HomeDiscoveryNorthStar Initiative for Sustainable EnterpriseNiSE director to influence how U.S. buys green

NiSE director to influence how U.S. buys green

Consumers aren’t the only ones overwhelmed by the growth and diversity of environmental labels attached to the products they buy, from breakfast cereal to furniture. U.S. government purchasing agents also struggle to identify which standards and ecolabels to consider when buying greener products.

Portrait: Tim Smith

Tim Smith, IonE resident fellow, associate professor of environmental sciences, policy and management, and bioproducts and biosystems engineering the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Photo courtesy of T. Smith.

Timothy Smith, director of IonE’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise and an IonE resident fellow, is about to make going green easier for the U.S. government — the single largest purchaser of goods and services in the world. Along with a select panel of experts, Smith will oversee and coordinate a series of pilot tests of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new draft guidelines advising government buyers on how to take product environmental performance standards and ecolabels into account when making purchases.

Executive departments and agencies of the U.S. government already are required by executive order to specify products meeting federal standards for energy efficiency, water efficiency, and safer chemicals (Energy Star®, WaterSense®,and Safer Choice). The new guidelines aim to bring into the picture the hundreds of private standards and ecolabels in the marketplace claiming environmental and human health benefits into the picture.

Smith says the pilot implementation has three big goals: to ensure consistency among the product panels; to approve final recommendations of the product panels’ criteria and assessment reports; and to advise the EPA on the pilot’s value, scalability and long-term feasibility. The ultimate aim, he says, is to create a transparent, fair and consistent approach to recognizing high-performing environmental standards and ecolabels and, consequently, environmentally preferable products that meet them.

“Having the opportunity to influence how the government ‘buys green’ is exciting and terrifying,” Smith says. “While the focus of the project is on finalizing EPA’s draft guidelines for the federal government, our work will provide a foundation for making better buying decisions — whether institutional or individual.”

Photo by Photos by Clark (Flickr/Creative Commons)

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