Green Seal's New Business Certification Aims to Catalyze the Green Marketplace

Green Seal's New Business Certification Aims to Catalyze the Green Marketplace

With the steady growth of the green marketplace, there has come increasing concern about -- and prevalence of, depending on who you ask -- greenwashing: A surplus of labels and a lack of verification behind them has led to shopper distrust of green claims just when truly green products are reaching mainstream acceptance.

Green Seal, the nonprofit certification group, is celebrating its 20th anniversary by undertaking a dramatic shift in its operations: In addition to continuing to certify individual products and services as environmentally friendly, the group has just launched a company certification pilot project that aims to measure, verify and push for continuous improvement of a company's entire operations.

"The primary purpose is to catalyze the greening of the consumer economy," Arthur Weissman, the president and CEO of Green Seal, said in a phone interview. "But I think another benefit of it is that, with our reputation and our integrity over the last 20 years for developing standards, bringing that to bear at the company level will really go a long way to reduce some of the greenwashing that's going on in the consumer market."

Green Seal is currently working to build a group of firms to pilot-test the certification, with the goal of having eight to a dozen firms in different sectors go through the process and iron out the details.

The group is aiming high as well: Weissman said they've been talking primarily to Fortune 1000 and Fortune 500 companies, rather than just already-green firms that would likely have an easy time earning certification.

"We want to have a balance -- if this program just became the Seventh Generations of the world, it's not going to change much in the marketplace," Weissman said. "That's not to denigrate them at all, a green-oriented company does a great service, but if they were the only ones to participate in the pilot I don't think we'd be very effective in trying to do a rapid transformation of the consumer marketplace."

The certification will feature three levels -- Bronze, Silver and Gold -- and Weissman anticipated that all companies will enter the certification at the Bronze level, leaving plenty of room for improvement, a key element of the project.

Among the impacts under assessment in the certification are greenhouse gas emissions, water use and conservation, biodiversity impact, and other issues. (The nearly 70-page standard laying out the entire process is available for download [PDF] from GreenSeal.org.) But in another big shift for Green Seal, the process will look beyond companywide environmental practices and lifecycle assessments to factor in issues of governance, supply chain, and labor and human rights. In so doing, Weissman said that the certification will also cover Walmart suppliers, who as a result of the recently launched Sustainability Index are already facing these issues.

The pilot project will officially launch as soon as Green Seal has a satisfactory group of companies from diverse industries; companies wishing to take part can email [email protected]. But as a way of emphasizing the motivation behind the launch of Green Seal's company certification project, Weissman stresses the urgency of the challenges the world faces.

"If we were to [continue certifying products] category by category, it'll take longer, and time is getting shorter. In many ways we can't be fiddling any more, we need to really get on with this in a quick and effective way."