The centerpiece of the USDA’s push to sell biobased products through the federal government and in the costumer market – Biopreferred.gov – is on the move, but not without its challenges.
Perhaps the single most impressive driving force these days in terms of direct US government activity on the biobased front is its Biopreferred.gov program. The goal there? To translate a Congressionally mandated federal buying preference for biobased products into actual buying.
It’s a small team with mighty tasks – hindered, from the outset in that the US government has not ever measured its biobased product purchasing – not inside the USDA, not anywhere. So, there’s been quite a bit of work to be done in establishing standards, baselines, and some kind of a federal scorecard.
As Biopreferred’s Jeff Goodman observed at the recent USB Biobased Stakeholder Summit in Dearborn, Michigan, “In DC, what you can’t measure, doesn’t get done.”
At the Stakeholder Summit, Goodman gave a comprehensive update on where the program is, and where it is going. Let’s go through the data.
The Biopreferred program’s popularity
So far, there have been 1160 applications, 400 are in review or testing, 700 have won certification and 60 failed. That’s companies – there are multiple products, in many cases.
A federal scorecard to measure biobased purchasing
In reporting, the BioPreferred program is woking with FARC – the federal acquisition regulatory council – among its goals is to increase the availability of reporting on the results of the BioPreferred program – starting within the USDA itself and eventually government-wide. Ultimately, the goal of the BioPreferred program is to be able to report on its successes in terms of job creation.
For now, the USDA is creating a reporting template to standardize the way that the federal government measures Biopreferred activity and to create a federal baseline – so that goals like “double the amount of purchasing” can be measured.
In the short-term, it is likely to be a spreadsheet-based solution, until incorporated into a major GSA project called the Integrated Acquisition Environment.
Measuring biobased content, rather than performance and price
In terms of measuring performance and pricing as well as biobased content – the Administration has so far focused Biopreferred on basic content claims – while acknowledging that customers need to see price and performance as well as biobased content. The stumbling blocks? Well, for one, there is the problem of monitoring, reviewing and auditing claims.
Plus, there is the problem of getting to a level playing field on specifications. In some cases, product specifications date back years, even decades, to a time when there were only petroleum-based options. In some cases, Goodman observed, there are specifications that do not pertain to product performance but which can only be fulfilled by petroleum-based content – and in some cases, specs require petroleum-based content.
Outreach within the government
The team has been busy – not least in participating in the widely-attended GSA Expo in June. There’s been a focus on small and disadvantaged business – including outreach to the PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Centers), and distribution of training materials through the SBA and through the USDA small and disadvantaged business office.
There’s a free online seminar in September that will highlight the program to government buyers. In addition, the Biopreferred team is in the process of developing as awards program that will, initially, recognize champions in adopting biobased products. The focus will be on the USDA itself, initially, and then branch out to the rest of the US government.
Reaching beyond Government: The Biobased label for consumer markets
In reaching out to influence the consumer market, there’s the Biobased Content label, launched in 2011.
It’s proven popular. To date, in Biopreferred.gov’s product catalog, there are 294 products that have the label only, 1895 have the Bioprerred federal designation only, and 748 have both. So, nearly 50 percent take up in just one year.
Key to that take-up has been a streamlined, online, paperless application and independent, third-party certification in partnership with ASTM.
Monitoring and auditing claims and usage
There has been on-going monitoring by the group of claims, based on spot-checking to ensure that 100 percent of products are what they say they are. Ultimatwely Biopreferred.gov is aimed at a three-stage review.
In the first stage of the review is a declaration of performance – and 25 percent of the products in the catalog are eventually expected to be removed – and there are some minor label usage problems (plus some outright use of the label without pursuing certification).
Stage 2 of the reviewing process in 2013/14 will involve testing of product samples, while stage 3 will involve participants retesting their products that carry to Biobased label to ensure compliance, at a frequency to be determined.
Expanding to other products
The Biopreferred program is in the process of beginning to designate intermediate feedstocks and chemicals, and to asses biobased content in complex assembly products that can’t be readily tested in a lab. For example, seats, where you can have cloth, wood, metal, padding mixed up in the product.
In addition, there’s been desire expressed by the timber and paper industries to have their products included in the future. To date, traditional materials that “don’t need help” – wood, paper, leather, cotton are excluded from the program – plus food, and fuels have been excluded.
Guidelines are expected to be revised by January 2013 – but, note the caveat that the new Farm Bill could send the review effort back to the drawing board – especially, with respect to mature market products.
The Bottom Line
In terms of registration for the federal designation, demand and interest has been strong. Translating desire into action at the federal government – well, that’s a different order. As Goodman indicates – key to that effort will be a federal biobased scorecard, that will give government buyers a benchmark, and give administrators the opportunities to set goals that have a way of translating desire into results.
Category: The A-List