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What is Green and What is Not?

Oct 31, 2011 11:29AM ● By Richard Frescatore

A public relations feeding frenzy over marketing to the growing demographic of people that value healthy, ecological, sustainable values has resulted in an overload of so-called “green” information. The most derogatory form of the practice of deliberately misleading consumers is termed “greenwashing,” describing claims that are not true or verifiable to sell products or enhance corporate images. It comes from the more familiar “whitewashing,” which means to cover up the truth in a slapdash manner.

There is an underlying benefit, however, to the volumes of information being distributed in the marketplace. It is a sign that companies are responding to demand, although it can often confuse and frustrate consumers, deterring real environmental innovation. Even a proliferation of myriad “certification” labels is becoming overwhelming.

People may be misinformed and irritated about the products and which claims and certifications are legitimate. Without doing a lot of homework, it is difficult to determine which ones are genuinely upholding the principles they espouse and which really matter. William McDonough’s 1995 book, Cradle to Cradle, for instance, inspired the highly regarded C2C designation.

Knowing the difference between standards and certifications is important. Standards are a set of guidelines and criteria against which something can be judged. Certification asserts that those standards have been met. Another important thing to know is that first-, second- and third-party levels of certification define the degree of separation between the products and the companies that manufacture them. Third-party certification is more reliable, because there is no conflict of interest. Material safety data sheets (MSDS), for instance, are an example of first-party claims, originated by the maker.

A good resource to learn about certifications, and a reference for this article is: Green Certifications Report, published by GreenBuilding.com (Tinyurl.com/3o66hal).


Richard Frescatore is the co-owner of Fresco Green, a resource for green building supplies and certified U. S. Green Building Council Education Provider, located at 1520 Commerce Dr., Lancaster, PA 17601. Contact: 717-519-8860, [email protected], FrescoGreen.com.

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