Composites firms that offer products made from biological or renewable agricultural materials typically rely on their own marketing strategies to promote their sustainability initiatives. At the same time, these companies sometimes compete for business with other firms that exaggerate their “greenness.”

Ron Buckhalt, manager of the BioPreferred Program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Ron Buckhalt, manager of the BioPreferred Program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

At COMPOSITES 2013, composites pros will learn about the USDA’s BioPreferred Program, which certifies biobased products and helps firms promote them to businesses and other consumers.

Ron Buckhalt, manager of the BioPreferred Program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), will offer details during his COMPOSITES 2013 educational session, “Federal Support to the Biobased Products Industry” – one of many sessions in the event’s Green Composites track.

What’s the program’s purpose, and why is it important to the composites industry?

Making and marketing “green” products is a big deal for the composites industry, and it seems to keep getting bigger. It’s one thing for a company to say it provides environmentally friendly products, but it’s more credible for products to also be backed and certified by an organization like the USDA. The purpose of the BioPreferred Program is to more clearly identify biobased products for all buyers, and to promote the increased sale and use of biobased products in the commercial market and for consumers. Essentially, we certify and award labels to qualifying products to increase consumer recognition of biobased products. More composites manufacturers are increasing the amount of environmentally friendly content and new-carbon products in the marketplace, and the program is designed to empower consumer to take into account that a product or package contains a verified amount of renewable biological ingredients.

One of the program’s major initiatives is a product label. Can you talk about that?

The USDA Certified Biobased Product label is a key way composites companies can say their products meet or exceed USDA standards for a certain amount of biobased content. It assures the consumer that a product or package contains a verified amount of renewable biological ingredients. Only by choosing biobased products labeled “USDA Certified Biobased Products” can the consumer be assured that the USDA and the federal government stand behind the accuracy of the claim that the product contains biological ingredients in the amounts stated on the label.

How is “biobased” defined for a composite product?

Generally, biobased products are commercial or industrial products (other than food or feed) that are composed of biological products, renewable agricultural materials or forestry materials. The USDA has established minimum biobased content standards for many product categories. For example, there are five categories of “Composite Panels.” A product or package must meet or exceed the minimum biobased content percentage in its given category in order to use the certified label. If there is no category yet established for a product under consideration, that product must contain a minimum of 25 percent biobased content based on molecular weight. The reason certain categories exist is the BioPreferred Program also includes a preferred procurement system for federal agencies and their contractors. As part of that procurement process, BioPreferred designates categories that are required for purchase by federal agencies and their contractors.