The Green Seal of Approval

"Typically, we bring the concept of lifecycle pricing to the table," says Mark Petruzzi of Green Seal, which offers environmental certification for a range of products. "Looking only at the first cost of a product is a disingenuous way of doing things. With paint, for instance, you have to consider not only the initial price, but also its longevity and its effect on worker health and safety. You have to factor in reduced liability when you’re no longer storing barrels of strong chemicals with warning labels on them, and your workers are no longer getting mysterious rashes."

Certifiers, including Green Seal, have independently assessed hundreds of products and chosen the greenest in each category. Green Seal itself offers standards in 90 product categories. Green Seal’s recommendations save money: The Aberdeen Proving Ground, a military test site, switched to greener paint and saved $1.76 a gallon.

"Green Seal and other organizations could potentially serve as a shortcut to getting environmental preferability into government procurement," says Eun-ook Goidel of the EPA’s Environmental Purchasing Program. The EPA has no problem with third-party seals as long as those labels are not the final word in purchasing decisions because "that’s not legally defensible," says Goidel. Yet despite the EPA’s apparent approval of independent green labels, the agency has barely used them.

Goidel says the future role Green Seal will play with the EPA will depend on "the extent to which it can certify more products and have its name more widely recognized." She says, "Green Seal has had a really tough time breaking into the marketplace because of the very strong opposition by industry." Shore adds, "This is the EPA’s unwillingness to risk the wrath of the organized packaged goods manufacturers."

But Green Seal’s purpose is to make things easier for purchasing agents, and for manufacturers, too. "We spend our time and expertise working with stakeholders and identifying green products, essentially so purchasers don’t have to," says Petruzzi, Green Seal’s certification director. "And if we develop a single standard, it’s a lot easier for manufacturers that don’t want to sort through five, six or seven different standards used in different parts of the country."

So, given that, why do manufacturers oppose seals? "They simply don’t want to be told what to do," Shore says. "Many of the people who are opposed to [us] have fine products that can meet the seals, but they don’t want to be dictated to by an outside organization."