This post is the first in a series on EcoLabels & Certifications, courtesy of HOK's Deborah Fuller (RID, IDDA, LEED AP BD+C). Through this series, Debi attempts to clairfy the confusion with green certifications, eco-labels, and green logos, and share how to use them in sustainable design (and the LEED documentation process).
What is an "eco-label"?
- According to Consumer Reports, an "eco-label" is a seal or logo indicating that a product has met a set of environmental or social standards. But, who monitors these claims, and how do you know they are legitimate?
- According to the Global Ecolabelling Network, "ecolabelling" is a voluntary method of environmental performance certification and labeling that is practiced around the world.
- According to Wikipedia, an "ecolabel" is a labeling system for consumer products (excluding food and medicine) that are made in a fashion that avoids detrimental effects on the environemnt. Many (but not all) ecolables are not directly connected to the firms that manufacture or sell the ecolabeled products. Just as for the quality assurance labeling systems, it is of imperitive importance that the labeling entity is clearly divided from and independent of the manufacturers. All ecolabeling is voluntary, mneaing that they are not mandatory by law.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has identified three broad types of voluntary labels:
- Type I- a voluntary, multiple-criteria based, third party program that awards a license that authorizes use of environmental labels on products indicating overall environmental preferability of a product within a particular product category based on lifecycle considerations
- Type II - informative environmental self-declaration claims
- Type III - voluntary programs that provide quantified environmental data of a product, under pre-set categories of parameters set by a qualified third party and based on life cycle assessment, and verified by that or another qualified third party.
What is Greenwash?
(green'wash', -wôsh') –verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.
In December 2007, environmental marketing company, Terrachoice, gained national press coverage for releasing a study called "The Six Sins of Greenwashing," which found that 99% of 1,018common consumer products randomly surveyed for the study were guilty of greenwashing.
What is Certification?
1. the act of certifying.
2. the state of being certified.
3. a certified statement.
4. A standard set of guidelines and criteria against which a product can be judged.
Because green certifications or eco-labels are voluntary, green product certifications are showcases for manufacturers genuinely interested in being taken seriously by the architectural and design community, facility managers and owners who want to purchase products with verified green claims.
Three Levels of Certification
- First Party Certifications – declarations that have not be tested or verified. These are also referred to as “Trade Association Labels." Most of these consist of marketing claims, product specifications, and material data safety sheets.
- Second Party Certifications –more credible by involving a trade association or firm that sets a standard and verifies claims.
- Third Party Certifications: conducts independent testing and awards certifications. Consensus negotiation process. No vested interest in product. These are also referred to as “Independent” certification organizations that establish high standards for product testing. These certifications are the most robust and the measure of quality control is often ANSI-approved, which verifies the certifier’s objectivity.
Who is the "Watch Dog" for Green Certifications and Labels?
Currently there is no overall governing agency that monitors the eco-labels,certifications or green product labels. The USGBC does not endorse anyparticular products, however they do recognize certain organizations andcertifications and labels with the LEED certification process.
Many organizations are trying to get the federal government orthe EPA to act as the “watch dog” for these claims but as of now this is not happening. So we have to rely on credible organizations that have unbiased opinions to help us make decisions regarding these claims.
This series will be divided into a number of topics:
- Indoor Air Quality Certifications
- Wood Forestry Certifications
- Furniture Certifications
- Energy Certifications
- Carpet Certifications
- Green Housekeeping Certifications
- Textile Certifications
- Multiple Attribute Certifications
A snapshot of those, for readers anxious to see exactly what we're going to cover: