San Francisco, California

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing in San Francisco

San Francisco’s first Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) policy was enacted by the Board of Supervisors in 1990, with supplemental policies added in piecemeal fashion over several years thereafter. These early policies included requirements for paper products, office products, construction products, park and recreational products, and batteries. Each of the required product specifications was incorporated in the city’s Environmental Code.

In 1999, a second chapter was added to the Environmental Code, establishing an EPP pilot program ordinance designed to reduce the health and environmental impact of chemical products. The ordinance established a three-year pilot program, coordinated by the Department of the Environment, during which departments surveyed their use of chemical products; established standards and criteria for evaluating the most environmentally preferable products; and evaluated whether the use of chemical products could be reduced through either product substitution or changes in work practices. At the conclusion of the pilot, the Commission on the Environment submitted a report to the Board recommending that the Board adopt legislation enacting a city-wide EPP program.

Precautionary Purchasing Ordinance

In 2003, the San Francisco Precautionary Principle Resolution passed and in 2005, the city passed the Precautionary Purchasing Ordinance (PPO), which created a city-wide EPP program for commodities, based on the pilot program and goals set forth in the Precautionary Principle (chapter one of the city’s Environmental Code). The ordinance mandates that the city consider environmental and health impacts when making a purchase, and that the city choose healthier, more sustainable alternatives to the products it buys. The PPO applies to everything from computers to cleaning products, and the products covered by the ordinance are determined using community input. This open forum creates opportunities for San Francisco residents and workers to actively participate in the city purchasing process by helping to set purchasing priorities, identify concerns, and establish criteria.

The city-wide PPO requires the Commission on the Environment to review all commodities regularly purchased by city departments and periodically to identify “targeted product categories” of commodities which may cause undesirable environmental impacts, and for which alternative products should be identified and substituted. The Department of the Environment is then required to evaluate substitute products and establish a list of approved alternatives, which city departments must abide by.

The ordinance allows for department and public participation in each step of the listing process. Waivers may be granted in an emergency when no approved alternative meets a department’s performance specifications, or when approved alternatives are cost prohibitive. The City Purchaser and individual departments are also allowed to preferentially select commodities produced within the city.

Through the PPO and its collaborative, broad-based stakeholder approach to identifying and certifying green products, the city of San Francisco has created a model for successful EPP implementations. In fact, this ordinance was designed explicitly to be used as a model for other jurisdictions. The more cities that adopt PPOs, the more economic incentive manufacturers will have to make environmentally friendly products.

San Francisco has recently also taken the step of publishing its full approved products list on its website:  This list includes 350 products within 30 categories that meet San Francisco's Precautionary Principle criteria of performance, impact and cost.