Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP)

Environmentally preferable purchasing involves choosing products and services that will have no negative effect on the human body, society and the environment when competing with products and services that serve the same purpose, adding to the traditional parameters of price, quality and functionality.

One of the strategies provided in the Zero Waste Resolution was for the Agency and its members to adopt EPPs in order to reduce waste associated with products or services rendered, thereby contributing to the goal of zero waste by 2030. In 2021, the Zero Waste Sonoma Board adopted a new EPP for the Agency's internal use, which will also serve as a model for Sonoma County jurisdictions. This policy is compliant with the SB 1383 jurisdiction procurement requirements. It is available for download at the bottom of this page.

Green Purchasing

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) means considering multiple environmental attributes of products and services before buying. It’s a market-based approach to making environmental improvement and protecting human health through our purchases, without sacrificing price or performance. EPP also means not purchasing—or reducing the purchase of—certain products or services that may have detrimental environmental or public health effects.

The Federal Government (in Executive Order 13423) defines the purchase of environmentally preferable products as “…products or services that have lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose. This comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance, or disposal of the product or service.”

What are the environmental qualities I should look for?

Purchasers are encouraged to evaluate multiple environmental impacts of everyday products through their life cycle and to select products with attributes that minimize environmental and health risks. A product’s environmental attributes can include:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Recycled content
  • Recyclability
  • Durability
  • Water conservation
  • Resource sustainability
  • Waste prevention
  • Non-toxic material content
  • Minimized packaging

Tips for individuals or small businesses on resources or environmentally-friendly household and business products?

  • Buy green: from businesses that solve rather than cause environmental and social problems.
  • Buy local: Patronizing businesses in your city or town keeps money circulating in your local economy. When you choose products that are locally grown and made, and weren’t shipped a great distance to reach you, you limit your global warming footprint. If you can direct your dollars to items that are both green and local, even better!
  • Shift your spending patterns one step at a time. Choose one product you buy often, and commit to buying it green. Then, once that change has become routine, look for another spending category to shift to more socially responsible purchasing.
  • Buy in quantity. Purchase staples—such as beverages, organic pasta, and recycled paper products—by the case and carton from green businesses. You can reduce costs, and often packaging, by joining with others to buy bulk items cooperatively.
  • Become a “greenwash” detective. Today, being a green consumer means asking smart questions about whether a product touted as “green” really was made under fair labor conditions, with renewable resources. If you think a company is flying the green flag before it has done its homework, let its representatives know; and tell them you’ll be shopping from the screened green businesses listed in the Green Pages until it can substantiate its green claims.
  • Green America has developed many "Responsible Shopper" resources, available here
  • CalRecycle (the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery) has many resources available on their website to help buy postconsumer recycled content products
  • Browse the National Green Pages to find green, healthy, and ethical products & services which can be viewed here. All businesses listed are certified by Green America for their social and environmental impacts.
  • Take a look at the GreenPoint Rated product directory for green building materials and information
  • Consider Russian River Friendly landscaping options for your outdoor spaces

What is "Product Stewardship" and why should your business support it?

Product Stewardship and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), require those who design, produce, and sell a product take responsibility for all stages of the product’s life cycle, including after the product has served its original purpose.

Doing well by doing good

  • Design it green—Be a leader in innovation. Eliminate inefficiencies. Foster company pride and consumer loyalty.
  • Use nontoxic materials—Eliminate the health, safety and liability concerns that come with using hazardous materials.
  • Make it clean— Reduce operating costs by using manufacturing facilities and production methods that reduce waste, air and water pollution.
  • Encourage reuse—Reuse is the most efficient way for businesses to reduce solid waste, energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Conserve resources—Use recycled-content materials in products and packaging. Virgin materials carry a heavy environmental toll and are sometimes more expensive. And you’ll support the market for recycled materials.
  • Offer the product as a service—Consider leasing instead of selling your product. Many consumers, especially buyers for business and government, would prefer to lease rather than buy. Taking back your product at the end of the lease may give you a competitive edge.
  • Take it back!—Develop convenient take-back programs for your products at their end-of-life. Your customers will thank you and you’ll develop brand loyalty.

For more information, see California Product Stewardship Council’s Greening the Bottom Line brochure (PDF: 1.08 MB)).

The California Product Stewardship Council’s mission is to shift California’s product waste management system from one focused on government-funded and rate payer-financed waste diversion to one that relies on producer responsibility in order to reduce public costs and drive improvements in product design that promote environmental sustainability.

Do recycled content or environmentally preferable products cost more?

Overall, cost differences will depend on the product, its quality and the existing market conditions. There are environmentally preferable products that cost less than their conventional counterparts. For example, many options for Post Consumer Recycled (PCR) content printing papers cost less than virgin papers, but there are other types of recycled paper which cost more than their virgin paper alternative. The price of re-refined motor oil is now comparable to virgin motor oil. Also, many public agencies in the Bay Area and across the country have seen no overall cost increase after switching to “green” cleaning products.

How do I get started purchasing more of these products?

“Green” purchasing is no different from any other form of product evaluation usually done before a purchase is made, whether by governments, businesses or consumers. Environmental purchasing simply considers a greater range of product criteria. Departments may begin an environmental purchasing program by focusing initially on certain types of products or services and expanding to others as they gain experience.

When looking for recycled content products, what do the terms “postconsumer,” “pre-consumer” and “total recycled content” mean?

Recycled products may contain either a percentage of materials collected from office/curbside recycling programs (postconsumer), a percentage of materials generated after the manufacture of a product but before it reaches the end-user (pre-consumer) and/or virgin materials. The combination of postconsumer and pre-consumer content provides the total recycled content. For example, recycled content copy paper with 30% postconsumer and 10% percent pre-consumer content would have 40% total recycled content.

What are the benefits of buying recycled content or environmentally preferable “green” products?

Choosing environmentally preferable products and services can reduce or eliminate the environmental and health impacts of your purchases. 100% recycled content paper, for example, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent, cut solid waste disposal by nearly 40%, decrease water use by 50 percent, and practically eliminate wood use. And one ton of 30% postconsumer recycled content paper (40 cartons of 10 reams each) saves over 7 trees.

I am a food service provider/establishment. What can I do to reduce waste from my business?

One easy way to reduce waste and save money is to provide accessory items for takeout orders (such as utensils, straws, lids, condiments, coffee sleeves, and stir sticks on request only. If you offer customers a dine-in experience, consider transitioning one or more single-use service ware products to a reusable alternative. You will initially pay more for the product but eventually you will be saving money and you may be surprised to see a significant dollar amount over the course of a year. Check out the document below, prepared by Rethink Disposable, a program of Clean Water Action, to see cost impacts of businesses switching from single-use to reusable products. Also consider contacting a returnable food service ware company such as Dispatch Goods (based in SF) or Sudbusters/Waste Busters to provide reusable options for takeout paid for by the discerning customer.

Download the Zero Waste Sonoma Model EPP Policy (Adopted March 2021)


Download the EPP Policy for Businesses (Published April 2021)