Friday, July 18, 2008

Are You Certifiable?

As I posted earlier, the gig is up for people talking the talk without walking the walk. Today, calling something green that isn't may simply be a marketing faux pas, cause a campus riot, or may have more serious consequences (try explaining to the USDA that you thought "organic" was just a word). What I failed to do, as some of you so wisely pointed out, is to list some resources for certification. This is far from an exhaustive list and some lesser competing rating systems are not listed. If I missed your favorite, let me know.

Follow the links if you want to certify:

Green Buildings - U.S. Green Building Council LEED Green Building Rating System rates buildings in six categories (site, water, energy, materials, indoor air quality and innovation in design) and has different versions for new construction, commercial interiors, core and shell, existing buildings, and homes. A new and improved version is due out this year, as are rating systems for neighborhood development and schools. LEED is the mother of building-related rating systems and uses some of the other rating systems listed below to determine whether materials like carpet (Greenguard) contribute to indoor air quality problems, for example. This international organization with over 15,000 member organizations, also has an accreditation program for "LEED Accredited Professionals." There are over 50,000 LEED APs and the national convention doubles in attendence each year (last year's Greenbuild 2007 convention in Chicago had over 25,000 attendees and four-hour waiting lines at registration). Look out Boston!

Energy Efficient Buildings and Appliances - Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star rating system is not quite as comprehensive as the LEED rating system, but it is used by LEED as a gauge of efficiency for existing buildings. Some buildings have as much electrical power going to "plug loads" (things you plug in) as they do general building system loads, so this is a very important rating system for power-hungry appliances, computers and other rated equipment. 

Organic Food - USDA National Organic Program like all the others, is far from perfect, but it has enabled an industry, which is the point of most of these systems. That industry now has lots of money and money talks. This is no longer about local mom and pop truck farms. This is an area ripe for alternative third-party certification systems. 

Low-chemical Emissions Products - Greenguard Environmental Institute certifies building materials, such as carpet, that are low in chemical and particle emissions to improve indoor air quality. 

Certified Furniture, Wood Products, Cleaning Products and Building Materials - Scientific Certification Systems. This comprehensive organization is also certifying manufacturing, floral and fishing operations. 

Green Materials and Lodging - Green Seal is also into products but it also rates the hospitality industry which is quickly greening to catch up to traveler demand. 

Truly Renewable Lifecycle Products - Cradle to Cradle Certification, created by green product gurus Bill McDonough (an architect) and Michael Braungart (a chemist) is a very rigorous certification (with smoking high marketing value) for products that have a useful life after their useful life. This has been applied to everything from fabrics to furniture and beyond. If you haven't read the book, Cradle to Cradle, stop reading this now and pick that up. Report back here afterwords and this blog and this post will make more sense to you.

Certified Wood - The Forest Stewardship Council has a rather strict "chain of custody" system for certifying that the wood used in your project came from well-managed, sustainable forests using best practices for avoiding erosion and other environmental damage. This is the only forest certification system currently awarded points under the LEED Green Building Rating system, which is cause for much controversy among the lumber industry.

Rainforest Friendly Business - The Rainforest Alliance works with businesses that use forest or farm products or engage in ecotourism to cerify that their practices are in the best interest of sustainaing the "lungs of the planet."

Green Builders, Contractors and Subcontractors - Green Advantage Environmental Certification trains and tests builders who want to build green. The National Association of Home Builders also has a new National Green Home Program certification system for green builders and green homes.

Sustainably Grown Flowers - Veriflora certification can tell you that your florist is not slashing and burning to get those roses and that they are taking care of their workers.

Sustainable Seafood - the Marine Stewardship Council can tell you if eating Charlie Tuna is a good idea of if you should go for the halibut. 

Renewable Energy - before you spring for those renewable energy certificates, check with Green e to make sure you are actually paying for renewable energy.

If this all sounds confusing and complicated and you wonder if some of these (or others not named) are just scams, there are a couple of places I recommend you go for some fact checking: 

Consumer Reports Greener Choices 

The Federal Trade Commission Guides for Environmental Marketing Claims Guide to Green Certification and Ecolabelling


Mike said...

Hi William,

Thanks for the great post on certification agencies for green products.

I run a Renewable Energy Certificate provider called Village Green Energy ( We feel that Green-e is a good first step towards ensuring your RECs are effective, but not sufficient. Green-e ensures that RECs are not double counted - that is, that providers like Village Green haven't sold the same REC to two people. What they don't ensure is that the original REC sold actually made a difference.

The key to ensuring this is to purchase RECs from states where the utilities are required to buy them - states with Renewable Portfolio Standards. By purchasing these RECs, you essentially prevent utilities from counting these generators towards their goals, forcing even more renewables into the market. We have a flow chart of this on our "How It Works" page. For reference, buying RECs from a non-RPS state like Kansas would cause the flowchart to end on slide 5, instead of making it all the way to slide 7. Unfortunately, the Green-e standards don't make this crucial distinction.

Thanks for your post and keep up the great work.

Mike Jackson

Randy Schmitz said...

Great post! We are happy to see strong movement towards standards. Our customers often ask us for info on emerging standards, mostly with regard to LEED, as our products are sustainable building materials ( We will include a link to this to help shed some light on where it is all headed. Thanks!

Randy Schmitz
Integrity Block

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