Architects are being inundated with attractive environmental claims made by manufacturers in an effort to sway specifying decisions. Deciphering the competing green claims can be difficult at best. Credible, third-party certification programs help identify and compare building products that contribute to greener buildings.

Building products with substantiated claims provide the foundation for green building certification programs like LEED and Green Globes, which require documentation of product composition, testing results, or corporate environmental policies. Certification provided by independent, third-party (that is, neutral) bodies aids the review process.

With product-based certifications covering issues as diverse as recycled content, indoor air quality, and forestry management, it can be difficult to separate green from greenwashing. While it's not possible to remember every ecolabel, it is helpful to better understand some of the more common programs and the categories that they represent.

Click to view table in larger format. Greenguard People spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, making indoor air quality (IAQ) an important topic in architecture. Airtight, climate-controlled environments trap airborne pollutants released from building products, interior finishes, and furniture. Methods to minimize these pollutants are the focus of Atlanta-based Greenguard Environmental Institute (GEI). With authorization from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the GEI creates air standards for indoor products, environments, and buildings. The GEI was founded in June 2001 to establish a third-party product certification program based on proven emissions standards. More than 150 manufacturers across various industries offer Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certified Products.

SCS Indoor Advantage Gold Developed by Emeryville, Calif.–based Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), the Indoor Advantage Gold certification program develops guidelines for the chronic toxicity of air pollutants and relies on chronic reference exposure levels (CRELs) developed by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. The CRELs assume long-term exposure and include a number of conservative uncertainty factors. Proponents argue that the emphasis on individual VOCs rather than on total VOC concentration is one of the program's distinguishing features, since the health risks associated with different VOCs vary.

Green Seal Founded in 1989, Washington, D.C.–based Green Seal is known for creating environmental certification standards for categories ranging from cleaning solvents to architectural products such as paints and coatings, electric chillers, and commercial adhesives, among others. Each of the more than 40 standards outlines the basic requirements for products to achieve Green Seal certification and to use the recognizable mark on packaging and in product advertising.

Floorscore and CRI Green Label Plus FloorScore, developed by the La Grange, Ga.–based Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) and SCS, tests and certifies hard-surface flooring and flooring adhesive products for compliance with indoor air quality emissions requirements.

The Dalton, Ga.–based Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) designed the Green Label and Green Label Plus programs for architects, specifiers, and others concerned about chemical emissions from carpet and adhesive products. In 1992, the CRI launched its Green Label program to test carpet, cushions, and adhesives to help specifiers identify products with very low emissions of VOCs. The CRI more recently launched its next series of improvements, called Green Label Plus, for carpet and adhesives—setting an even higher standard for IAQ.