An End To Greenwash? Interview With Marcello Manca Of Underwriters Laboratories, “UL Environment”

Marcello Manca, VP & General Manager, UL Environment

Marcello Manca is Vice President & General Manager of UL Environment, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a global leader in product testing and safety certification for more than a century. UL Environment (ULE) was launched in January 2009, and the organization has more than doubled in size over the past year.  Read on for Marcello’s insights into the future of environmental standards setting and claims making.

John Laumer: What is UL Environment and what does it do?

Marcello Manca: UL Environment is an environmental evaluation company which provides independent confirmation of claims, certification to standards, and develops standards to provide transformation to the marketplace.

We are:
• A part of the UL family of companies.
• A local business with global capabilities.
• Interested in helping companies bring products to market.
• A trusted source for environmental information.

Aside: UL Environment standards development experience includes the following – excerpted from promotional literature.

To date, we have started standards development programs for several building-related industries: doors and wallboard; suspended ceiling systems; thermal insulation; roofing materials; stone, ceramic, clay and glass building materials and glazing materials, windows and associated hardware and accessories. This list is just the beginning—we will be announcing several more standards development efforts throughout 2010.

JL: Where does ULE do this work?

MM: At this early stage, in North America and Europe, for the most part. Japan and China will be added later in 2010, and the geographical expansion will continue progressively in following years.

JL: Is it mainly a European market?

MM: We like to think of it as a global market: some of the more sensitive eco-consumers and companies in the globe are in Australia, in Japan, Canada, amongst others.

JL: Why would a manufacturer choose to invest in third party verification when product sales are down from the recession?

MM: There are several reasons why investing in third party verification makes sense even now.

• Competitive advantage is increasingly linked to environmental sustainability
• Minimize the confusion of eco-labelling with a single, reliable and trusted ULE Mark
• Increase consumer’s trust in green product claims
• Powerful and credible resource against accusations of greenwashing
• Federal Trade Commission, Section 260 guidance mandates that environmental claims be honest, non-deceptive and encourages substantiation by a third-party.

JL: With all the focus on climate change these days, does carbon footprint come in as well?

MM: Increasingly so, yes. The specific sensitivity of consumers to carbon footprint varies greatly, from country to country, and sometimes within the same country too. Unfortunately, the technology for properly measuring CO2 footprint of products is not ‘steady’, in that it is difficult to produce repeatable and re-measurable results using the instruments and software/data available. And, when a technical solution seems to bridge that gap, the sheer cost of performing the analysis on a single product renders the operation more of a niche luxury service, as opposed to something that could be deployed on a full commercial scale, and make it available to most manufacturers.

JL: Big appliances sold in the USA have “Energy Guide” ratings. Isn’t that sufficient for at least that class of products?

MM: Not really.  There are multiple requirements for just North America.

• Canada requires 3rd party testing*
• California requires use of accredited labs*
• Energy Star is increasing requirements for testing by accredited labs

JL: What are the smallest products you’ve certified an environmental claim for?

MM: Polymers (pellets), and also sun glass frames, for consumer markets. However, when auditing any given product’s performance, we routinely examine the smallest pieces and parts for compliance with performance standards.

JL: What happens if the customer’s original measurements don’t line up with yours?

MM: It can happen, especially when test methods are not clearly identified or coded:

ULE takes pride in outlining the requirements very clearly from the onset, and being completely transparent about our testing or auditing approach. If we have conflicting results with the customer’s, the first level of analysis is to compare test and auditing methods: 95% of the time, that’s where we find the reason for the eventual differences.

As much as possible, we work with our customers to help them identify appropriate environmental claims before they are made — those that are measurable through a scientific testing process, and those that can be audited and re-tested over time.  However, once the claims are determined, the manufacturer—our customer—does not have any input into the testing process nor how we interpret the results.  This is essential to maintaining a credible third-party testing and validation process.

JL: Is the claim and verification information published somewhere besides a press release?

MM: Yes, you can search for verified claims on our website of course; we also restate the basic info with every customer-facing opportunity that we have

JL: How long before consumers will be looking at product claims with their iPhone or with SMS text back?

MM: This is a very interesting approach that requires a bit more standardization before making it effective and capillary: perhaps 2 years away, realistically, before it becomes widespread.  However, I should mention that in the fall of 2009, UL launched a comprehensive iPhone application called UL Connect which allows access to UL’s database to search for product safety compliance.  To download it go to

JL: What’s the next big thing on the horizon of environmental claims-making?

MM: I think the next ‘big thing’ is simply a horizontal expansion of the claims for a given product, beyond a mere Volatile Organic or recycled content claim, focusing on a scientifically sound life-cycle assessment, and consequently embracing all possible ‘green attributes’ that might apply. Healthy competition amongst manufacturers will drive this, and will lead to a truly ‘sustainable’ product certification.

We believe water is going to be one of the key attributes in this horizontal expansion.  Zero-water, low-water, water efficient, grey-water – it’s all coming.  Water and water scarcity is so important to the health and well-being of all species.

JL: Finally, how can businesses learn more about your services?

MM: Surely through our website,, where all our contact information is listed. Fee free to contact us to arrange a meeting.

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