Green Washing; Or Don’t Always Believe the Label

When we go to the store, many of us are looking for that label that says we are doing something good by purchasing something that is sustainable. From shirts to food to lumber, there are green labels available for hire.

Some of these labels are what is referred to as “third party certifications.” This means that some outside group, such as Underwriters Laboratory, has verified the claims made about the product. In the green industry there are many labels that can be secured for green products.

One area of debate that has been heating up was reported in the New York Times on May 31st. It seems that the Federal Trade Commission, in trying to police what “green” means, has been taking on a more aggressive approach.

Forest products, commonly known as lumber, have several green certifications. Two of the most competitive are the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Sustainable LumberI have dealt with the FSC designation for several years in my green building work. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), the certifying organization for LEED Certified Buildings, has required the use of FSC lumber for many years.

This has not pleased the SFI, but let’s take a short look at why.

There is a strong contention that SFI does not use an independent, third party verification system while the FSC does. Indeed, as noted, the SFI is primarily funded by the lumber industry. This alone should raise some issues about the veracity of any label given to SFI lumber.

FSC does not rely on such funding. Accordingly, it has generally been viewed as a more verifiable and accurate rating system.

What is the right choice? From my perspective, any labeling or certification system should be a third party, independent system that does not rely on the company making the product for its funding. As is the case with LEED certification, a third party group, in this case the GBCI determines whether or not a building can be certified.

On this debate, I default to the FSC.

Remember to always be sceptical of any green claims.


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