A new online database aims to help companies and consumers navigate claims of environmental certifications and labels for a range of products.

The searchable 2010 Global Ecolabel Monitor by the World Resources Institute studied 340 labeling programs and found they employ a variety of strategies to ensure credibility. For instance, 92% of the programs surveyed require some verification before they award the ecolabel, compared to those requiring registration but no certification up front. Of those requiring certification, 66% require third-party certification in order to avoid perceived or real conflicts of interest.

The analysis also revealed that programs run by nonprofits generally have more rigorous requirements, such as site visits, audits, and third-party certifications. ISEAL Alliance, for example, has implemented codes of good practice for standard setting, measuring environmental or social impacts and performance as well as compliance verification.

“Demand for products with ecolabels is growing, there is still confusion about which products are truly environmentally responsible,” says Jeff Rodgers, an associate at WRI. “By identifying and comparing the many different standards, the Ecolabel Monitor makes it easier for companies and consumers to reduce their environmental impact.”

The index’s small Building Products category includes information on programs such as Green Seal, Cradle to Cradle, and Energy Star, and explores how compliance with each ecolabel standard is ensured. Other relevant categories include Buildings, Household Appliances, and Water.

Credibility is a constant concern for companies and products entering the green marketplace, says Rodgers. A lack of transparency about an ecolabel can cause consumer confusion or even backlash.

“Several large companies and government agencies have recently announced or improved their green or eco-purchasing policies," he says. "In order to meet their policies, these large-scale institutional purchasers need standards, detailed information, and proof that a product is green.”