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EPA Design for Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling Program

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Evaluation Tool

EPA Design for Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling Program

Tool Category

Standards, Certifications & Labels

At a Glance

The Design for Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling Program is a recognition program developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The DfE label is applied to cleaning products that have met scientific criteria for human and environmental health impacts. EPA allows the DfE label to be applied to consumer and professional products with ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class and that meet whole-product, green chemistry-based criteria.

The goal of the DfE label is to inform consumers and retailers about products that may be safer to use. The Safer Product Labeling website contains a database for retailers and purchasers that enable them to quickly find DfE-labeled products.

Tool Website(s)

Tool Owner/Sponsor

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Type of Entity

Federal government

Focus of Evaluation

Substances, products

Product Stage of Life Evaluated

Manufacturing, consumer use, end of life

Impact(s) Evaluated

Ecological health, human health, material impacts, ozone depletion. Detailed criteria can be found in the "Master Criteria for Safer Ingredients" under section 5.

Tool Description

EPA's DfE Safer Product Labeling Program evaluates products based on standards for safer chemicals within particular functional classes (such as surfactant, colorant, solvent). The standards, which are developed with stakeholder input, consider the human health, ecological toxicity and environmental fate of chemicals in the class, and establish thresholds that must be met for an ingredient to be allowed in a DfE-labeled product. DfE goes beyond compliance by applying the principles of green chemistry to search for the safest known materials.

To achieve the DfE label, a manufacturer must use the safest ingredients from each functional group and meet other product-level requirements, such as pH and performance. Product manufacturers submit a list of all product ingredients to a qualified third party. The third party develops a hazard profile for each ingredient and reviews the profiles against the DfE standards. Manufacturers are provided with an assessment of their ingredients and whether they meet DfE criteria. In addition, companies must sign a partnership agreement with EPA that formalizes their commitment to making safer products and improving them over time.

Since limited data is available for many chemicals in commerce, DfE prioritizes known data, using screening-level tools, expert judgment, and structure-activity relationship analysis when data are not available.

Product Categories

Automotive; Cleaning & Janitorial Products (Residential & Commercial/Industrial); Paints & Coatings; Photo & Printing

Tool Requirements

Companies seeking certification must report all ingredients including percentage of each substance and its function in the product, known residuals present at greater than .01%, the intended function of the product, CAS number, functional name, trade designation and supplier information, MSDS's for the product and each ingredient, effective use concentrations, expected yearly production volume, pH of product, product performance data, environmental considerations in packaging, compostability, and biodegradability to non-toxic, non-persistent chemicals.

Cost of Tool

A fee is paid to the 3rd party certifier but there is no fee for the DfE label.

Evaluation Frequency

Compliance verification for products that carry the DfE label are conducted annually. When a manufacturer becomes a DfE partner, they sign a partnership agreement that is valid for three years. Over the three years, the company will have a paper audit, an on-site audit, and then a renewal, which allows the company to continue their partnership for another three years. The auditing process repeats once again during the next three-year period.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths: The DfE Safer Products Labeling Program encourages formulators to choose innovative, high performing ingredients with the lowest inherent hazards.

Weaknesses: Currently the DfE Safer Products Labeling program only applies to cleaning products.

Examples of Retailers That Use It

Amway, Home Depot, Staples

For More Information

David DiFiore:


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