July 1, 2008

How Do I Know it’s Really Green?

By Vestina F. Crayton, Extension Education Instructor, Urban Sustainability

With so many products claiming to be “green”, how does the responsible consumer identify a product that is really green or an environmentally preferable product? It’s simple. Look for the products that have been certified by a third-party. Before we discuss what a third party is and its role, let’s define, in general, what the first and second parties are with green products. The first party is the company, ZZZ Green Product, which creates the product. Any claims that ZZZ Green Products may make that their products are green could be considered biased. The second party can be a consultant that has been hired by ZZZ Green Products to evaluate the product using the guidelines developed by a supporting professional organization. Sometimes these guidelines are too general and may not be very stringent. A third-party is an independent organization that conducts rigorous research, testing, evaluation and verification on a company’s products and services compliance that meet with nationally or internationally legal standards and requirements.

In response to the desire of governments, businesses, non-profits, and society as a whole to live and be more socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable, there are a growing number of third party certification programs available. The following are non-profit nationally recognized third-party certification programs:

GREENGUARD certifies and identifies those products and materials that have low-emitting and non-toxic properties. The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines indoor environmental quality (IEQ) as ‘the quality of the air and environment inside buildings, based on pollutant concentrations and conditions that can affect the health, comfort and performance of occupants -- including temperature, relative humidity, light, sound and other factors.’ The release of chemicals into the atmosphere, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can compromise indoor environmental quality. Research shows that most people spend 90% of their time indoors.

Green SealGreen Seal
Green Seal collaborates with industry professionals to ensure responsible management and compliance in all aspects of the life cycle of a product such as the source of material extraction, manufacturing, operation, disposal, and reuse.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
This international organization accredits third-party programs that certify environmentally responsible forest product management and production. As an accrediting organization this allows FSC to maintain an independent position between the third-party standards and the operations pursuing certification.

Scientific Certifications Systems
Since 1984, this group offers certifications, audits, and testing for high level performance in environmental protection, social accountability, food safety and quality for both public and private entities.

Greener Choices – Consumer Reports Ecolabels
This program provides an interactive Web-based tool for consumers to research the green rating on appliances, cars, electronics, food and beverages, home and garden products. was developed by Environmental Health Specialist, Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D.
This global Web-based resource contains 300 labels of recognized certifiers. This group provides in- depth information on each certifying program. This user-friendly tool allows the consumer to browse products and services by region and type.

Sustainable Forestry Initiatives (SFI)
This initiative utilizes a best management approach by training their loggers and developing outreach programs for the forestry landowners. SFI provides the following two types of label identification: 100% Certified Content Label which indicates that 100% of the raw material contained in the product has been certified by SFI or the Canadian Standard Association’s Standard ( and X% Certified Content Label which indicates that a percentage of the raw material contained in the product has been certified by the previously mentioned organizations.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Label
In October 2002, the USDA National Organic Program developed a set of guidelines to certify the percentage of organic ingredients present in food. For single foods such as fruits and vegetables, look for the label on the food or on the signage in the area the food is stocked. For multi-ingredient foods such as snacks and beverages, look for the label on the packaging. In multi-ingredient foods the following classifications are used: 100% organic, organic (95-99% by weight), made with organic ingredients (70-94% by weight) and other (less than 70% by weight). Only the 100% - 95% will contain the USDA Organic Label.

Although this is just a sampling of the many independent programs, it gives you a brief look at the resources that are available to assist you with identifying the authenticity of an environmentally preferable, green or sustainable product. Purchasing products that carry the label from these organizations, will give the consumer the confidence that the product or service has been evaluated, tested, and researched to ensure that it was produced in the most environmentally responsible manner. Always remember that the manufacturer or vendor of a product should be able to produce documentation to verify that their product is truly green.


Green Seal (
Forest Stewardship Council (
Scientific Certifications Systems (
Greener Choices – Consumer Reports Eco ( (
Sustainable Forestry Initiatives (
Canadian Standard Association’s Standard (
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Label
What does the organic label really mean?
USDA National Organic Program (
Thinking Green (May/June 2008) An Introduction to Third –Party Certification and Ecolabeling ASID ICON, Fluid Environments, Gainesville FL

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