Environmentally Preferable Purchasing for Schools

The information on this page is intended for school purchasing agents and officers to facilitate the implementation of environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) practices throughout the school district.

Also called “Affirmative Procurement” and “Green Purchasing,” “Environmentally Preferable Purchasing,” incorporates the principle of the triple bottom line—the quality of the environment, price and performance. Per U.S. EPA, environmentally preferable refers to “products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.”

Why Environmentally Preferable Purchasing?

Purchasing is a key aspect of any school district’s sustainable materials management efforts. Purchasing decisions about product life, warranty, repair service, as well as packaging and the amount of recycled-content in products can impact the amount of waste and greenhouse gas emissions produced by a school district.



Green schools

“Green schools” minimize the impact of their operations on the environment through more efficient use of energy and other natural resources, reduced use of toxic materials and efforts to improve indoor/outdoor air quality. These practices have been found to produce a number of health, academic, financial and environmental benefits, including reduced rates of asthma, respiratory tract infection and disease, allergic reactions and other negative health conditions; improved student attendance and academic performance; cost savings on utilities and buildings over time; lower emissions of pollutants; and conservation of natural resources.

Source: CSBA Green Schools: An Overview of Key Policy Issues in November of 2009

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing practices can help schools achieve or exceed environmental goals and requirements, including, but not limited to, California Education Code, sections 32370-32376–Recycled-Paper Purchases, which recommends “adjusting procurement specifications to prefer purchases of recycled paper with the highest percentage of postconsumer waste and a 5% purchase preference compared to non-recycled paper of comparable quality.”

School district purchasing decisions also have the potential to affect student health and attendance. According to the U.S. EPA Healthy Schools Healthy Kids Resources, “Children spend 90% of their time indoors and much of that time is spent in school. Unhealthy school environments can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration and performance, as well as lead to expensive, time-consuming cleanup and remediation activities.” Environmentally Preferable Purchasing policies and practices can play a positive role in reducing the impact of such problems by preferring products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment.

Other Benefits of Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

  • Reduction and elimination of toxic and hazardous materials in schools
  • Improving environmental health
  • Asthma Friendly products can help reduce asthma related absenteeism rates
  • Reduced overall consumption
  • Increased markets for renewable, recycled, recyclable and compostable products
  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Conservation of water and energy
  • Reduction of landfill materials
  • Promotion of long-lasting, high quality, reusable products

There is also the potential for related cost savings through environmentally preferable procurement, where school agents can procure products that require less repair, replacement and disposal costs. Other common environmentally preferable purchasing product criteria can be found on the CalRecycle Environmentally Preferable Purchasing webpage.

Getting Started–School Board Policy

School Board policy sets the direction for the community’s schools, establishes an effective and efficient structure, provides support, and ensures accountability. Corresponding administrative regulations consist of the detail and actions to implement school board policies. To ensure that programs and resources are in place to reduce the school’s environmental footprint, the school board can adopt policy that provides direction on green school operations and aligns policies on individual topics such as energy and water conservation, solid waste management, environmentally preferable purchasing, integrated pest management, site selection and development, and hazardous substances.

Below are some examples of policies and related resources that school boards can use for reference in furthering their district’s green operations efforts.

The California School Board Association (CSBA) Policy Services offers sample Board policies and administrative regulations (including those for energy and water management and green school operations) to member school districts.

Below are two specific County Office of Education policies that address Environmentally Preferable Purchasing as examples.

Looking for ways to green the operations of preschools and child care programs? Check out Alameda County’s Green Child Care Program for green child care purchasing resources.

The Green Schools Initiative also provides additional sample green purchasing policies and green buying tools.

Implementation Resources for Purchasing Agents

Green Bid or Contract
One way for school districts to implement the district’s environmentally preferable policy is to incorporate related requirements and standards in bids and contracts. For more information on how to develop a green bid or contract, check out the Green Schools Initiative.

Finding Environmentally Preferable Products

Finding Environmentally Preferable Products is not hard! Below are some resources that will help you identify green products for schools.

Get Recognized for your Efforts!

As a green school, celebrate your success and consider applying for the awards below:

Regardless of the type of purchasing policy a school district implements, it is important to track the procurement of recycled-content and other environmentally preferable products and to analyze the policy’s effectiveness on an annual basis. This will enable the school district to measure its success, correct problems, and plan for increasing its procurement of environmentally preferable products in the future. You can also use this information to document and publicize your progress.

For more information contact: Schools Program, schools@calrecycle.ca.gov.