What's in a name? Or a standard? Or an ecolabel?

While there is significant consumer demand for environmentally preferable products and services, the exact definition of what constitutes environmental preferability is not always clear. This can make it hard for retailers to identify green products. One solution is to look for products with some type of environmental standard or ecolabel. Easier said than done. There are hundreds of private sector standards and ecolabels claiming to validate environmental and human health benefits of products and services and the credibility and effectiveness of these standards and ecolabels varies widely.

Fortunately, the EPA's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Program has just launched a new tool, EPA's Recommendations of Specifications, Standards, and Ecolabels for federal purchasers that can also help retailers make sense of these labels and certifications.

EPA has three ecolabels. The ENERGY STAR and Watersense labels provide information on energy and water efficient products. The SaferChoice ecolabel identifies products that contain safer chemicals. In addition to these labels, the EPP Program Recommendations cover 21 product categories and 40 private sector standards, ecolabels, and certifications. Many key purchase categories are addressed, such as cleaning products, building/construction materials, and electronics.

The federal government is using these Recommendations for its procurement decisions, to bring clarity to the market, promote environmentally sustainable products, realize lifecycle cost savings, and increase U.S. industry competitiveness. Retailers can maximize these benefits – and meet growing customer expectations - by sending a consistent message in support of credible and effective sustainability standards and ecolabels. 

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