Green Good Housekeeping Seal: It's all in the data
Life-cycle analysis, energy and water use, manufacturing waste, packaging are some data points to be considered in seeking the GH Green seal.
There’s so much talk about Big Data nowadays that the importance of “little” data gets lost in the conversation. Yes, Big Data — large scale aggregation of thousands and even millions of data points — is vital for making predictive analytics based on patterns of behavior or preferences. In the environmental arena, Big Data is potentially useful for addressing issues ranging from climate change to loss of forest cover.
But when it comes to determining whether a single product is “green,” the small details can make the difference.
With many companies trying to gain an edge on becoming more environmentally responsible — whether for corporate social responsibility, cost saving or marketing purposes — we thought we’d share some recommendations and observations about the data tracking and internal collaboration companies need in order to make significant environmental advances. These reflections are based on our work with products that have been considered for the Green Good Housekeeping Seal, a multi-criteria environmental evaluation that is an overlay to the 100-plus-year-old Good Housekeeping Seal.
1. Know thyself
Self-knowledge is key. Many companies don’t realize that monitoring and tracking the resources, emissions and waste embedded in every product is the first step to making improvements. The manufacturing of every product makes some negative demands on the planet so there are always opportunities to reduce environmental impacts.
Manufacturers can cut back on water and energy during production; they can source recycled materials; they can design energy- or water-using products so that consumers will use less; and they can reduce the amount of waste that goes to disposal from manufacturing operations, packaging and end-of-useful-life disposal. But they can’t make any of these changes if they aren’t tracking the specifics of this “little” data, whether at their own facilities or those of their suppliers, and establish monitoring and improvement programs.
2. It’s not simple
The threshold for what is considered green is a moving target. In the past, all too often a company would make the case that its product is green because of a single environmental attribute — it’s made with “natural” or recycled materials or it doesn’t contain toxic substances. This perception can be faulty if a product is made with natural materials that require significant amounts of water or energy (usually petroleum-based) to grow or process.
When companies work with our multi-dimensional application process for the Green Good Housekeeping Seal, they begin to realize that they need to examine many more issues than a single attribute to earn the Seal designation. Companies have told us that applying for the Green Good Housekeeping Seal has made them better at their business. While we’re glad they recognize the benefit of our evaluation process, every company should be looking at the types of issues we cover in our application as a matter of routine business. “The devil is in the details,” as they say. And so is the solution.
3. Leadership matters
Sustainability needs to be a core value established and continually reinforced by the leadership of a company. We have seen great deal of variability in how a company approaches the application for the Green Good Housekeeping Seal. We’ve had large Fortune 500 corporations that created a cross-disciplinary team with numerous employees from different divisions to work on our web-based application. In fact, the application became the basis of new communication networks that enlarged the space for further green work.
We also had one situation where an application was prepared by a single person. Because it was a small operation, the information was centralized in the woman’s office and she had all the facts at her fingertips. There was even one case in which a (brilliant) intern was responsible for amassing all the answers and posting the information in the online application.
What all these situations had in common is that the message from the top was clear: The employees knew it was important to their CEO and leadership team to exert energy on examining, improving and promoting their environmental commitments.
4. Green efforts need to be promoted internally
We’ve been surprised to find how often communications about sustainability efforts within a company are lacking and need to be improved. It was only in going through the application process for the Green Good Housekeeping Seal that some employees discovered that many more “green” steps were taken by their company than they realized.
The wide range of criteria that must be addressed to earn the Green Good Housekeeping Seal requires looking at tangibles such as product materials, ingredients, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and end-of-life factors, along with a company’s corporate social responsibility policies and environmental innovations.
At times, we’ve been struck by how only at the end of the evaluation process do applicants find out about some rather impressive efforts on their company’s part to go green. Internal promotion (without stepping over the line into greenwashing) of such environmentally responsible strides is good for morale and builds momentum for greater green efforts. And it certainly helps the certification process.
5. Life-cycle thinking is a trigger for improvement in product manufacturing
At a time when companies need to work smarter, better and faster, our Green Good Housekeeping Seal applicants have told us that the process of combing through their data in order to complete the Seal application, and the feedback they received from the Good Housekeeping Institute and Brown & Wilmanns Environmental, was hugely helpful — both as an educational tool as well as trigger for improvement.
Inevitably, companies told us they learned a lot about how they conduct business, which jumpstarted their thinking about how to make their products better.
While many today feel pressured to “go green,” we’ve found that when companies take a life-cycle perspective, they not only recognize opportunities for better marketing to the public, but also find that it’s an impetus for positive change.
To find out about submitting a product for the Green Good Housekeeping Seal evaluation, please write to Sakinah Ali at [email protected].