Frequently Asked Questions

About this site

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What is SF Approved, and why was it created?

San Francisco's Precautionary Purchasing Ordinance requires City departments to purchase green products, and requires SF Environment to identify "approved alternative products" that are safer and better for the environment. This website provides lists these products, along with supporting information such as purchasing specifications, city-approved vendors, details on products' environmental and health impacts, links to City contracts, guides for city staff, small businesses, homeowners, and large organizations, reports, and reviews of products by website users.

Who manages this website?

SFApproved.org is a website developed and maintained by SF Environment's green purchasing program. See Who We Are.

How can I use this site?

The easiest way to use the site is by searching for a product or product category using the search box. You may also browse the list of categories at the bottom of the screen. If you have used any listed products, program staff encourage you to submit a product review. You will need to register first.

Is everything on the SF Approved "green"?

No. Only the products/services listed as "Required" or "Suggested" meet San Francisco's rigorous environmental and health requirements; "Limited Use" and "Prohibited" products do not.

Everyone is publishing green products lists. What's so special about this one?

The SF Approved website is maintained by SF Environment for use by the San Francisco city staff and is independent from commercial influence.

Products and services on this website meet San Francisco's innovative policies. For example:

  • In 2005, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require full disclosure of mercury levels in lighting products. The State of California and other agencies quickly instituted similar requirements. Under the current lighting contract, SF Environment has developed lists of hundreds of lamps and ballasts that meet its rigorous specifications for lamp life, mercury level, and energy efficiency – a resource not available elsewhere.
  • In 2008 San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require that all computer purchases be registered as EPEAT-Gold (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool). EPEAT-registered devices are more energy efficient, contain less toxic materials, and are more recyclable.
  • In 2014, SF Environment completed a detailed study on safer disinfectant products. This report – and some of the products it recommends – are listed on SF Approved.

Program staff work with dedicated City staff ("Green Teams") to test new products that meet rigorous environmental standards and feed their product reviews into this website.

How do products get on SF Approved?

See How Products Get on the site.

Are the products endorsed by the City and County of San Francisco?

The primary audience for this website is San Francisco city staff. SF Environment posts specific products on the SF Approved website in order to help city staff easily find products and services that meet its environmental and health requirements. Most of these products have also been added to a citywide contract. Inclusion on this website does not constitute a general endorsement by the City and County of San Francisco. See How Products Get on the List.

Can I use SF Approved Products in my home or small organization?

While this site primarily covers institutional ("industrial") products sold in bulk quantities, many consumer products are also listed. When you find the product category of interest, simply check the "industrial" or "consumer" filters (in the top right area of a category page) to narrow down your findings.

Green Purchasing for City Staff

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How did the SF Green Purchasing Program get started?

San Francisco has been buying green products since the 1980s, but its green purchasing mandates were scattered among several ordinances. In 1998, the City undertook an ambitious Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Pilot Program which:

  • Inventoried and assessed hazardous chemical products purchased by City departments
  • Established environmental and health criteria
  • Identified priority product categories
  • Field tested products with the help of City department staff

The pilot program concluded that - for most of the product categories tested - effective and affordable environmentally preferable ("green") product alternatives were available.

In 2005, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed the Precautionary Purchasing Ordinance (Environment Code, Chapt. 2), which consolidated green purchasing mandates and required City department compliance. This ordinance was the first direct implementation of San Francisco's landmark Precautionary Principle Ordinance (Environment Code, Chapt. 1), which requires that all City operations select "the alternative that presents the least potential threat to human health and the City's natural systems…based on the best available science."

What does the Precautionary Purchasing Ordinance require?

The ordinance (Sect. 203) requires SF Environment to:

  • Set priorities for green purchasing in a public process
  • Establish purchasing specifications that reduce undesirable environmental and health impacts
  • Create SF Approved products for city staff (called "approved alternative products" in the ordinance)
  • Create annual reports on city green purchasing

The ordinance (Sects. 204, 205) requires all city departments, boards and commissions to:

  • Cooperate with SF Environment in its implementation of the ordinance
  • Buy only "Required" products listed on SF Approved, when available.

How do you define "Required," "Suggested," "Limited Use" and "Prohibited" products?

SF Environment created these categorizations to better serve City purchasers. See Guide for City Staff.

  • "Required" products meet SF Environment's objectives for reduced environmental/health impacts, and are generally available on a citywide contract – which means that cost and performance issues have been at least partially addressed. The Precautionary Purchasing Ordinance requires that City purchasers buy "required" products.
  • "Suggested" products also meet SF Environment's environmental and health objectives, but data is incomplete regarding their performance and cost.
  • "Limited Use" products do not meet environmental/health specifications, but are needed for certain special circumstances where using "Required" products is not yet possible; for example, some building managers need to know the most efficient kinds of light bulbs to install in their current light fixtures, pending a fixture upgrade.
  • Finally, SF Environment provides reminders for certain key products that are prohibited by law, and lists them as "Prohibited." Not all "Prohibited" products are listed in SF Approved, of course.

Can I see annual reports on who did and did not buy and sell green products?

Yes. SF Environment uses vendor sales reports to track the city's green product purchases by department and purchaser. Review the latest annual report to see the percentage of green purchases purchased.

Ecolabels, Laws and Specifications

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Is there a convenient summary of purchasing specifications used in SF Approved?

Yes. SF Environment has assembled a one-page summary showing the purchasing specifications for major product categories. The best way to see the most up to date specifications for all product categories is to consult "Category Information" on the website.