How do you know what’s green and what’s not?

logo-buygreen.gifIn a recent interview on Green Talk Radio, I was asked, “How do you know who’s green and who’s not?” My answer was that it was a moving target, and that for the most part there isn’t one overarching yardstick for what is and isn’t green, or as green as they claim to be. Or even what being green means. A few, like the USDA’s National Organic Program are widely seen as credible and authoritative. But what about every day things you buy in the store? Office supplies? Clothing? There at this point doesn’t appear to be a flag bearer helping people make green choices with assurance, that covers all aspects of a broad range of products.
But that may change.
BuyGreen, an online purveyor of everything from sporting goods to building supplies, decided they wanted to create a transparent set of standards for what they sold by which to judge for yourself if you think what you’re considering buying meets your standards for being green enough.
What they didn’t expect was to have a companies they carry start asking them if they could apply a BuyGreen certification sticker on their products. Sticker? What sticker? Then they recently had a Fortune 50 company that’s working on a new retail offering ask if the BuyGreen standard could be incorporated into it. So it would appear they’re on to something here.

What about their standard is attracting such attention, what lessons does it give to others seeking to create one themselves, and how does it benefit you, the consumer?
First, it’s simple. And it’s comprehensive. Which means that it meets the needs of both those who want a quickly understood rating, and those that want to get into more depth. It’s broken down into intuitively understandable categories: Source Material, Manufacturing, Use, and Recycling. Basically, what’s it made of, how’s it made, how is it used, and when you’re done with it, how recyclable is it? It’s given a score of 1 to 100.
For some, merely seeing that score next to the product will be enough to make a decision. But what if you want to know more? Click on a link, and they go into extensive, yet still clear and easily understandable analysis of the product and its impact on the planet. Whether you’re an individual seeking to make conscious buying choices, or a business buyer that was told to make the office “go green” without much else to go on, BuyGreen’s standards seem to effectively meet these needs.
So will you start seeing BuyGreen labels on products in store shelves soon? I’d certainly hope so. And if the interest shown in that being the case by businesses, who are the ones most invested in a quality rating with integrity being put on their products is any indication, it sounds like they do too.
Readers: What green certification standards or other ways do you see out there helping make going green an easier, more knowledgeable, transparent experience?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing. || ==> For more, see

10 responses

  1. I think we’re blowing this whole green thing out of proportion. Gas is cheap again and there’s never been a single shred of scientific proof that global warming is real. So I will continue driving a suburban, leaving lights on, buying disposable and burning garbage. I am the typical American. We’re all fucked.

  2. Any certification process should be consensus-based, transparent, credible, third party audited, and recurring. Secondly, it needs to identify the attributes for which it is certifying products. GreenSeal, GreenGuard, FSC, USDA Organic, EcoLogo, TransFair are all excellent standards that certify based on a variety of single attributes. For comprehensive multi-attribute standards, there’s a few out there including SMaRT from MTS. I definitely understand the helpfulness of an overarching standard that grades products on a weighted scale, especially for those that are complex like furniture.

  3. Andrew, we’re all only f_cked if cynical, lazy people like yourself are the majority and give up. While you’re blowing the future for everyone’s children and grandchildren, the rest of us will be out there fighting the good fight.
    As to your statement, “there’s never been a single shred of scientific proof that global warming is real.”, I can only say that you are either joking, or a completely ignorant person. There is, of course, an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence about global warming being real, and virtually the entire scientific community now agrees that it is not only the greatest issue facing mankind, but created by mankind.
    Have you been living under a rock?

  4. I like the concept of making green purchases easier, but I don’t think this site goes far enough.

    Just looking at its Green Standards briefly, I was dissapointed that the disposal section only talks about biodegrading and recycling. What about corporate product take back, ease of disassembly, ability to retrofit or upgrade? We need to get more life out of products before we send them to be crushed.

    Also, the idea of their products being biodegradable in a capped landfill is very suspect (not to mention products that break down in the landfill produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas).

  5. Hi Everyone,
    I work for a company called Greenopia who is in the process of launching a product rating feature on our website ( in the next week or so.
    I appreciate the discussion here and we have tried to incorporate some of the things mentioned like take-back programs for electronic goods and scaling our weighting based off a rough life cycle of the product’s impact.
    When we do launch next week, we would also appreciate any feedback about the usefulness of our product rating and also feel free to check out our city guides where we rate the environmental performance of local businesses.

  6. I have heard Mike Italiano of the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability speak a couple of times on a SMaRT product certification his organization has been working on for several years. It is intended to be for products what LEED is for buildings. Seems to have all the criteria for a very workable standard, but unfortunately, I have seen no mention of it anywhere but on the MTS website. Check it out at:

  7. Hello Bloggers- 3p is covering our event so I throught to check out topics- good thing!
    Harnessing this moving target is exactly what we will do at planning symposium Nov. 17-18, 2008 at the Presidio Golden Gate Club in SF.
    On day 1 we’ll be establishing a platform collaborative open standards of sustainability across six mutually supportive social & economic sectors, your input is most welcome.
    In collaboration,
    Melanie St.James, MPA
    Managing Director
    The Global Summit‚Ñ¢
    Tel. 310-392-6909

  8. One of the issues I have with any Buy Green logo program is this interchangeability of green and organic. Just because a product is organic does not make it green – or vice versa. One item being ignored altogether in a Buy Green program is buying local food. The proliferation of organic in retail chains has hurt local organic growers who have traditionally practiced community agriculture, animal humanity and local economics. These small farmers are being damaged by “big organic” firms whose non-green business practices, energy/fuel consumption, and industrialized food processes are hidden by marketing jargon consumers believe. I live in RI and without exception I believe we have access to some of the greatest native food: oysters, lobsters, cheese, milk, heirloom tomatoes, apples, pumpkins and I am so sad when our farmer’s market rolls around every season and I hear about another local farm that just didn’t make it. When it comes to buying food, I think we should all think local, and if you can find local organic all the better. But ultimately, buying your food locally is good for your local economy, good for family farmers, good for your health, and good for the environment. That’s my idea of a buy green program.

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