Rio+20 Side Event on Building Markets for Greener Products

By Bicky Corman

There’s growing demand for products that perform well, have a light environmental footprint, and are produced by people earning fair wages under safe, humane working conditions. That’s a big list of requirements for any given widget. It’s no surprise that purchasers trying to buy greener products have difficulty knowing which products meet those criteria, including navigating the more than 400 eco-labels and standards that exist worldwide.

The U.S. Government has long recognized that it can leverage the enormous power of public procurement by providing a large market for early adopters, nurturing new products and services to a point where they can become commercially viable. As the Nation’s largest energy consumer, it recognized that buying green could save taxpayers money, enhance national security, and spur innovation. During the 90s and the 2000s, it began to uniformly purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, require double-sided printing, and purchase EPEAT registered and Energy Star qualified products.

On June 17th, I had the privilege of participating in a discussion on Building Markets for Greener Products in the Rio +20 Corporate Sustainability Forum, where speakers from governmental and private sectors, academia and international organizations described new partnerships, tools, and commitments to build markets for greener products.

I spoke first, describing a recent U.S. Government initiative under Executive Order 13514 to have 95% of new public procurement actions include energy- and water-efficient, biobased, environmentally preferable, generally safer, and recycled content requirements.

Greg Crosby, from USDA, spoke about the launch of their “LCA Digital Data Commons, a new “one stop shop” built to house credible, high quality, data on the full, life-cycle environmental footprint of commodities and products, to help producers, retailers, and consumers make educated choices.

Private sector representatives underscored with specific examples the importance of understanding consumer demand, as well as understanding a product’s environmental footprint across its full life-cycle, in order to most effectively deliver greener products to the market. Dr. Peter White, from Proctor and Gamble, noted analysis that 10% of consumers will not buy greener products; 15% will buy green, even if it means that they must pay more; but 75% will buy green if it does not require making any trade-offs. Anna Walker, from Levi-Strauss, shared her company’s life-cycle analysis of its 501 jeans that showed the largest impacts occurred in the consumer use phase (e.g. washing and drying). Nonetheless, Levi’s has redesigned its 501jeans so that they take less water and fewer chemicals to manufacture. They also changed the care label to promote line drying.

UNEP’s Fanny Demassieux discussed the “Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP) Initiative,” a new international partnership expected to be launched at Rio20 aimed at supporting SPP assistance to developing countries, collaborative research and tool development, and sharing of best practices. Prof. Cassia Ugaya from Brazil, described the UNEP-SETAC Life Cycle Initiative, an international multi-stakeholder collaboration with a mission of bringing science-based life cycle approaches into practice worldwide.

About the author: Bicky Corman is the Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.