The Real Deal Behind Green Product Claims

For those whose goal is to design, build, fit out and maintain sustainable buildings, one of the challenges is how to source appropriate materials from a plethora of “green” labels currently in the marketplace. While certain labels and certifications are written into codes or outlined by LEED and other green-building systems, in other cases the choices may not be so clear. Additionally, the sustainability attributes featured by those products and materials should also be meaningful and relevant to the buildings’ occupants and end-users.

“Under the Lens: Claiming Green”, a research report based on a study commissioned by UL Environment and conducted by The Shelton Group, confirmed that professional purchasers were well-educated when it came to green labels and consistently identified third-party certified claims as those that would be claims worth a premium. Seventy-seven percent said products with third-party certifications are more reputable, compared to 56 percent of consumers who were surveyed. Professional purchasers also commented that third-party-certified claims provided ease of use when making product selections and that by selecting reputably certified products, they are protecting their professional reputations.

“I personally don’t have the opportunity or time to go and research the background of a product’s green claims. I rely on my knowledge of certifications that are widely published, such as GREENGUARD, FSC, or ENERGY STAR.”
—Architect, Virginia

“Our clients expect us to be experts in the selection of environmentally superior products. However, we are only as good as the information we receive from manufacturers. If that information is false or misleading, our reputations can be put at risk. Research and/or third-party testing are important factors in verifying a manufacturer’s claims.”
—Designer, Ontario, Canada

When looking for products with claims that resonate with building occupants, the report provides additional useful data points. In general the study shows that green claims certified by a reputable third-party beat out uncertified and problematic (vague, unsubstantiated) claims in all categories surveyed. In the “Home Improvement” category, covering building materials and products, the survey results indicate that health is concern No. 1. Products certified for low impact to indoor air quality or products certified for low/no toxic content were consistently rated the most important for purchase influence, perceived value and brand impact.

The “Cleaning Products” category, while focused on consumer purchasing feedback, is also relevant to facility managers as building occupants become more aware of the possible impacts of O&M activity to their productivity and health. Again, the most relevant claims were certified claims about chemical content and chemical emissions, as well as those pertaining to certifications related to animal testing.

The smartest way to source your green-building and maintenance products is to put your reputation in the hands of a trusted third-party certifier, such as UL. Choosing reliably certified products not only makes the selection process simpler and quicker, it also provides an easier path to compliance with green-building system credits and many local and regional building code requirements.

Find UL Environment Certified products and related credit information in the Sustainable Product Guide.

About the Author

Dagmar Ebaugh, LEED Green Associate
Dagmar Ebaugh is PR and communications manager for UL Environment. Follow UL Environment on Twitter at @ulenvironment or via LinkedIn.

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