Should the Feds Help Develop Green Product Standards?

Should the Feds Help Develop Green Product Standards?

Should the federal government have a role in developing U.S. green product standards?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to hear from you and has invited public comment on this subject by October 17, 2010. 

EPA held a September 24 listening session on this topic for a variety of industry and green product representatives. Diverse ideas were expressed, ranging from strong support for a federal role in establishing green product standards, to the belief that green product standards are best developed by private industry, with no government involvement.

My own view (which is wholly independent of the positions of EPA and other federal and green product organizations with which I have professional or advisory relationships) is that the development of a national framework for green product standards would benefit from judicious federal involvement.

Here’s why:

There are an estimated 300-plus green product labels in the U.S. No single NGO or private business is capable of cutting through the confusion. Federal involvement in developing a meaningful common framework would help to create cohesion.

The federal government has played a constructive role in developing other green standards and has been respectful of private interests.

In the U.S. building and consumer products industries, the Energy Star label was created by EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy. The creation of LEED was funded by EPA. In both cases, federal financial support was critical in supporting the development of a consensus standard. In creating Energy Star, EPA and DOE consulted broadly with private industry in standard development, and have relied largely on private implementation to carry the label into the market. 

If the U.S. government does decide to do more on green product standards, how should the effort look?

My recommendations:

Voluntary Framework. The U.S. green product standard framework (and any ensuing industry-specific standards) should be voluntary, like LEED and Energy Star.

International Consistency. The U.S. framework should harmonize with international standards. The International Standards Organization (ISO) has already crafted green product standards (the ISO 14000 environmental management series) that are used widely in Europe and Asia. U.S. green product standards should be consistent with international requirements in order to ensure that U.S. manufacturers enjoy full access to expanding global markets for green products.

 

Broad Industry and NGO Participation. There should be broad industry and NGO involvement in developing a general, voluntary framework for U.S. green product standards.  A green product framework will not be effective unless it is endorsed by industry. Business participation should include small firms as well as industry leaders and trade associations, and should be diverse in order to circumvent information silos.

Broad Federal Participation. Numerous federal agencies have important expertise and should be represented alongside industry in the developing a voluntary, green product standard framework. Among them: the Council for Environmental Quality (federal environmental coordination); EPA (scientific and environmental expertise), DOE (energy efficiency); the Department of Commerce (trade and standard setting); the Consumer Product Safety Commission (product safety); the General Services Administration (federal purchasing); the Federal Trade Commission (charged with defining green products); and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (bio-based product regulation).

Voluntary General Framework. Followed by Industry-Specific Standards. After a general green product standard framework is developed by a federally-supported, public-private coalition, industry-specific subgroups -- which would include businesses, trade groups, NGOs and government representatives -- can develop green product standards targeted to the needs of particular industries. Industry-specific standards should be consistent with the voluntary framework.

But that’s just how I see it. Let EPA know what you think by October 17.

Leanne Tobias is founder and managing principal of Malachite LLC, an advisory firm that specializes in the development, leasing, management, financing and certification of sustainable or green real estate on a global basis. You can get in touch with Leanne at this link.