As I attempt to actually implement sustainability into my purchases, I have come across a huge variety of green claims and counter claims. Paralleling the multiple environmental claims are multiple organizations certifying at least some of these claims. For the consumer, the idea is that someone has checked out the environmental claims and found them to be on the up and up. But understanding who actually certifies what, and which certification is important for a given purchase, is a different question. Since I am in the midst of a construction project, my examples have a relationship to building materials.
I’ve had to decode Greenguard vs Greenseal as well as Green Label and Green Label Plus. These are not to be confused with Scientific Certification Systems–SCS. Each of these looks at things a little differently. And of course there is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plus the State of California. California is very environmentally progressive, and a huge marketplace. Therefore when California talks, manufacturers listen.
First, Greenguard and Greenseal. Greenguard focuses primarily on indoor air quality—most notably for off gassing of VOCs, formaldehyde and other chemicals. (www.greenguard.org). Greenseal has a wider area of focus, offering environmental standards and certifications in about 2 dozen categories (www.greenseal.org). Whether these certification labels are actually relevant to what I am buying might be another question. Even so, both of these are independent, 3rd party providers with ties to ANSI, ASTM, etc. (ANSI and ASTM are widely recognized national standards-setting organizations. Their standards are used in nearly every industry you have ever heard of.)
On the other hand, Green Label and Green Label Plus are programs of the carpet industy’s trade organization, the Carpet and Rug Institute. It is pretty easy to automatically assume that an industry-based organization is greenwashing. However, I noticed that the current LEED (green building) guidelines give credits to carpeting that meets the Green Label Plus standards. So it must be legit. I’ll look for a Green Label Plus carpet when I get new carpeting.
Another twist on the certification world is Scientific Certification Systems. Among other things, they happen to be the ones who certify vendors desiring to be part of Home Depot’s Eco Options program (look for the green signs all over the store). The base questionnaire the Eco Options vendors fill out to be reviewed by SCS is quite interesting reading. (http://www.scscertified.com/csr/Home_Depot/).
These organizations seem to be building awareness and usage in the professional/industrial area. I think it is only a matter of time before the consumer markets start demanding certifications like I’ve discussed above. I have. I do not rely solely upon them, but they are a great help in determining if a given product is environmentally friendly.