Environmentally preferable products are “products and services [that] have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared to other products and 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.”

University departments should consider the following practices and commodity identifiers when planning purchases of goods and services:

  • Institute practices that reduce waste, resulting in the purchase of fewer products whenever practicable and cost-effective, but without reducing safety or workplace quality.
  • Purchase remanufactured products such as laser toner cartridges, tires, furniture, equipment, and automotive parts whenever practicable, but without reducing safety, quality, or effectiveness.
  • Consider short-term and long-term costs in comparing product alternatives. Include an evaluation of total costs expected during the time a product is owned, including, but not limited to, acquisition, extended warranties, operation, supplies, maintenance, disposal costs, and expected lifetime compared to other alternatives.
  • Purchase products that are durable, long lasting, reusable, or refillable.
  • Request that vendors eliminate packaging or use the minimum amount necessary for product protection to the greatest extent practicable.
  • Request packaging that is reusable, recyclable, or compostable when suitable uses and programs exist.
  • Reuse pallets and packaging materials.
  • Require that all equipment purchased, when practicable, be compatible with products and services that provide source reduction benefits.

  • Products for which the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has established minimum recycled content standard guidelines - such as printing paper, office paper, janitorial paper, construction, landscaping, transportation, vehicles, and non-paper office products - and which contain the highest post-consumer content practicable, but no less than the minimum recycled content standards established by the U.S. EPA Guidelines
  • Copiers and printers that can be used with recycled content products
  • Re-refined lubricating and industrial oil for use in vehicles and other equipment, as long as the product is certified by the American Petroleum Institute (API) as appropriate for use in such equipment
  • Asphalt concrete, aggregate base, or portland cement concrete for road construction projects that contains recycled, reusable, or reground materials
  • Recycled content transportation products including signs, cones, parking stops, delineators, and barricades

  • Energy-efficient equipment with the most up-to-date energy efficiency functions including, but not limited to, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems
  • Efficient lighting with energy-efficient equipment. Products for which the U.S. EPA Energy Star certification is available and which meet Energy Star certification, when practicable
  • When Energy Star labels are not available, choose energy-efficient products that are in the upper 25% of energy efficiency as designated by the Federal Energy Management Program
  • Water-saving products

  • Employ sustainable landscape management techniques for design, construction and maintenance. These techniques include, but are not limited to
    • Integrated pest management
    • Grasscycling
    • Drip irrigation
    • Composting
    • Procurement
  • Procure use of mulch and compost that give preference to those produced from regionally generated plant debris and/or food waste programs.
  • Minimize waste by selecting plants that are appropriate to the microclimate, species that can grow to their natural size in the space allotted them.
  • Place preference on native and drought tolerant plants that require no or minimal watering once established.
  • Limit amount of impervious surfaces by procuring permeable substitutes such as permeable asphalt or pavers for walkways, patios, and driveways.

  • Refrain from procuring cleaning or disinfecting products (i.e. for janitorial or automotive use) containing carcinogens, mutagens, or teratogens.
  • Chemicals to be avoided are listed by the U.S. EPA or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on the Toxics Release Inventory.
  • Phase out chlorofluorocarbon-containing refrigerants, solvents and similar products.
  • Procure readily biodegradable surfactants and detergents that do not contain phosphates.
  • Maintain buildings and landscapes, manage pest problems through the application of prevention techniques and physical, mechanical and biological controls
  • Procure products with the lowest amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), highest recycled content, and low or no formaldehyde in materials such as paint, carpeting, adhesives, furniture and casework.
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of products that contribute to the formation of dioxins and furans, including, but not limited to:
    • Paper, paper products, and janitorial paper products that are bleached or processed with chlorine or chlorine derivatives
    • Products that use polyvinyl chloride (PVC), including, but not limited to, office binders, furniture, flooring, and medical supplies.
  • Procure products and equipment with contain no lead or mercury. For products containing lead or mercury, give consideration to those with lower quantities of these metals and to vendors with established lead and mercury recovery programs.
  • Consider vehicle procurement alternatives to diesel such as compressed natural gas, biobased fuels, hybrids, electric batteries, and fuel cells, as available.

  • Procure wood products such as lumber and paper that originate from forests harvested in an environmentally sustainable manner.
  • Give consideration to wood products that are certified to be sustainably harvested by a comprehensive, performance-based certification system.
  • The certification system shall include independent third-party audits, with standards equivalent to, or stricter than, those of the Forest Stewardship Council certification.
  • When practicable, procure locally, sustainably harvested wood.

Environmentally responsible purchasing can be applied to the following product categories:

Recommendations applicable to office paper include:

  • Purchase print/copy paper with the following attributes: 
    • Minimum 30% recycled content
    • Maximum amount of post-consumer waste as feasible
    • Chlorine-free or uses the elemental chlorine free bleaching process
  • Use of recycled paper for special printing jobs should be voluntarily implemented based on cost and availability
  • Use of recycled paper for official campus stationary is already standard at 30% recycled content paper... Look for paper with at least 50% recycled content
  • EnvironmentalPaper.org has a great resource on paper steps also use there Paper Calculator to project the impact of switching to a different kind of paper. 

Impact on University Operations:

Since 1994, CU has been purchasing more recycled paper than virgin paper. Today, CU-Boulder has strategic pricing agreements with vendors so using recycled-content paper is as cost-effective than virgin paper.  CU departments are required to purchase minimum 30% recycled content office and copy paper from CU’s strategic supplier (Staples) via CU Marketplace. 100% recycled content paper is also available for about $10 more per case.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Over 40% of wood pulp goes toward the production of paper
  • The United States alone, which has less than 5% of the world's population, consumes 30% of the world's paper
  • Every 100 case of 100% recycled & 100% post-consumer waste copy paper saves: 60 trees, 10,250 kilowatt hours of electricity, 17,500 gallons of water, and prevents 150 pounds of air pollution.

Recommendations applicable to custodial paper include:

  • 100% recycled content
  • Minimum 40% post-consumer waste
  • Elemental chlorine-bleach free
  • Where feasible, use material conserving dispensers, such as the motion sensor dispensers for hand towels currently used in the UMC
  • EnvironmentalPaper.org has a great resource on Paper Steps

Impact on University Operations:

CU’s restrooms are stocked with 100% recycled paper (i.e. paper towels, toilet paper, and other custodial paper products). The products all contain at least 30% post-consumer material. In most cases, the recycled options are less expensive. All distributors on contract stock the recommended products.

Environmental Benefit: 

  • Using paper products contributed to deforestation, the second leading cause of carbon pollution, causing 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions

  • Reducing paper use reduces greenhouse gases: reducing 400 reams of paper is like 1.25 acres of pine forest absorbing carbon for a year

Recommendations applicable to computers, printers, fax machines, and copiers include:

  • Use flat-panel LCD computer monitors for the best performance and energy use.
  • Look for products with minimal packaging and shipping.
  • Pay attention to products’ energy conservation, labeling, materials selection, end of life management and packaging considerations.
  • Choose EnergyStar electronics
  • Select and compare computer desktops, laptops and monitors based on their environmental attributes by using EPEAT

Impact on University Operations:

100% of CU’s surplus electronics are diverted from landfill (approximately 260,000 lbs/year) by staff. Additionally, there is no price increase for EnergyStar electronics and it is unknown if other environmental and social provisions require additional expense.

Environmental Benefits:

These recommendations would result in less energy consumption, less toxic chemicals, and less waste since:

  • Televisions and computers each contain 3-8 pounds of lead, and other toxic substances that pollute groundwater when put in landfills.
  • Electronic waste is the fastest-growing component of waste worldwide. In the US, we throw out about 130,000 computers daily and 100 million cell phones annually.

Recommendations applicable to cleaners include:

All departments using cleaners should follow the Chemical Cleaner Preferable Purchasing Program. This requires that the cleaning products used on University properties be Green Seal certified or meet the Manufacturers Product Assessment Tool (MPAT) criterion.

Implications on University Operations:

The Department of Facilities Management has adopted a process of comparing products against other products and has worked to incorporate the most acceptable alternatives into the categories. Areas affected include the University Memorial Center, Recreation Center, and Wardenburg Health Center as well as any other cost centers purchasing cleaning supplies. Housing Department housekeeping and dining services have tested and reviewed numerous ‘green’ products and is working to implement a new purchasing program currently. The program achieves the safest community possible while ensuring high cleaning standards.

Environmental and Health Benefits:

Improved employee health, indoor air quality, less environmentally damaging toxins, and reduced liability.

Recommendations applicable to paint include:

  • Low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint should continue to be the specified standard use product
  • Zero-VOC paint should be available for implementation as the technology and performance increases with future development. Currently, it is not adequate for high use areas.
  • The use of deep colored paints which contain higher VOC content should be discouraged and minimized

Implications on University Operations:

Facilities Management and the Housing Department all use low-VOC paint. Low-VOC paint is standard on contract. There are no quality issues.

Environmental and Health Benefits:

Healthy working conditions, reduced VOC's, and fewer toxins.

For new purchases, departments can specify higher fuel efficiency vehicles and/or alternatively fueled vehicles where finances and availability allow.

The taskforce finds that a standard purchasing practice or policy recommendation is not currently feasible due to such a wide variety of departmental vehicle needs. A best practices checklist is in development. To “green” the University’s fleets, an inventory of each existing vehicle for quantity, technology, fuel type and consumption efficiency level will highlight areas in need of improvement. The inventory will be able to help:

  • “Right-size” vehicles for the corresponding task (e.g. downsizing, eliminating)
  • More efficiently plan vehicle travel, maintenance, and operations Install non-motorized transport where appropriate
  • Cut fuel consumption and emissions on a progressive basis.
  • Changes will not hinder the daily operations of fleets and could be economically viable.

Implications on University Operations:

This recommendation does not change procurement procedures. The inventory process has commenced.

Environmental Benefits:

Decrease in pollution emissions; improved air-quality and climate protection.

Resources for CU-Boulder Purchasers include:

  • The CU-Boulder ERP checklist contains guidelines for commonly purchased products (use this checklist to compare your current habits to the guidelines)
  • Additional information about purchasing is provided by CU's Procurement Center.

Other resources and useful links include:

   *Links to non-university sites do not represent an endorsement by the University of Colorado at Boulder or its affiliates.