For the great majority who don’t hold the key to the city, the banned pamphlet to social change, or even the sack full of money to donate to the organic food company, it can be bewildering to conceive of how to make a difference. That influence lies in the power of the consumer. However, even this power can be dumbfounding. Products that claim to be of quality are easy to come by, but real quality products can be much more hidden. With terms like “organic,” “green,” and “sustainable” constantly thrown around, it can be hard to determine what is legitimate and what is marketing. To remedy this, you can refer to some of the top green certification companies, whose one and only goal is to let you in on the truth.
1. Greenguard Environmental Institute
Just nine years old, this certification only refers to the indoor air quality of adhesives, appliances, and other office utility products, such as furniture and paint. It ensures that its products don’t emit harmful chemicals.
This is a strict certification, as only about 20% of the products tested immediately get the certification. They judge by making a cutoff point for the amount of chemicals that are emitted from a product, and refusing certification to any product that goes above this line. There are about 125,000 Greenguard-certified products.
In order to test a product of any kind, Greenguard will first ensure that the manufacturer takes measures to create a quality product to begin with. This means that if the product passes, the manufacturer will consistently produce an efficient product. It will then take a sample of the product and test it in their office, which is manufactured to have the same measurements as an office, a classroom, or a home, respectively.
It then judges the product’s total TVOC, or Total Volatile Organic Compound. This is a measurement of the vapor pressure a product emits into the air. It is determined by the amount of formaldehyde, aldehydes, respirable particles, and irritants. To be qualified, these chemicals cannot exceed their Threshold Limit Value, or TLV, which is the amount something can be exposed to a worker in an eight-hour day, five-day week period.
Greenguard also screens for carcinogens and reproductive toxins. The company bases its criteria on both formulation and use.
2. Green Seal
Green Seal specializes in cleaning products. What makes it such a viable certification is that it judges multiple attributes of a number of different products on cycle-based criteria. In spite of this, the product must still perform well. Green seal has set a standard that it concedes only 20% of manufacturers can achieve, which is ultimately effective for the sea of other products because it pushes them to raise the bar.
Since it is renowned for not cutting corners, the company has worked in the past with the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the U.S. Postal Service.
To add to both the rigorousness and impressive nature of a Green Seal certification, the company specifically guides certified manufacturers in what they are able to claim about their products’ sustainability.
Green Seal products are judged on cycle-based criteria, so its requirements for certification must be met across the board, including transportation and usage. It requires that the manufacturer uses alternatively fuelled, energy-efficient vehicles for at least 50% of the final product’s transportation. No more than 5% of waste generated by the manufacturer can go to a landfill after the product is created.
Green Seal also forbids any adding of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) at any point during production. Nor does it permit more than 10 grams of VOCs per liter of a product. It also requires active emissions reduction and requires that 20% or the energy used throughout to be from renewable sources.
Promotion from Green Seal:
3. Scientific Certification Systems (Environmentally Preferable Products)
EPP certification emerged from the SCS, or Scientific Certification Systems. The EPA maintains a database of EPP and other certified products. Because of this, EPP certified products are the standard for carpet face fiber, tile, and flooring. The EPP encourages both indoor air quality and biodegradable materials. Although it measures a limited amount of attributes of a product, its certifications apply to many different types of products.
One of the main requirements of EPP products is that much of the product used is post-consumer. All-fiber products must be 100% recycled fiber. The product must also have a very minimal amount of formaldehyde. Because it is a multiple-attribute, but not cycle-based criteria, there are no guidelines regarding post-production.
In this video, the EPA discusses its sustainable products, which must follow the certification requirements of EPPs:
4. ENERGY STAR
The ENERGY STAR label is one of the most common energy efficiency labels you will find in stores today. Part of this is because its certification requirements are not expressly strict, but also because ENERGY STAR works with the EPA and encompasses a number of products, including most forms of lighting, appliances, cleaners, power adapters, and transformers. You can also find this label for buildings, such as office buildings.
The popular environmental stamp for engineering, LEED, employs ENERGY STAR’s standards. What makes it so universally reliable is its initiative to update its criteria often.
ENERGY STAR labels help a consumer understand when a product is slowly improving rather than meeting certain requirements. If a company takes specific steps to improve the energy efficiency of their product, they most likely qualify for an ENERGY STAR label. Among these requirements includes honesty toward consumers about the type and quality of energy a product uses.
ENERGY STAR products are ensured to have contributed to nationwide energy savings in both money and energy output. Manufacturers are also required to consistently lessen their energy waste while maintaining quality of a product, which includes keeping costs at a minimum.
Ultimately, the consumer is protected by this label, because it requires that any increase in cost is made up over time and usage of that product. So an ENERGY STAR lightbulb may cost more than a conventional one, but it must last longer and provide better quality light. Finally, ENERGY STAR demands that its products be testable.
Here, ENERGY STAR demonstrates other ways to save energy:
5. Forest Stewardship Council (SmartWood)
The Forest Stewardship Council works to ensure sustainable forestry of the wood it certifies. It is an independent, non-profit, and non-governmental organization. Its aim is to certify woods and woodcutting processes that are not only fair to its workers and the environment, but those of generations to come. It does this through the use of objective criteria and third-party organizations. Another aim of the FCS is to always judge using a transparent process.
What makes the Forest Stewardship Council unique is that it not only deals with “green” manufacturing but an area’s laws and its people’s rights as well. In other words, you can buy FSC-certified wood with the confidence that it was harvested under respectable conditions. The wood must be harvested according to the laws of the country it is coming from, and there must be a legal, understood contract between the harvesters and the region, so that production is always lawful.
The harvesters may not in any way interfere with the rights of the people of that land, or the land’s workers. In order to maintain workers’ rights, the companies must be constantly re-evaluating and adapting their policies for their workers’ fairness.
The manufacturer must also follow a plan that outlines not only its intentions, but how it will conserve and protect the wildlife and condition of the forest, so as to maintain all species living there and lessen its environmental impact.
SmartWood can effectively be used for anything, including Les Paul guitars!
A promotion for SmartWood’s parent company, the FSC:
6. Carpet and Rug Institute (Green Label Plus)
The Carpet and Rug Institute measures only carpets, adhesives, and cushion materials for indoor air quality. Green Label, its specific certification, was developed in 1992, and Green Label Plus is a stricter update. The company tests products for its TVOC and 13 specific chemicals that are harmful for indoor air over time.
The Green Label’s requirements for certification are measured in mg/m^2 per hour, so as to emit the lowest possible amount of toxic gas. They are a TVOC of no more than 0.5, a 4-PC (4-Phenylcyclohexene) level of no more than 0.05, a Formaldehyde level of no more than 0.05, and no more than 0.4 Styrene. In laymen’s terms, what this means for companies is that they should focus on lowering their TVOCs and extra chemical waste.
EcoLogo measures multiple attributes of more than 20 different types of products. It is one of the most discerning certification companies, as it certifies the products that are in the top 20% of the most efficient. Environmental advocates, consumer groups, professional purchasers, regulators, and industry and environmental academia develop and update its criteria.
The EcoLogo requirements are not stagnant as they are based on only the top 20% of products. It looks at the life-cycle of a product and judges a boatload of criteria over a 12-18 month period, including the product’s environmental impact, energy sustainability, and workers’ rights.
You cannot simply meet a standard and become certified for this label. However, if you are efficient enough to make it into the EcoLogo’s yearly set of products, you can ensure that yours is in the top echelon of sustainability.
In this CBC Broadcast, TerraChoice Marketing President Scott McDougall warns consumers against false company claims of being “green,” and supports EcoLogo as a legitimate Canadian organization.
This article is from WellHome, which provides Home Energy Audits with the ability to upgraded Windows, HVAC, and Home Insulation. WellHome also performs Duct Tightening and Air Sealing to creat a more comfortable and well balanced home that performs at its best level. WellHome allows the homeowner to get a bigger picture of the efficiency of the home and its ability to maintain comfortable temperatures and air flow.
- What does it mean to have an ENERGY STAR Windows Program Label? (energyguard.wordpress.com)
- Energy-efficient electronics for college students (usatoday.com)
- Sorting through confusing ‘green’ product claims (seattletimes.nwsource.com)