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3p Weekend: 6 Ways Eco-Labels Can Help Us Stay Sustainable

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday August 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

Eco-labels may not sound like the most exciting topic at first. But when you look a bit more closely, it’s easy to see that labels and certifications are the backbone of any sustainability claim, whether it’s a product or practice. Of course, navigating the wide world of eco-labels can be confusing at times. To clear things up, this week we rounded up six ways eco-labels can help consumers and businesses stay sustainable — no matter what their interests are.

1. For the health-focused

The conversation around potentially hazardous chemicals has heated up in recent years, but have you considered the toxins that may be lurking in indoor air? Most people spend roughly 90 percent of their time indoors these days, and indoor air pollution is two to five times higher than what is generally found outdoors (yikes!). Studies also show that poor indoor air quality can diminish employee productivity at work, further proving why it’s something we should all be concerned about.

Luckily for the health-conscious (whether you’re a homeowner or building manager), much more attention is now being paid, through programs like LEED and GREENGUARD, to certify the materials used in buildings, so as to minimize or eliminate exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and improve indoor air quality for all.

2. For the eco-minded shopper

More and more consumers want to shop their values these days, but it’s often easier said than done. Conscious consumers often find themselves asking: How can I tell which product is preferable? Which labels should I trust? And what do ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ really mean?

As part of our ongoing series with UL Environment, Triple Pundit took a dive into this meaty subject to bring you all the information you need to make an informed decision. Check out these tips for navigating the ‘Wild West’ of eco-labels or our Green Labels 101 guide, which will give you the low-down on common eco-labels and which ones to trust.

3. For the green building enthusiast

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, more than 4.5 billion square feet of construction space have gone through the LEED system, begging the question: Is LEED becoming the new normal?

Well, we certainly hope so. But deciphering the technical concepts that make up the LEED rating system can be a challenge for both architects and contractors, not to mention homeowners unfamiliar with the rigors of LEED-compliant construction. And that’s where UL Environment has been most successful in filling a niche. With its longstanding experience in product compliance validation, it’s had great success in finding ways to translate technical concepts and rating systems into terms that both builders and their customers can understand. Here’s to the bright future of green building!

4. For the sustainable company

It’s a great time to be a green manufacturer. Environmental consciousness continues to grow, not just here in the U.S. but globally. But how does a manufacturer convince shoppers that piece of furniture is safe from volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, or the eco-conscious restaurant that a dish detergent it’s considering is made from environmentally safe ingredients?

That’s the role of third-party validation systems, says Scot Case, director of Market Development for UL Environment. If a company doesn’t have their green claims validated by a third party, these claims may be found misleading — and the company can even be sanctioned by the Federal Trade Commission. “If you are a manufacturer and you are making some kind of environmental claim, you should be offering consumers proof that the claim is accurate, meaningful and relevant,” Case says.

5. For the waste conscious

If you’re a consumer who strives to reduce waste at home, you may wonder about the hidden waste streams behind the products you buy. Luckily for sustainability directors looking to cut their company’s waste streams down to size, standards are emerging to measure, assess and drastically reduce waste at all levels.

For example, the UL ECVP 2799 “Zero-Waste-to-Landfill” validation refines the somewhat murky definition of “zero waste.” By providing a set of validated metrics, the standard is now helping a variety of leading companies shrink the volume of solid waste they send to landfills. Having zero-waste-to-landfill claims validated by a third party carries loads of benefits for companies, including establishing trust among consumers and Wall Street investors alike.

6. For the tech junkie

As Triple Pundit contributor Andrew Burger recently put it, “The electronics industry has become the de facto face of innovation in the post-WWII era.” When it comes to sustainability in the industry, most focus on things like e-waste reduction and energy efficiency. But there is much more to making that smartphone, tablet or connected appliance sustainable in the 21st century.

That’s why UL Environment developed the UL 110 standard for mobile phones, tablets and other ‘smart’ products. In addition to efficiency, the standard ensures things like minimization of human health hazards, recyclability at end-of-life and the use of environmentally preferable materials, so every tech-lover can rest assured their favorite gadget aligns with their values.

Image courtesy of UL Environment

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a senior editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands, Earth911 and the Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.


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  • Nancy Wilson

    If we’re going to talk about sustainable labeling, let’s also look beyond just environmental sustainability and look at human sustainability – as in the issues of child labor, fair wages, etc. One label that incorporates them all is the GoodWeave label used in the hand-knotted carpet industry. It’s ISO compliant and has added environmental and adult fair working conditions to its criteria, as well as child-labor free – the issue on which GoodWeave was founded. And not only does the label go on, but looms are randomly inspected for compliance, and any children fond are rescued and either reunited with their family or brought to a nurturing education center. The GoodWeave label has all aspects of sustainability for a strong planet, and is the model we should be following. Check it out: http://www.goodweave.org.