Design Green Building & Remodeling

The Meaning Behind GREEN

What do all of the green certification labels mean? Here's a helpful guide.
Donna Boyle Schwartz Avatar

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Our childhood pal, Kermit the Frog, had the right idea when he sang, “It’s not that easy bein’ green.” While Kermit may have meant being green literally, today his mantra takes on a whole new meaning, as environmentally-conscious consumers seek products and services that are better for the planet.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to being a “tree-hugger” from way back: so far back, in fact, that my first grade-school environmental cause—saving the wild mustangs—pre-dates the establishment of Earth Day in 1970.

But even a veteran environmentalist can run into a classification conundrum when confronted with today’s myriad claims. What, exactly, does it mean to be green? Fortunately, there are some umbrella certification agencies that offer home building and renovation guidelines for projects large and small. Consumers looking to “go green” can identify environmentally-friendly products by seeking out items with these logos or certification labels.

green labelThe first place for an ecologically-conscious do-it-yourselfer to begin is with the product category, as environmental certifications vary depending on the industry. Lumber and wood products, for instance, are certified by two primary agencies, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI.) Both of these agencies provide third-party certification that wood products come from forests that are managed and harvested in a sustainable way.

The FSC is an international organization founded in 1993 by a group of more than 100 environmentalists, land owners and manufacturers. FSC certifies and establishes guidelines for forests and how they are managed. Similarly, the SFI provides lumber producers with a set of forest management standards, and tracks lumber from the forest to the end use; there are currently more than 400 SFI-certified locations across North America.

Green Seal Certified LogoAnother widespread program, the Green Seal, is a certification program that covers a variety of home improvement products, including paints, coatings, stains and finishes; windows, doors, awnings and related adhesives; and household cleaning products. Green Seal certifies that products meet the highest standards of environmental quality and performance; the non-profit agency operates under the international guidelines for environmental labeling programs, ISO 14020 and 14024, set by the International Organization for Standardization.

Green LabelOn the softer side, the Carpet and Rug Institute features the Green Label and Green Label Plus certifications covering carpeting, rugs, cushioning materials and related adhesives. Products bearing these labels have been tested to ensure that they have very low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can adversely affect indoor air quality.

Other home textiles products, including curtains, draperies, furniture coverings and mattresses, are tested and certified by the European testing organization Oeko-Tex. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is an international testing and certification system limiting the use of harmful chemicals in textiles products. Two organizations are helpful when dealing with large projects, such as whole-home renovations or new construction: The U.S. Green Building Council and the National Association of Home Builders. Many of the current environmental certification programs are an outgrowth of the efforts of these two groups.

Green LabelThe U.S. Green Building Council developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, a rating system for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. LEED-certified buildings are designed to use resources more efficiently and provide healthier living and work environments when compared to conventional buildings simply built to code.

Founded in 1998, the USGBC has nearly 20,000 member organizations and has certified more than 7,000 projects in the U.S. and 30 countries, covering more than 1.501 billion square feet of development. According to the group, LEED arose from building owners and developers’ desire to have a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. To this end, the USGBC established the Green Building Certification Institute, which offers a series of exams allowing builders, contractors and other individuals to become accredited for their knowledge of the LEED rating system.

Somewhat more recently, in 2007, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC) partnered to establish a nationally recognizable standard definition of green building, the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. This standard defines green building for single- and multi-family homes, residential remodeling projects and site development projects.

Green LabelThe group also offers NAHBGreen, a comprehensive set of educational resources, advocacy tools and standards. Certification is provided by the NAHB Research Center, a qualified and independent third party. The group offers Certified Green Professional (CGP) and Master Certified Green Professional (MCGP) designations for home building professionals who have demonstrated expertise in green building.

These certifications and the accompanying labeling can help consumers sort through sometime-confusing environmental claims and hopefully, make it just a little bit easier to be green… just like Kermit.