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.