EcoLogo is a pretty well-known third party certification amongst environmentalists and business to business purchasers. And, while it’s not as well-known as I thought among the general population, it is, at the very least, the largest eco-labelling standard in North America. In the previous article, I wrote about greenwashing and how third party labelling such as EcoLogo can help reduce greenwashing because of the rigorous testing process a product and company must go through in order to receive certification.
EcoLogo was originally established in 1988 by the Canadian government as a way to get companies to voluntarily improve their manufacturing processes, reduce waste, lower their carbon footprint, and improve their overall environmental practices. In 1998 it was spun-off into a not-for-profit, independent program which was acquired by Terrachoice. I wanted to know just how EcoLogo developed a standard and how prevalent its use was in the building industry, so I contacted Terrachoice and Angela Griffiths, Executive Director of the EcoLogo Program, kindly and thoughtfully responded to my questions.
1. Approximately, how many building materials have either been certified or are in the process of being certified (10s, 100s?) by EcoLogo.
Angela: Currently, there are nearly 3,000 EcoLogo certified building products. These products fall into 26 types or categories of building products covered in 15 EcoLogo standards. These numbers will fluctuate, though we are seeing continued growth in the Program as a whole, and in certified building products.
2. When EcoLogo grants its logo to a product, the product is being compared to similar products within its own industry, but would EcoLogo ever take into account an industry that is in and of itself inherently bad for the environment? i.e., would there ever be: EcoLogo petroleum-based gasoline? EcoLogo Nuclear energy plants? or EcoLogo Cement?
Angela: The EcoLogo Program only certifies those products that meet its applicable environmental standard. For instance, a manufacturer of an all-purpose cleaning product would first check to make sure EcoLogo has a standard for cleaning products (it does – CCD-146) and then would have to apply and go through the Program’s process to see if its product actually meets the standard’s criteria.
So, when products are submitted for certification, they are not compared against other products, they are compared against the criteria set in the EcoLogo standard, which was developed with the intention of only certifying those category of products that represent the top environmental 20% in terms of environmental performance.
EcoLogo applies a screen to all new proposed categories to determine if there will be environmental benefits if the market moves towards a more environmentally preferable product. If there are reasonable alternatives to a particularly impact intensive product, then EcoLogo will not develop a standard in that area. However, all man made products have negative environmental impacts. There are instances where EcoLogo will develop a standard in high impact categories if there is clear leadership in those categories and a move towards those leadership practices would have an overall benefit. For example, if there were cement products that generated 50% less GHG emissions than the average, the program would consider developing s standard to recognize those products and encourage the market to move in that direction.
3. EcoLogo provides a set of scientific-based standards by which to assess a product’s environmental impact. Briefly, what kind of process does TerraChoice go through to develop a standard? Are there stakeholder meetings? Review processes while first developing the standard? Does TerraChoice look at current best practices within an industry when setting standards? How long does it take to develop a new standard? Are there any standards within the building materials category that you are currently developing?
Angela: EcoLogo’s standard development and revision process is scientifically rigorous and guided by the principles of collaboration, transparency and openness. EcoLogo adheres to the ISO 14024 standard for Type 1 eco-labels. The process begins with a critical evaluation of the environmental profile of the product or service of interest. The standards are multi- attribute and life cycle based – we try to identify all significant environmental impacts during the manufacturing, use and end of life of products. Stakeholder input during the standard development or revision process, and public consultation on draft standards constitute a large part of the process and are essential to the success of the EcoLogo Program. The program makes an effort to engage stakeholders from industry, environmental organizations, government and academia. The entire development process can take anywhere from several months to about 2 years, and is dependent on the availability of scientific data, determination of leadership and the stakeholder consultation process. If there are contentious or complex issues to resolve the stakeholder process will be extended. Attached, you will find a more detailed account of the various stages and what is taken into account during a standard’s development or review.
EcoLogo Standards under review in 2012 include (none of these are building products per se, but we may see some of these emerge over the course of the year):
- Sanitary Papers
- Inks and Printing Services
- Hydro Electricity
- Personal Care Products
- Non-Woven Wipers
4. Who is driving the demand for more EcoLogo certification of products? Manufacturers? Consumers? Government?
Angela: The demand drivers for EcoLogo certified products differ depending on a variety of factors including the “green maturity” of product or service and the intended “consumer”. For example, demand for the certification of green building products will be driven by architects, designers, and governments (as they include specifications into their purchasing and building policies). In general, eco-labels are still driven by business to business purchasing – that is, professional purchasers in government and institutional sectors although we are seeing more demand from consumers.
If you are interested in using EcoLogo certified products, EcoLogo has a website with all of its currently certified products. You can search by category or manufacturer to find what you’re looking for. http://www.ecologo.org/en/greenproducts/consumers/