Almost 25 years have passed since the concept of certifying manufactured goods as green first evolved. This involves a variety of products, anything from window cleaners and paints to glues and adhesives. With so many in today’s green and environmental movement being in their twenties, it might be worthwhile for them, and all of us, to review the history of third-party certifications, specifically as they refer to green products.
The push toward healthier foods and environmentally safer products emerged with the modern environmental movement of the 1970s. While there was initially great enthusiasm for this movement, by the 1980s only a limited number of products in the United States touted the green buzzwords of the day, such as “organic,” “ecological,” or “environmentally friendly,” in their marketing.
However, in the early 1990s that began to change and it appears a number of factors played a role. One such factor had to do with reliable research in the field. More and more studies emerged regarding indoor air and environmental quality. Invariably, these studies found that when products are used that have less impact on the indoor environment, building occupants and/or tenants as well as custodial and other building workers, experience significant health and productivity benefits.
Further, by the late 1990s, concerns about global warming, climate change, natural resource depletion, and the potentially negative impact some everyday products have on health and the environment began to take hold. People were beginning to see real effects of these issues, and more consumers, both home and business, began expressing a desire to select products that were more earth and health friendly. Manufacturers in scores of industries heard this call, and by the start of the 21st century, green had become much more mainstream.
Yet none of this could have happened without third-party certification. It was the missing link required to build consumer trust in sustainable products.
How could consumers be sure what they were buying was genuinely green? Going back to the 1970s, before certification programs, manufacturers would often “self-certify” their products, calling them green. In some cases these green claims may have been accurate, at least according to the best information and laboratory data of the time; however, in many other cases the claims were based on misleading or irrelevant claims. In some situations, the terms or buzzwords used to identify a more environmentally responsible product were simply applied to help market the product. In these cases, there often was little or no evidence to support the claim.