Ray Ng

We write regularly about green certifications, encouraging our readers to seek and specify third party–certified products, and then to certify their projects through recognized green building programs that include field verification and performance testing. These recommendations still remain the best ways to navigate through the forest of green options to find credible products and to stand out from the growing number of building and remodeling professionals labeling themselves as “green specialists” in these growing markets. But just as sustainable building pros are increasingly demanding certifications for more of their product selections, the certification picture is becoming more confusing all the time.

Every week it seems we receive another notice announcing a new green product certification program, complete with logo and mission statement claiming high standards and rigorous and independent product ratings, even though the entity has yet to certify anything. Some of these newcomers seem potentially credible but need time to prove themselves worthy of our trust. Others appear to be barely concealed self-certification marketing schemes that should go away before anyone gets hurt. To me, these wanna-be’s are taking advantage of the growing demand for certified products—especially as required by green building programs—and they’re taking chaotic license to leverage the confusion that clouds green product selection, by adding to the cloud cover.

Instead, new certification programs should follow the example set by the most universally recognized certification “brands,” such as Energy Star, SCS (Scientific Certification Systems), FSC and SFI, Greenguard, Green Seal, Sustainable Choice, The Home Depot’s EcoOptions, EPA’s WaterSense, and FloorScore, to name a few. The list goes on with next-level, multiple-attribute programs including Cradle To Cradle, BEES, and the Pharos Lens. Combined, these certification and evaluation programs cover thousands of products within just about every category related to green building.

Behind these programs are technical teams of engineers, chemists, and resource scientists governed by a variety of standards, who audit manufacturers’ claims via documentation review and, in the best cases, conduct independent lab tests and site inspections to verify manufacturing processes.

In each case, true third-party certification is a disciplined process based on detailed documentation and science-based evaluations. As each category of green building products evolves, so will the criteria used to define and evaluate their performance, requiring more—not less—rigorous examination, and a harder—not easier—path toward certification that includes deeper transparency, so that we can evaluate the certifiers themselves.

Anyone introducing a new product certification program at this point should go deeper, not shallower, than these models, but so far I don’t see that happening. Instead I see the same potential for greenwashing in the certification world as we’ve been battling on the manufacturer side for years. So we’ll fight this as well, and encourage you to look behind the logos when it comes to selecting “certified” products. Don’t just blindly accept a new program—ask questions about its basis and background. Skepticism is still in order here too.