred categories.

Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) Program

Through this program, the EPA designates product types that currently are or could be created with recovered materials. Once a product type is identified and designated, the requirement is to purchase that product type with the highest amount of recovered material possible.

Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)

A 95% acquisition rate of EPEAT products is required by law. Products given the EPEAT designation are evaluated for their performance over the entire lifecycle. Criteria includes energy efficiency, materials the product is made out of and end-of-life management.

ENERGY STAR Products  

Managed by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Federal purchasers are required to purchase either ENERGY STAR or FEMP products.

Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) & FEMP Low-Standby Power

Managed by the Department of Energy. Products that receive the FEMP designation are very energy efficient, typically falling within the top 25% within their product category. Federal purchasers are required to either purchase FEMP or ENERGY STAR products.

Also managed by the Department of Energy. For most products, ENERGY STAR or EPEAT is sufficient. However, for some product categories, the additional FEMP Low-Standby Power designation also applies. Federal purchasers are required to make sure purchases within those select product categories meet FEMP Low-Standby Power requirements. The FEMP Low-Power Standby list is updated on a monthly basis. See the list here.

Safer Choice  

Managed by the EPA. This designation is given to products that are created with safer chemical ingredients. Product categories include cleaners, carpet products and other janitorial and sanitation products.

Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP)

Managed by the EPA. SNAP regulates substitutes for ozone depleting substances that are being eliminated in accordance with the Clean Air Act. Rather than labeling specific products, the EPA instead publishes lists of acceptable and unacceptable substitutes.


Managed by the EPA. Products given the WaterSense label are tested and proven to provide 20% more water efficiency compared to other products within their category.


Third Party Standards and Ecolabels

In addition to the above labels, the EPA has published a list of 3rd party labels that have been evaluated and found to meet the EPA’s current standards. Labels include:

Inclusion on this list does not equal endorsement by the EPA; inclusion simply means that the label meets the EPA’s standards.

Clear Labels Equal Clear Purchasing

The above eco-labels are the ones to look for and rely on when conducting green market research. These federally managed labels provide a reliable way for purchasers to judge the environmental impact of the products they’re considering.



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