What makes a product green? While industry leaders work to develop criteria for classifying the multiple characteristics of green building products, there remains some confusion as to what all can be incorporated within the answer to this question. Without a clear definition of what it means to be green, and an increasing number of building products to choose from and environmental assertions to consider, greenwashing is more prevalent now than ever. That is, companies and individuals making misleading, inflated or false claims about the environmental benefits of their products, services or technologies.
Therefore, when navigating through the various environmental claims and information provided for a building product, it is important to be both skeptical and inquisitive. Watch out for claims that are vague, irrelevant or present one characteristic without mentioning another that would likely offset its benefit. For example, a product that is energy efficient but also highly toxic is not likely to be the most environmentally responsible choice. Also, be aware of overtly false statements such as “this product is LEED-certified,” as LEED does not certify products, but rather building projects overall.
As a rule of thumb, if a claim is unclear, not specific or lacks supporting evidence, do some investigating – make the building product manufacturer prove what is being said. Whether information about a product comes directly from the manufacturer, a dealer or online, environmental claims should be verifiable through some form of documentation or certification – ideally, this includes validation from independent, third party sources. If a brief visit to the product manufacturer’s Web site or phone call to its customer service doesn’t provide you with information you need, it may be that the claim has not been proven or it is simply not true. If this is the case, it is important to hold the company or individual making these claims accountable by letting them know that absent supporting information, they undermine their own credibility.