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Underwriters Laboratories begins green certification

February 6, 2009 | 12:37 pm


"Green" is such a marketing buzz word these days that it's becoming increasingly difficult to know which products are truly eco-friendly and which are merely  "green washing" -- making unsubstantiated claims with little basis in environmental reality. So far, efforts to clarify what is green and what is not have fallen to individual manufacturers and a broad spectrum of certifying entities that use multiple, and oftentimes conflicting, standards.

Underwriters Laboratories hopes to change that. The longstanding certification organization best known for evaluating the safety of more than 19,000 types of products is now broadening its reach with a newly established subsidiary, UL Environment. In January, UL's eco entity unveiled its new Environmental Claims Validation program -- a system that will test and validate manufacturers' eco claims using standards accepted in each individual industry.

"We saw a lot of confusion and adventurous ways of certifying product," said Marcello Manca, vice president and general manager of UL Environment. "We started looking at the market: Isn't the future of the environment public safety? We started thinking that we'd probably be hypocritical if we stayed away from expanding our mission in this direction."

UL Environment certification will be available in two broad categories -- building products (such as carpet and lighting) and consumer goods (such as clothing and technology). While specific evaluation criteria vary by category, Manca cited energy efficiency, recycled content, use of banned substances and recyclability among the certification attributes for many products.

Manca estimates it will take 12-24 months for most industries to come on board with the UL Environment's Environmental Claims Validation program. "The biggest competitor we have is companies' willingness to self declare conformity."

-- Susan Carpenter