Green Product Certifications & Labeling Systems

Third-party certification is a great way to add credibility to any green building product. The process of achieving certification also adds a layer of accountability and integrity for the product developer. Meanwhile, transparency and a commitment to environmental and human health are now being demanded throughout the material supply chain. While a product can certainly be green and high-performing if it is not certified, there are several tangible benefits that accompany certification and which cannot be so easily attained otherwise.

Benefits include:

  • Higher sales margins

  • Higher demand

  • Inclusion in green building rating systems

The green building market is growing rapidly both at home and worldwide!  As a result, the associated market for green building products has also grown and could reach $254 billion by 2020*.  Achieving third-party product certifications allows manufacturers to take advantage of this expanding demand.

Because no universal “green building product” definition exists, many national and international organizations have established various – and sometimes competing — green product directories, labels, certifications, and other evaluation systems to help verify green product claims.

Certifications help ease product selection.

Certifications help ease product selection. (Wikimedia Commons: Secom Bahia)

So what’s the difference between a certification and a product label?  Between claim verification and a rating?  A certification is a complex determination of product sustainability using multiple science-based criteria.  A label, on the other hand, is typically a simpler (often single-attribute) way to identify products.  A rating is a classification according to grade or rank, such as how the specifications of a product compare to code requirements.   Claim verification helps consumers know they are getting what they pay for and can apply to any kind of environmental claim a manufacturer or provider makes.  Standards are performance criteria recommended by respected institutions such as ASHRAE and ANSI to guide practices.

Products in any of these evaluation systems may be found in a directory, a yellow-page type listing of available products.   Directories vary widely in their stringency, so the fact that a particular product appears in a green directory should by no means be seen as an endorsement of it.  Transparency-focused directories can be helpful in finding alternatives to red list materials.  There is certainly overlap among these terms and many sources will use them interchangeably.

Knowing how to navigate through the wide array of green product standards is critical for anyone in the green building supply chain. Understanding the benefits of green product labels and certifications is one piece of the puzzle, but comprehending the time and investment required by a product manufacturer to comply with these standards is also tremendously important. Why should a company seek a product certification?  For one, review by an independent and unbiased third party is currently the most reliable method of verifying claims of product “greenness.”  Consumers are becoming more informed regarding product ingredients, sources, and manufacturing, while simultaneously growing increasingly skeptical of greenwashing – so labels and ratings add credibility to a company’s sustainability claims.

Industry associations and other third-party groups are among the most trusted sources of green product information.  Certified, labeled, and verified products are more profitable, attracting consumers interested in achieving LEED credits or complying with a sustainable purchasing policy.  This effect can be compounded if a product has multiple certifications and information is readily available regarding its ingredients and life cycle.  Before choosing a labeling or certification system for products, manufacturers and specifiers should carefully study the risks and rewards of each.

Some helpful materials for those seeking green and healthy building products are mindfulMaterials and the Declare database.

*According to a recent research report from Navigant Research, the worldwide market for green construction materials will grow from $116 billion in 2013 to greater than $254 billion in 2020. Via Forbes.