The Biden administration announced today the release of a new Sustainable Products and Services procurement rule, with requirements for federal government buyers to prioritize sustainable products and services, and expanding the categories of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ecolabel standards for federal purchasing to a series of new sectors.

The new proposal forms part of the administration’s Federal Sustainability Plan, launched by President Biden in December 2021, which outlines a series of goals and initiatives for the U.S. federal government to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and including a target to cut emissions from federal procurement to net zero by that date.

The U.S. government is the world’s largest buyer of goods and services, with purchases reaching $630 billion last year. According to a White House statement announcing the new proposal, increasing purchases of sustainable products and services will help the government reduce its supply chain emissions, which are responsible for more than twice the emissions of its 300,000 buildings and 600,000 vehicles combined.

Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said:

“President Biden believes that when we spend American taxpayers’ dollars, we should be investing in America, reducing costs, and building a more sustainable future. Through today’s action, we are doing just that. 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.”

The new proposed rule would update the government’s Federal Acquisition Regulation to focus on environmental and sustainability matters, and to require federal agencies to purchase sustainable products and services “to the maximum extent practicable,” that is unless the agency cannot competitively acquire a product or service within a reasonable performance schedule, or one that meets reasonable performance requirements or can be acquired at a reasonable price.

Under the proposal, agencies would be directed to follow EPA’s Recommendations of Specifications, Standards, and Ecolabels for Federal Purchasing, designed to help government purchasers identify private sector standards and ecolabels that meet sustainable acquisition goals and mandates. Alongside the launch of the new proposed rules, the EPA announced that it will extend its recommendations to new product and services categories including healthcare, professional services, laboratories, uniforms and clothing, and food service ware.

The new rules would also direct agencies to avoid the procurement of products containing PFAS, or “forever chemicals.” PFAS are a group of chemicals that have been in use in a wide range of consumer and industrial products since the 1940s. They are commonly found in food packaging, fabrics, kitchenware products, fire-fighting foam, and electronics, among other products. The chemicals tend to be very persistent, and don’t break down over time, and have been found to accumulate in the human body and in the environment. It is believed that PFAS can have cause adverse health effects in humans, including low birth weights, cancers, thyroid hormone disruption as well as affecting the immune system.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said:

“By catalyzing federal sustainable procurement, consumers benefit from goods and services that are safer for both their families and our planet. This proposed rule builds on other bold efforts by the Biden-Harris Administration to prioritize responsible, sustainable trade and reduce pollution at its source.”