USDA photo

For Agriculture, increasing BioPreferred products is a challenge accepted

A presidential order asks USDA to expand its list of eligible environmentally friendly product categories.

After President Obama directed the U.S. Agriculture Department on Tuesday to increase the categories of products eligible for its BioPreferred program by 50 percent during the next year, USDA said the goal is well within its reach.

“Nothing’s ever easy in the federal government, but we have a plan to be able to deliver as promised,” BioPreferred Program Manager Ron Buckholt told Government Executive. “We wouldn’t have agreed to anything that we didn’t think was possible.”

The department designates categories of bio-based products (which must contain a certain percentage of green materials) as part of the BioPreferred program, which then earns the products federal procurement preference. The current categories include many cleaning items such as bath and laundry products, along with animal repellants and ink cartridges.

USDA estimates the categories encompass 9,000 eligible products, but because the manufacturers have to volunteer to be included in BioPreferred, only 3,100 products are in the procurement preference catalog. On its website, the department lets manufacturers suggest future categories to include in the program.

Though the federal government rarely purchases specific products regardless of whether they’re on a list, according to Buckholt, it does buy services from companies such as janitorial firms that use the products represented in BioPreferred. Buckholt said USDA plans to “pull the market, not push the market” toward using more environmentally friendly products and services through the purchasing power of the federal government.

Ultimately, the decision to use more services that employ bio-based products comes down to individual federal agencies. Buckholt noted he wants the “big purchasing 10” -- the agencies that spend the most on outside products and services -- to do their part, and he added the Defense Department is not altering its purchasing habits “as much as we’d like.”

Buckholt praised the Homeland Security and Interior departments for their bio-based spending, adding that DHS’ Transportation Security Administration now uses X-ray bins made with 50 percent bio-based content.

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