Underwriters Labs and the Future of Green Certifications

But as with so many areas of green business practices, this area too got more complicated, leading UL to further expand the scope of its certification expertise.

"We also had a lot of interest from people about, 'Can you have a green product if you don't have a green process in your company?" Williams said. That question got UL into the development, in partnership with GreenBiz Group, the parent company of GreenBiz.com, of the ULE 880 standard, the first-ever corporate sustainability standard.

"We said this could be something that's really valuable," Williams said, "because there are a lot of companies that want to be recognized as being legitimately sustainable, but how do they do that?"

While there are still a sort of glut of standards for any kind of products -- Williams gave the example of one appliance maker in Japan that sells only one model of washing machine, but must make 31 versions of that product to sell it in markets around the world -- there is a definite demand and need for a reliable green standard, something that UL, with its 115 years of history and its place as the trusted standard of choice for thousands of products, could be an ideal creator of that standard.

"Consumers, when they see a label, they need to understand that this is a credible label and it was done on a level playing field. A good example I might use is the organic food label," Williams said. When the government created its requirements for what steps companies had to take to put an organic sticker on a product, it had a dramatic effect on the supermarket shelves."A lot of things lost the organic label at that point, but now, when you go into the supermarket and buy something with the USDA organic label on it, you have a sense of confidence that it meets a specific standard and it was created on a level playing field.

Photo by Goodwin Ogbuehi, http://flickr.com/photos/yoshikatsu.