What Does Green Certification Really Mean?

Helping consumers identify which products are and are not green based on widely accepted scientific standards has become crucial to the entire green movement. 

Before certification – and even today – many manufacturers “self-certified” their products, calling them green.  In some cases, these green certifications were accurate, at least according to the best information and laboratory data of the time; but in other cases the certification was based on faulty data; and in still other cases, the term was simply used as a marketing tool with little or no evidence to back it up. The result was considerable confusion and consumer mistrust, which could have significantly slowed the entire green movement.

So what does green certification really mean?

As defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and adopted by many certification organizations, certification indicates the following:

  • That a product or a service has been evaluated using science-based environmental leadership standards
  • That it performs as well as or better than other products in its class based on industry standards
  • That it has been independently certified without bias or conflict of interest

The green certification process helps both the manufacturer and the consumer, both Ashkin and Sawchuk agree. Once a product has been certified, [the manufacturer] is allowed to use the eco-label of the certification organization on its products and marketing materials. This gives manufacturers evidence to prove that their products are in fact green, and lets consumers and purchasers know that these green-certified products are safer for human health and the environment.

Further clarifying green certification and putting it into very practical terms for park and recreation managers, the National Institute of Building Sciences Whole Building Design Guide say a green-certified product should have, among others, the following attributes:

  • Promote enhanced indoor air and environmental quality, typically achieved through the reduction or elimination of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions**
  • Incorporate recycled content (post-consumer/post-industrial)
  • Be manufactured using renewable, sustainable resources
  • Not contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or other ozone-depleting substances
  • For certain products, such as wood or bio-based products, employ what is termed “sustainable harvesting” (where new trees, for instance, are planted to replace trees cut down or forested)
  • Be recyclable
  • Be biodegradable