Glossary: Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

Each professional specialty has its own unique parlance and nomenclature. The following terms are often used when considering environmentally preferable purchasing options.

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
As defined in AB 498, environmentally preferable purchasing is “the procurement or acquisition of goods and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and environment when compared with competing goods or services that serve the same purpose. This comparison shall take into consideration, to the extent feasible, raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance, disposal, energy efficiency, product performance, durability, safety, the needs of the purchaser, and cost.”

Life Cycle
A product or service has environmental impacts throughout its life cycle, both long before and long after it is purchased and used. A product’s life cycle includes activities associated with raw material acquisition, product manufacturing, packaging and transportation, product use, and ultimate disposal. Learn more about life cycle considerations.

Environmental Attributes
Questions to ask before purchasing a product include:

  • Is the product less hazardous?
  • Is it reusable or more durable?
  • Is it made from recycled materials? (Do we really need to buy a virgin product when the recycled version is just as good?)
  • What happens to the product at the end of its life? Can it be recycled? Will the manufacturer take the product back? Will it need special disposal?
  • Does it conserve energy or water?
  • Is it made from plant-based raw materials?

Best Value Purchasing
As an alternative to price preferences, several state and local agencies are switching from the “low-bid-wins” purchasing approach to a “best value” approach for more and more purchases. With best value purchasing, purchasers can identify and consider a wider variety of factors without developing the detailed specifications required under the traditional low-bid-wins approach. These additional considerations can include how well the product or service provider performs, life-cycle costs (what it will cost to operate or maintain the product for 5, 10, 15, or 20 years), and environmental impacts. Instead of relying on detailed product specifications, purchasers develop product preferences that might also include specific product requirements.

The product preferences can include environmental attributes such as recycled content percentages, energy efficiency ratings, the absence of selected chemicals or chemical by-products, toxicity ratings, and the use of renewable resources. Point values can be assigned for every possible attribute. More desirable attributes receive lower (or even negative) point values. When comparing competing products and services, purchasers review them against the possible point values and assign a score.

More Definitions
For more definitions, visit our glossary of waste prevention terms.

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