GSI: Green Scene Investigation
Perhaps you've wondered what makes a product or a material "green"? At Low Impact Living we have to be experts on chemicals, manufacturing techniques, product inputs and much more to be able to evaluate the sustainability of products and services. Fortunately there are several certifications and industry classifications that we rely on to help us understand the "green quotient" in a product. They can be helpful to you as a consumer as well. With this newsletter we hope you will gain a better understanding of sustainable product certifications to help you make intelligent decisions for your green home.
Wood, Paper, Scissors
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organization that sets standards for responsible forest management, wood and wood derivatives. Sustainable forest management ensures that the harvest of timber products maintains the forest's biodiversity, productivity and ecological processes. The FSC certification also allows the end-user to follow the chain of custody on all wood products back to their origin in forests all over the world. When you purchase FSC certified wood, you are paying for the assurance that the forest from which that wood came from is responsibly managed.
In addition to certifying new wood used for building, flooring, and furniture, FSC also certifies reclaimed wood and paper products. It is especially important to ask about this certification for the exotic woods that are coming from overseas. Fortunately now there are many retail outlets where you can find a variety of FSC certified wood products, like Environmental Home Center in Seattle, Livingreen in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and Green Fusion Design Center in Marin County. You can find a green retail outlet near you. Some Home Depots also carry FSC wood, but make sure to give your local store a call before you go.
Many furniture manufacturers are also choosing to use FSC certified wood for their designer lines. Manufacturers like InModern and Material Furniture are manufacturers that use FSC-certified material. You can see more sustainable furniture options here. We also feature a variety of certified wood flooring, reclaimed wood flooring, and other wood products from such eco-friendly companies as EcoTimber and Carlisle Wide Plank Flooring.
Reach For the (Energy) Stars
Energy Star is a joint program between the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Energy (DOE) aimed at helping consumers become more energy efficient. Energy Star-approved products use less energy and water, save money, and help protect the environment. Energy Star labels appear on lighting, appliances, home electronics, and many other categories of materials and equipment. You can learn more about Energy Star standards and approved products at www.energystar.gov. All certified products meet strict standards and you can make significant improvements in energy use and overall comfort in your home by buying products with the Energy Star label. You can find great Energy Star approved products at Low Impact Living like appliances, lights and lighting fixtures, and fans.
Energy Star has also developed a new home building standard. These homes use many energy efficiency strategies and Energy Star certified equipment. To earn the Energy Star rating, a home must meet guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20-30% more efficient than standard homes. And remember that greater energy efficiency reduces your carbon footprint as well. You can find builders that use the Energy Star system through Low Impact Living, such as Oak Leaf Homes in Ohio and Chatham Hill Design in Massachusetts.
Green Seal the Deal
Green Seal is a non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the air quality in your home from the toxins found in paints, adhesives, cleaning solutions, and paper products like facial tissue, bath tissue, and coffee filters. They look at the entire life cycle of the products from chemical composition to delivery methods, and support only environmentally preferable products. You can learn more online at www.greenseal.org.
Please be aware that manufacturers may not have the Green Seal certification for all of their products, often only their green offerings. Some companies like Yolo Colorhouse have their entire line of paint products certified, while others like Benjamin Moore have a specific line of Green Seal paints (their EcoSpec Interior line). Look for the Green Seal label and breathe easy.
Don't Get the Wool Pulled Over Your Eyes
Carpet is probably one of the most confusing products on the green market. Many carpet manufacturers are making claims that their products include recycled content, can be recycled, and/or are made from renewable resources. There are two organizations that are certifying carpet products, and the most prominent is the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI). Although the Carpet and Rug Institute is setting some standards for green carpeting and carpet cleaning products, they are an industry supported organization and therefore are not an unbiased voice. Their certifications are not about green claims overall, but rather about indoor air quality issues. The Green Label Plus certification by CRI is recognized in the LEED rating system for safe Indoor Air Quality. Any other claims made by a carpet manufacturer should be certified by an independent 3rd party organization like Scientific Certification Systems, and not just the carpet manufacturer themselves.
Natural fibers like wool, silk, and jute are going to be your greenest options for carpeting. However, keep in mind that the more wool carpet we make, the more sheep we need to have, and the more methane gas that is produced. There will always be trade-offs with carpet. You can find carpet dealers near you that will provide an assortment of both natural and synthetic products for you home at Low Impact Living in our Carpet category.
Even Your Home Can Get a Green Rating
There are now three rating systems for homes that are gaining momentum and are providing certifications for living a greener lifestyle. The first is the Energy Star certification mentioned above, the second is the LEED for Homes rating system which is overseen by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), and the third is the GreenPoint Rated system which is run by the California non-profit Build it Green.
LEED for Homes is a rating system that promotes the building of high-performance green homes. If you follow the rating system, your home will use less energy, less natural resources, create less waste, and be more comfortable for occupants. The majority of the points in this rating system are generated by strategies to lower your energy use. However, Green Seal certifications, FSC certification, and CRI certification are all recognized in the LEED rating system. There is a cost to the homeowner for this certification.
Build It Green has created the GreenPoint Rated program that also promotes healthy, energy efficient, and resource efficient homes. The rating system allows consumers to learn about and compare green attributes of homes. This standard is not as strict as the LEED rating system, but it still supports the use of environmentally responsible materials, technologies, and practices. Build It Green also provides a certification for green home building professionals. Many builders, contractors and designers are gaining this certification as a value to their clients.
We hope you feel a bit more up-to-speed on the green certifications used in the market today. This is an area where new standards are evolving all the time, so we'll keep you posted as new developments arise. Thanks for your time!
Shayna Prunier, LEED AP, Director of Business Development, Low Impact Living, LLC
Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try to incorporate it in our newsletters over the next few months.
Individual results of using green products and services listed herein may vary. Low Impact Living, Inc. takes no responsibility for individual results, nor for service providers or products listed on this website.