UL Environment Buys Greenguard

By Tristan Roberts of Environmental Building News

GreenguardFor the second time in five months, UL Environment, a division of Underwriters Laboratories (UL), has acquired a major brand in the green building products certification field. Today it announced its purchase of the Greenguard indoor air quality certifications and the two organizations behind them. The announcement follows UL Environment’s August 2010 acquisition of Canada’s EcoLogo, one of the oldest eco-labels in the field (see “UL Environment Teams Up with EcoLogo”).

UL Environment’s acquisition of Greenguard accompanied its purchase of both Air Quality Sciences, Inc. (AQS) and the Greenguard Environmental Institute (GEI). AQS, founded in 1989, is a product emissions testing laboratory that launched the Greenguard label in 2000 as a way of recognizing products that AQS tested and found to have low emissions of indoor air pollutants. In 2001, AQS sought to give the Greenguard program more independence by creating the nonprofit GEI to run it.

Together AQS and GEI have made Greenguard one of the most recognized indoor air quality labels in the building products industry. According to a press release from Greenguard, the program has 350 manufacturer participants, and more than 10,000 certified products. Greenguard has two widely recognized product certifications: the basic Greenguard Indoor Air Quality, and the far-more-stringent Greenguard Children and Schools, both of which cover building materials, finishes, furnishings, electronic equipment, and cleaners. It also has a program to certify building construction methods that minimize moisture problems.

“This acquisition combines AQS’s world-class technology and expertise, as well as Greenguard’s brand recognition and scientific rigor, with UL’s trusted history of standards development, testing, and compliance to create a more comprehensive solution for testing and certification,” said Steve Wenc, president of UL Environment, in a press release. Marilyn Black, Ph.D., chair of Atlanta-based AQS and founder of GEI, said that she hoped that together with UL, the organizations “will boost consumer confidence in the green product marketplace.” Black also said that the partnership “will allow us to enhance our position as the North American indoor air quality market leader and help us expand our reach into the global market.”

ULUL, an independent product safety certification group founded in 1894, opened its environmental unit in 2009. While the long-term impact of the move is still to be seen, EBN noted at the time that UL’s history and brand recognition could help address widespread confusion in the green products certification world (see “Underwriters Laboratories to Validate Environmental Claims,” EBN Jan. 2009). As it now also flexes financial and business muscles, UL Environment may be closer to doing that. UL Environment performs its own environmental claims validation and has an ambitious program to roll out multiple multi-attribute environmental standards for specific building product categories, including drywall, insulation, and roofing. When it acquired EcoLogo and Terrachoice, the organization behind it, UL Environment said that it would maintain the EcoLogo brand and programs, while synchronizing EcoLogo’s efforts with its own. UL has not yet signaled whether it will take a similar approach with Greenguard. The combined acquisition of AQS and GEI highlights the murky relationship between the two organizations. AQS’s role as a consultant to manufacturers compromised its ability to provide independent third-party certification. That’s why it made sense for AQS to hand off Greenguard to GEI in 2001, but the relationship between AQS and GEI remains very close, and competing testing labs long complained that GEI resisted defining its standards clearly enough for companies other than AQS, which helped develop the standards, to use.

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UL Environment

Greenguard Environmental Institute

Air Quality Sciences

Images: Courtesy of BuildingGreen.com