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Lost Within the Green Tape. Understanding the process for making true sustainable product selections while avoiding the pitfalls of greenwashing and eco-label confusion . Tommy J. Crane LEED AP. Outline for Discussion . Greenwashing Eco-Labels Certification Sources to Help

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Lost within the green tape

Lost Within the Green Tape

Understanding the process for making true sustainable product selections while avoiding the pitfalls of greenwashing and eco-label confusion.

Tommy J. Crane LEED AP

Outline for discussion
Outline for Discussion

  • Greenwashing

  • Eco-Labels

  • Certification

  • Sources to Help

  • Product Selection

  • What to do when Selecting – Basic Steps

  • Things to Avoid when Selecting

  • Things to Look For when Selecting

What is greenwashing
What is Greenwashing

Green-wash – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. (TerraChoice, 2009)

Seven sins of greenwashing
Seven* Sins of Greenwashing

  • Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off

  • Sin of No Proof

  • Sin of Vagueness

  • Sin of Irrelevance

  • Sin of Fibbing

  • Sin of Lesser of Two Evils

  • Sin of Worshiping False Labels *

Seven sins of greenwashing1
Seven* Sins of Greenwashing

  • Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off

    • Based on a single environmental attribute or an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other environmental issues.

      • Recycled content of a product only

      • Energy efficiency vs. hazardous material content in electrical equipment.

      • Greenguard – indoor air quality – Voc Content

      • Energy Star – energy efficiency

Seven sins of greenwashing2
Seven* Sins of Greenwashing

  • Sin of No Proof

    • Environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easy accessible supporting information, or by a third-party certification.

      • Energy efficient appliances without supporting documentation.

Seven sins of greenwashing3
Seven* Sins of Greenwashing

  • Sin of Vagueness

    • Claim that is poorly defined or so broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood.

      • Chemical-free

      • Non-toxic

      • All natural

Seven sins of greenwashing4
Seven* Sins of Greenwashing

  • Sin of Irrelevance

    • A truthful claim that is unimportant and unhelpful. Irrelevant and therefore distracting.

      • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC)- free

Seven sins of greenwashing5
Seven* Sins of Greenwashing

  • Sin of Fibbing

    • False environmental claims. Misuse or misrepresentation of certification.

      • ‘Certified’ products with no certification

      • ‘Registered products’ lacking registration


Seven sins of greenwashing6
Seven* Sins of Greenwashing

  • Sin of Lesser of Two Evils

    • Claims that may be true within the product category but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater impacts as a whole. Placed on products in which the entire product category is of questionable environmental value.

      • Organic cigarettes

      • Green insecticides and herbicides

Seven sins of greenwashing7
Seven* Sins of Greenwashing

  • Sin of Worshiping False Labels*

    • Gives the impression through words or images of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement actually exists.

      • Company’s own in house environmental programs

      • Bold yet vague statements – fights global warming

      • Green jargon – eco-safe, eco-secure, eco-preferred

Eco labels

  • International Organization of Standardization (ISO) 14000

    • 14020 - Environmental Labels and Declaration

    • Type I – Voluntary Third Party

    • Type II – Self-Declared

    • Type III – Third Party – environmental product declaration (EPD)

Type i label
Type I Label

  • Voluntary criteria-based third party programs

  • Environmentally Based on a particular category

  • Does not require Life-Cycle Assessments (LCAs)

    GreenGuard certified – VOC content – indoor air quality

    Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – sustainable wood and forest practices

    Energy Star – Energy efficient appliances and electronics

Type ii label
Type II label

  • Self-declared environmental claims

  • Made by manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers, etc..

  • Without third-party certification.

  • Encompasses single or multiple impacts

  • Might include a product LCA

Type iii label
Type III label

  • Providing quantified environmental data using predetermined parameters.

  • Requires LCA to measure environmental impacts.

  • Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)

  • Requires Third-Party certification

  • Can include performance data of safety, human health etc.

    • Cradle to Cradle – MBDC

    • Green Seal

    • SCS – Scientific Certification Systems


  • First-party

  • Second-party

  • Third-party

  • Fourth-party regulations (governmental regulations)

First party certification
First-Party Certification

  • Self-certification

    • ISO 14021 – Environmental Labels and Declarations – Self-Declared Environmental Claims

    • Type II Label

      • SC Johnson’ Greenlist products

Second party certification
Second-Party Certification

  • Trade association or vendor assessment

  • Type I labeling

    • Carpet and Rug Institute – CRI

    • Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association – BIFMA

    • MTS – the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability

      • SMART Sustainable Building Products Standards

Third party certification
Third-Party Certification

  • Credible testing and labeling agencies

  • No direct connection with material or its manufacturer

  • Transparency on both standards and certification process

    • GREENGUARD Environmental Institute

    • SCS – Scientific Certification Systems

    • Green Seal

    • NSF – National Sanitation Foundation International

    • MBDC –McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry:

Third party certification1
Third- Party Certification

  • Accrediting bodies for third-party certifiers

    • SCC – Standards Council of Canada

    • ANSI – American National Standards Institute

    • RvA – RvA - Raad voor Accreditatie (Dutch Accreditation Council - Europe

Fourth party regulations
Fourth- Party Regulations

  • Government agencies implementing regulations so that standards are met.

    • EPA – Environmental Protection Agency

    • Dept. of Energy

      • Energy Star – EPA

    • US Code of Federal Regulations

      • Federal Register

    • FTC – Federal Trade Commission


Sources to help
Sources to Help

  • Organizations that provide list of companies and products that they view meet sustainability standards

    • Green Zone –

    • HOK Sustainable Materials Database

    • The GreenStandard.org

    • Scientific Certification Systems

Product selection
Product Selection

  • Resource Efficiency

  • Indoor Air Quality

  • Energy Efficiency

  • Water Consumption

  • Affordability

Resource efficiency
Resource Efficiency

  • Recycled content, product packaging / recyclable

  • Natural, plentiful, or renewable

  • Efficient manufacturing process

  • Salvaged, refurbished or remanufactured

  • Reusable

  • Durable / long lasting

Indoor air quality
Indoor Air Quality

  • Minimal Chemical Emissions (VOCs and toxic chemicals)

  • Moisture resistant – mold, mildew, etc

  • Healthfully maintained – methods of cleaning

  • Building systems and equipment – do not release VOCs, etc.

Energy efficiency
Energy Efficiency

  • Reduce energy consumption

    • Energy Star certified products

    • Temperature controls -

    • Reduce lighting fixtures by replacing with natural light and providing multiple lighting control options.

Water conservation
Water Conservation

  • Reduce water consumption

  • Low-flow fixtures (toilets, etc)

  • Sensor activated fixtures, faucets

  • Consider waterless urinals

  • Controlled irrigation with gray water or no irrigation


  • Life-Cycle Costs

  • Compare to conventional materials and methods

  • Stay within a project-defined percentage of overall budget.

Three basic steps
Three Basic Steps

  • Research

    • Certification claims

    • Ask for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

  • Evaluate

    • Certification claims

    • Life cycle assessment (LCA)

    • Software to help – Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES)

      • National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Building and Fire Research Laboratory

  • Select

    • Evaluation matrix used to make proper selection

    • Create / share database for future use

What to avoid
What to avoid

  • Solvent based stains, dyes, etc.

  • Polyethylene Foam for stuffing

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in paints, adhesives, stains, sealers, finishes, etc.

  • Wood and wood products from non FSC certified forest

  • Composite material (particleboard, MDF, etc) with VOC adhesives

  • Epoxy finishes

  • Heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, Chromium (chrome)

What to avoid1
What to avoid

  • Virgin petrochemical fibers – nylon, polyester, olefin, acrylic, polypropylene, etc.

  • Chlorine bleach / harsh environmentally dangerous cleaners (if you need rubber gloves to use it )

  • Vinyl – specifically Polyvinylchloride (PVC)

  • Products with lengthy transportation distances, by air, water, or land.

What to look for
What to look for:

  • Water soluble, vegetable/ mineral dyes and stains

  • Non-Volatile Organic Compounds in paints, adhesives, stains, sealers, finishes, etc.

  • Glue – free construction / joinery (dovetail, mortise and tenon, etc)

  • Powder Spray Coat finishes

  • Buckwheat / other seed hull fillings for stuffing

  • Plant based polymers (foam) etc

  • Rapidly renewable resources – cork, bamboo, hemp, flat (linen).

  • Blanket wrap for transportation

What to look for1
What to look for:

  • Organic / unbleached fabrics and fibers: wool, cotton, silk, bamboo, hemp, flat (linen), papers, etc.

  • Fully recycled petrochemical fibers – nylon, polyester, etc

  • Energy Star rated appliances and electronics,

  • Regional materials within 500 mile radius

  • FSC certified wood and wood products

  • Environmentally friendly cleaners

  • Agri-fiber products, (wheatboard, etc with no VOCs

Final thoughts questions
Final Thoughts / Questions

  • Research products / claims

  • Share information with others

  • Keep looking the right products are out there

Tommy J. Crane, MFA, IDEC, LEED AP

Assistant Professor - Interior Architecture

School of Human and Consumer Sciences

Grover Center W324 Ohio University

(740) 593-2870 / fax (740) 593-0289

[email protected]