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Building a Stronger Case for Sustainable Federal Procurement

Aug. 21, 2023
The federal government is making a bigger push into sustainable procurement with a new plan that’s part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.

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A process that integrates environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors of corporate responsibility into procurement processes and decision-making, sustainable procurement aims for the lowest environmental impact possible and the most positive social results. More specifically, sustainable procurement is about buying from sustainable suppliers; choosing the most sustainable products and services; minimizing waste; and continually encouraging the use of sustainable practices. 

These practices apply to both private and public sector entities, with the latter now promising to make an even bigger move into sustainable procurement during the coming years. This month, the Biden-Harris Administration announced a plan to “maximize purchases of sustainable products and services” as part of the president’s broader Investing in America agenda. 

A series of investments in areas of the economy that are critical for national and economic security but underfunded by the private market, the Investing in America agenda covers infrastructure, clean energy and research and development.

What’s in the New Rule?

The proposed Sustainable Products and Services procurement rule will help achieve President Biden’s goal of net-zero emissions from federal procurement by 2050. The plan is to modernize existing sustainable purchasing standards to help ensure the world’s single largest purchaser prioritizes American-made sustainable products and services.

“President Biden believes that when we spend American taxpayers’ dollars, we should be investing in America, reducing costs and building a more sustainable future,” said Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in an announcement about the new plan.

“Through today’s action, we are doing just that,” Mallory continued. “Combined with President Biden’s Buy American directive, our proposed rule will boost Federal agency purchases of EPA-recommended green products and services while creating well-paying jobs and investing in American manufacturing.”

Focused on a Core Purpose

A proposal made through the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council, the Sustainable Products and Services procurement rule strengthens existing sustainable products requirements by directing federal buyers to purchase sustainable products and services to the “maximum extent possible,” the White House says.

In particular, the new rule directs agencies to follow the EPA’s Recommendations of Specifications, Standards and Ecolabels for Federal Purchasing, which provides recommendations across 34 purchase categories for use of 40 standards and labels, including labels such as EPA’s ENERGY STAR, Safer Choice and WaterSense programs.

The proposal also protects public health by directing agencies to avoid the procurement of products containing perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals, known as “forever chemicals.”

Part of President Biden’s Federal Sustainability Plan, this new plan sets a goal to achieve net-zero emissions from federal procurement by 2050. The federal government spends more than $630 billion on products and services annually, and over one third of existing Federal contracts contain a sustainable purchasing requirement, according to the White House’s announcement on the new development.

“As the world’s largest buyer, we have a responsibility to lead by example and accelerate the move toward buying clean,” said Robin Carnahan, administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration.  “Across the country, American businesses are ready to meet this moment with innovative products and services that translate into good jobs, reduced energy costs to taxpayers and a healthier planet—and that’s a triple win.”

Potential Positive Impacts

In one reaction to the announcement, Recycling Today says Sierra Club Senior Policy Advisor Yong Kwon expressed support for the proposed sustainable procurement policy.

“Not only will these new standards ensure government spending prioritizes and supports domestic manufacturing,” Kwon said, “but they will also help prompt manufacturers to take advantage of the investments and technical assistance for new technologies made available through complementary public initiatives.”

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About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.