Being Green – Ecolabels

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, so TGIF to ya! For this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post I wanted to reference a couple of articles I came across this week. Before I get to that, however, something more important… our son just finished school – again! His time at Royal Roads University is all over for him as of yesterday, as he’ll be graduating with a BA in Professional Communication. We’re very proud, as you may imagine, and since it was his idea to get this blog started, we owe him a debt of gratitude as well.

Okay, on with the show. I’ve written before about the (to me) often bewildering array of different (sometimes convergent and often divergent) ‘green’ classification systems, covering everything from green building to green travel – but it wasn’t until I came across the following article from the World Resources Institute that I had a clearer idea of exactly how muddy the waters are. The article, titled, “New Website and Survey Look Behind-the-Scenes at Ecolabels’ Environmental Claims” mentions 340 different ‘ecolabels’ around the world, spread over 42 industry sectors. The results for 328 of these ecolabels from 207 countries and 40 industry sectors may be found at ‘Ecolabel Index’. You may also read the full document here (.pdf): Global Ecolabel Monitor 2010.

From the article:

“The Global Ecolabel Monitor illustrates that there is clearly scope for improvement in ecolabel transparency and accountability. Over half of the ecolabels we invited to participate were unreachable or unwilling to share information about the metrics underlying their certification. Additionally, less than 30% of the ecolabels surveyed recognized, or were recognized by, any of their fellow labeling organizations, making it impossible to know for certain if one ecolabel’s interpretation of “green” would pass muster with their peers.”

I think it’s an article well worth reading, but it does bring up two contrasting issues. On one hand, being ‘green’ is such a huge global phenomenon that virtually everyone is trying to climb on board. Because of this, as mentioned above, there are MANY differing ‘certifications’, all of which have varying levels of authenticity. If we were to assume that all or nearly all of these labels have good intentions, within even the more well-known certifications there are opportunities to bend the rules enough to make something look better than it is. Without meaning to pick on anyone in particular, I think LEED offers wonderful potential for creating efficient buildings but there have been several reports recently that one can achieve LEED certification without giving much or any consideration to the health of the building’s occupants. That ‘s not to say LEED ignores human health issues, only that it’s possible to circumvent their point system to achieve certification while bypassing issues surrounding health. In a previous blog post I wrote about a misunderstanding I had with the Cradle to Cradle certification. In short, the Cradle to Cradle Basic and Silver certifications do not necessarily mean that the product is free of toxic materials. They do require and provide an avenue for the company involved to work with MBDC and related groups to find new, more sustainable solutions, and are an expression of commitment toward this goal.

The other issue that I can see arising is a backlash of sorts against certifications in general. A couple of years ago I contacted a well-known window manufacturer to ask them about their products as they didn’t list any certifications on their website. The response that I received was that while the company does have a strong environmental commitment (both in their manufacturing operations and their final product), and while the windows they build meet or exceed Energy Star requirements, they hadn’t found it necessary to invest the time or money in achieving certification. The problem with this of course is that without some 3rd-party certified standard there’s no way of verifying this. And so around and around we go.

In the end, everyone must come to their own decisions about what level of environmental, efficiency and health standards they require, whether they are involved with agricultural products or water or anything in between. Another article I came across this week, titled ‘A Penny Earned‘, sums this up pretty well. From the article:

“As CEO of J&S Construction, I have had the opportunity to work on several LEED projects; but my team and I have learned the most from constructing our own facility.

We are not in the business of selling green… we are in the business of helping our clients build efficiently. As we developed our own building, we discovered that some LEED requirements were not necessarily the most efficient choice or the right fit for our project. When making decisions, I encourage business owners to look for a financial return on their investment for building green. I truly believe that if business owners will invest in efficient and sustainable building methods that make sense, they will make their money back — and then some.”

Okay, the links for this week include:

Okay, that’s it for now. Have a great week!

P.S. When’s the last time you were this passionate about something? Yosemitebear Mountain Giant Double Rainbow 1-8-10 (YouTube video)

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