This post is part of an ongoing collection of posts to help people identify legitimately “green” products. If you haven’t read the first post, take a moment and begin with the preceding post.
Know and understand certification labels and other branded approvals. If you are going to rely on labels to determine the “green-ness” of a product, make sure you understand the labels you see before making a purchase. Find out for yourself why Green Guard certification of Comfortex Window Treatments is valuable. Labels that claim to certify the healthiness or eco-friendly value of products are popping up every day. Some are very good, many are not. For a long time, a striking example of this was the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) label. Launched by the timber industry to compete with the growing demand for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) lumber, the SFI stamp is the product of timber industry spin. Until recently, the two labels couldn’t have been more starkly different and many conservationists believe that difference remains. To light, the Forest Stewardship Council is non-profit, independent, 3rd party organization whose mission is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests. The FSC label enjoys the support of the Sierra Club, Rain Forest Action Network, The World Wildlife Fund and other like organizations. In contrast, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative was founded by executives of the paper and timber industry. The rules and regulations were written and approved by those same industry leaders, the members of the SFI council were appointed by the industry, and the rules themselves remain to be vague, such as certifying landowners to receive certification for their timber simply because they follow state forestry regulations; regulations that are sometimes decades old. SFI now claims to be an independent, non-profit (proudly displayed on their website) organization, but even that has been challenged by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations.
Fortunately, enough public understanding of these labels and the legitimately earned power of the FSC label in the green building industry forced SFI to strengthen its standards. After years of trying to earn acceptance by the US Green Building Council for LEED credits, SFI finally received its wish this spring, though not without much trepidation in the green building industry. Their standards still need much improvement.
Other examples of Orwellian green labeling, often referred to as green-washing, abound. To date, 431 seals and certifications exist. Many manufacturers make up their own “seals” as fast as Photoshop will permit, riding this wave of consumer concern. Some label systems have very lax requirements. The best thing you can do is research labels and find those that are independent and scientific. SCS, the Scientific Certification System does rigorous testing and reporting on products, such as AFM Safecoat. The Cradle to Cradle label is one of the most thorough and legitimate label systems ever conceived and the gold standard to environmentalists. Fortunately, for the connected people, Consumer Reports created an App for help you. Just click here.