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EPA’s Design for Environment (DfE) vs. ISO 14006:2011 for Eco-design

What’s the difference?

How do DfE and the eco-design goal of ISO 14006:2011 compare? Someone asked me that and I realized some research was in order.  Both DfE and ISO 14006:2011 are a systematic way to design less volatile, greener and more sustainable products.  Both are linked to accounting for greener chemicals in products.  So in what ways are they the same and where do they differ?

To get to the bottom of it — and to make sure my own perspective had legs — I contacted a colleague the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Design for Environment (DfE) program.  I also ran thoughts by someone at a chemical inspection and regulation consultancy.  I’ve summarized our discussions below.

Here’s the difference between ISO 14006:2011 versus DfE.

ISO for eco-design vs. DfE   ISO 14006:2011 aims to incorporate the eco-design idea into EMS (Environmental Management Systems) and QMS (Quality Management Systems).  This doesn’t mean you must be pursuing a formal systemic crusade as laid out by ISO to use the principles of the ISO 14006:2011.  However, if you were pursuing a formal management system or planning to, you’d be the ideal target for the new ISO standard for eco-design guidance.  Its accompanying guidance provokes green thinking at the product design and development stage.

What DfE does is slightly different.  DfE evaluates each ingredient in a formulation, so there are standards for Solvents, Surfactants, and Fragrances —which is similar in its slant towards preparation as Europe’s REACH regulation.  Representatives from DfE explained that the DfE program focuses on safer chemistry and operates at the chemical-based product and ingredient levels.

DfE has even developed criteria defining what a safer chemical is.  The criteria are incorporated into the Standard for Safer Products.  To bear the DfE label, products must meet that standard — and in fact must contain only “safer chemical ingredients.”

DfE attempts to drive green chemistry innovation from three angles:

  1. among chemical manufacturers, who design new raw materials to meet the DfE safer ingredient criteria
  2. from product manufacturers, who formulate with these safer chemicals to meet the DfE Standard
  3. from consumers, who are now more educated about greener chemistry and are able to tell at a glance whether a product meets certain standards, thanks to the DfE label

DfE vs. ISO 14006:2011 in a nutshell  In summary, the eco-design ISO standard is sometimes perceived as more of an all-industry standard, operating at a product manufacturing & production operations level (see #2 above).  That is to say, consumers don’t much get involved with ISO standards, nor do chemical companies.

DfE is seen as straddling the production level and functioning as a more “green chemistry” type program, effective in getting chemical manufacturers to reconsider what they make (see #1 above) while also targeting consumer interest and education (see #3).

Worldwide, nothing is likely to replace an ISO standard in manufacturing operations, and that’s as it should be, because the ISO standards function as well as a standard can.

In the United States, DfE covers a lot of the same ground as ISO 14006:2011 and more – especially because they offer the consumer a green chemistry choice “at a glance” with the DfE label. The advantage ISO standards have, however, is that their budget, breadth and buoyancy is not tied to a policy, elected leadership, or governmental administration as programs under EPA – such as DfE – often are.

So if you’re using more formal EMS and QMS, use ISO 14:006:2011.  Use it and the rest will come, including the DfE labels because you will likely be, automatically, using greener raw materials.  If your processes are less systematic and your supply network focus is the United States, DfE might be your new best friend.  The program is good, and the DfE labels might just be the market differentiator you’ve been looking for.

For over a decade, Chris Nowak has been immersed in the business of environmental management, regulatory compliance and risk management.  Nowak serves as Director at Actio Corporation.

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