Green Seal:
The Green Stamp
of Approval

"Green claims are everywhere, but buyers often can't know at a glance -- or even with a second hard look -- which claims are true and which are clever marketing ploys," says Norman L. Dean, Green Seal's President and CEO. To address this situation, Green Seal, a nonprofit organization formed in 1990, certifies consumer products that meet Green Seal's product-by-product environmental standards. Green Seal rewards companies that manufacture certified products by allowing them to display its "seal of approval" -- a blue globe with a green check mark -- on the product's packaging. Unfortunately, Green Seal only tests products if the manufacturer pays for the testing. To build demand for approved products, Green Seal lines up buyers through its Environmental Partners Program. By addressing both the supply and demand of eco-products, Green Seal hopes to enable consumers to "vote for the Earth with their wallets," according to Dean, who formerly served as Director of Environmental Quality at the National Wildlife Federation.


Green Seal develops minimum qualifications for certification by examining several of the "cradle-to-grave" environmental impacts of a product (i.e. the impacts that result from its manufacture, use and disposal). Green Seal claims its standards and certifications advance the following environmental improvements: reducing or eliminating toxic chemical pollution, improving energy efficiency, protecting water resources, minimizing impacts on fish and wildlife and their habitats, cutting the waste of natural resources, protecting the Earth's atmosphere (including its protective ozone layer) and reducing the risk of global warming.

Green Seal's minimum qualifications cover 77 varieties of products. Among these are several energy-using products such as compact fluorescent lamps, energy-efficient windows, home appliances, alternatively-fueled vehicles, and re-refined engine oil. Green Seal has also issued standards for water-efficient fixtures such as showerheads, faucets, toilets and watering hoses.

Green Seal's standard-setting process is open to input from interested parties, such as members of industry, government, environmental and consumer groups and the public. Theoretically, this process enables all stakeholders to participate. In practice, however, it may be biased toward the industry perspective, because large companies usually have more time and money to develop and promote their positions than much smaller consumer and environmental organizations.

According to Green Seal Research Associate My Ton, Green Seal solicits input from manufacturers and other stakeholders to compare the environmental impact of the "average product" with "leadership level" (cutting-edge) products. After deciding where both achievement levels lie, Green Seal tends to target the middle ground between the two. Green Seal generally sets its minimum qualifications at a level that can be reached by 15-20 percent of the market to promote competition among certified products, to make certified products sufficiently available to build greater consumer demand for green goods, and to satisfy concomitant quality and performance criteria which ensure that certified products are not just environmentally preferable, but also reliable. Green Seal typically borrows these quality standards directly from trade associations.

Green Seal issues environmental standards for approximately 10 new product categories each year. They contend that "the standards are reviewed at least once every three years and are revised to ensure that criteria keep up with new research on environmental issues, changing technologies and consumer needs." In reality, however, there are some exceptions to this rule. The requirements for compact fluorescent lamps, tissue paper, faucets and toilets have not changed in over three years. If a standard for a category of products is changed, manufacturers of products that no longer qualify can still be sold with the Green Seal of Approval until the manufacturer's supply is exhausted. Typically, according to Ton, the manufacturers who were in compliance with older standards participated in setting the new standards and so did not have any problems meeting the new criteria.

In a few instances, Green Seal awards "Class A Certification" to certain "leadership level" items that have retained high quality performance standards. "Class A Certification" is used to distinguish these products from those that received basic certification.

On occasion, Green Seal's standards are adopted by utilities. Twenty power companies, including Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation's largest private utility, require that manufacturers meet Green Seal's compact fluorescent lamp requirements in order to qualify for their demand-side management subsidies, such as rebates.


Once the standards have been set for a category, manufacturers pay a fee to have their products tested and certified. Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), which receives its funding from manufacturers who pay testing fees, does most of the testing for Green Seal by conducting an initial evaluation and follow-up inspections at the manufacturer's facility to monitor compliance with Green Seal's criteria. UL also assists Green Seal in developing some environmental standards. If laboratory tests show that a product meets the requirement, it can bear the "Green Seal" eco-label.

In some of the categories for which Green Seal has issued environmental standards, there are not yet Green Seal-approved products because equipment may still be undergoing tests or manufacturers of these goods may not have applied for Green Seal certification. The "Green Seal" eco-label has been awarded to 313 products made by 16 companies, including cleaning supplies, natural gas-fueled taxi cabs, food service items, compact fluorescent lamps, low-toxicity paints, recycled paper, re-refined motor oil, reusable utility bags and water-efficient fixtures. A full list of certified products can be obtained directly from Green Seal free of charge by calling (202) 331-7337. Green Seal plans to establish its own World Wide Web site to provide a comprehensive list of certified products and give contact information for interested buyers.


COMPACT FLUORESCENT LAMPS (CFLS): According to Green Seal, CFLs are approximately four times more energy efficient and last an average of ten times longer than standard incandescent light bulbs, resulting in savings of up to $50 over the life of each bulb. Consequently, using CFLs immediately cuts the air and water pollution and environmental damage associated with extracting and burning fossil fuels or using nuclear power for energy.

In order to qualify for the "Green Seal," compact fluorescent lamps and ballasts are tested and evaluated for compliance with detailed specifications. CFLs must have a lifespan of 8,000 hours. Beginning August 1, 1997, Green Seal-certified CFLs cannot contain radioisotopes. Under the current standard, the mercury content of CFLs cannot exceed 15 milligrams (mg) and beginning June 1, 1996, CFLs will not be allowed to contain more than 10 mg. To maintain high performance standards, Green Seal requires the color rendering index (CRI) to be 80 or greater. This ensures that certified CFLs produce quality light comparable to incandescent bulbs with a CRI rating of 100. Furthermore, the CFLs must start in a smooth manner within four seconds at their minimum operating temperature.

Green Seal's criteria for packaging state that it cannot contain inks, dyes, pigments, stabilizers or other additives to which lead, cadmium, mercury or hexavalent chromium have been introduced. If already present in these additives, the sum of the concentration levels of these toxics must not exceed 100 ppm by weight.

Green Seal's labeling criteria are designed to safeguard consumers from misleading or false claims. Labels on CFL packaging must state information on watt rating, lumen output, life expectancy and average energy cost savings compared to the nearest equivalent incandescent lamp (at 750 hours/year at $0.08/kilowatt hour.) Ballast labels must indicate possible interference with remote-controlled electric appliances, potential problems with dimension fit, and inability to operate on conventional dimming switches.

Thus far, Green Seal has certified 5 compact fluorescent lamps made by two companies. CFLs that have, and have not, been submitted to Green Seal for certification are readily available in many retail outlets as well as through the Federal Defense Logistics Agency's (DLA) Lighting Supply Program and Energy Federation, Inc.

Contacts: DLA at (800) DLA-BULB (ask for a copy of their Energy Efficient Lighting catalog). Energy Federation, Inc., (800) 876-0660, fax: (508) 655-3811; (ask or look for Lighting Product List).

ALTERNATIVELY-FUELED FLEET VEHICLES: In order for a "pollution-reducing fleet vehicle" to be certified by Green Seal, it must run predominantly on compressed natural gas (CNG) or electricity. The gasoline purchases for the vehicles cannot exceed 15 percent. In addition, the vehicle(s) must include an on-going program of maintenance to keep each vehicle well-tuned and operating at optimum efficiency.

One taxi fleet has been certified so far.

WATER-EFFICIENT FIXTURES: According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, most household showerheads in use today are wasteful, using 3.5 to 6 gallons of water per minute (gpm). Green Seal's standard for water-efficient showerheads proscribes a maximum flow rate of 2.4 gpm at 80 pounds per square inch (psi) of water pressure. Green Seal sets a maximum allowable flow rate of two gpm (at 80 psi) for multi-purpose and bathroom faucets and 2.5 gpm (at 80 psi) for kitchen faucets. In addition, certified water fixtures can not add any contaminants to the water that would violate National Primary Drinking Water Standards.

"Water-efficient toilets" must not use more than 1.6 gallons per flush. Green Seal certified watering hoses must utilize a very-low discharge drip or "tearing" process. Furthermore, at least 65 percent of each garden hose must be derived from post-consumer, recycled tire rubber. The minimum percentage for sprinkler hoses is 50 percent.

Packaging requirements for these products are the same as those set for CFLs. The labeling standards require manufacturers to specify how many gallons per minute (or per flush) are used by each model.

Three types of toilets, a few showerheads made by one company, and one manufacturer's line of watering hoses had received certification as of December, 1995.

ENERGY EFFICIENT WINDOWS: Green Seal has three environmental requirements for certified windows. First, windows must have a "U value" no greater than 0.36 for glazed exterior doors and windows and no greater than 0.44 for skylights. The U value measures how well a window retains heat and admits solar energy. The lower the U value the better a window maintains heat within a room.

Second, Green Seal examines the tightness of the window's seams. Certified windows must have an ALR (a measure of air leakage) no greater than 0.10 for fixed windows and no greater than 0.30 for operable windows. Lastly, the frame and sash materials of each window must not have been constructed with the heavy metals lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, or hexavalent chromium.

Additionally, the corrugated box used to package certified windows must contain at least 25 percent post-consumer material.

A range of windows made by one corporation have been certified.

RE-REFINED ENGINE OIL: Green Seal's fundamental environmental requirement for re-refined engine oil is that the stock contain 40 percent re-refined oil by volume. Additionally Green Seal has set certain toxic chemical restrictions as well as the by-product restriction that manufacturing the product not result in the generation of sulfuric acid sludge. Packaging must contain a minimum of 10 percent post-consumer recycled material by weight.

A broad range of oils and greases made by a Canadian company have received certification under three brand names.

REFRIGERATORS AND FREEZERS: For refrigerators and freezers, Green Seal sets standards for the product's energy consumption and its use of ozone-depleting or global-warming chemicals. For manual and partial-automatic defrost refrigerators, and for manual defrost or chest freezers, the product must consume five percent less energy annually than what is allowed by federal law. Upright automatic freezers with automatic defrost must consume 10 percent less energy than the federal limit. Refrigerators with automatic defrost and a top, side, or bottom mounted freezer without through-the-door ice service must consume 15 percent less than the federal limit. For similar refrigerators with through-the-door ice service, annual energy consumption must be 20 percent less than the federal maximum.

Additionally, for basic certification, refrigerators and freezers cannot contain refrigerants listed as unacceptable under the U.S. EPA's Significant New Alternatives Program (SNAP). The same stipulation applies to the blowing agents used to manufacture either product's thermal insulation. Class A Certification is awarded to refrigerators or freezers that neither contain refrigerants nor were built with blowing agents that are ozone-depleting or have significant global-warming potential.

No refrigerator or freezer models had been certified as of December, 1995.

For more information on Green Seal's standards or certified products, contact: My Ton, Research Associate, Green Seal, 1730 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Suite 1050, Washington, D.C. 20036-3101; (202) 331-7337 ext. 22.


Outside of its certification program, Green Seal operates a special "Environmental Partners Program" in which government agencies and other institutions can participate. Environmental Partners receive Green Seal's assistance in creating and implementing green procurement policies. In return, partners sign an agreement consenting to buy products meeting Green Seal's environmental standards where cost and performance are not sacrificed. Partners are then free to use the Green Seal "Environmental Partners Mark" on their annual reports, letterhead, and other materials for advertising and promotional purposes. The program costs $250 for government agencies, local businesses, nonprofits and universities, and $450 for national businesses.

Part of Green Seal's assistance is an annual subscription to their Office Green Buying Series which includes the Office Green Buying Guide, monthly updates and product lists. The Guide, designed to assist Partners in developing an environmentally-sound procurement policy, is comprised of five sections: defining "environmentally preferable" and applying it to purchasing decisions; implementing the program (includes policies that support and encourage committed, green buying); establishing the green office by substituting current goods and services with environmentally-preferable products; publicizing green buying efforts; and inspiring suppliers and others to participate. This 110-page guide can also be purchased by non-partners. (See "Additional Resources.")

As of November 1995, 124 institutions, representing well over $5 billion in purchasing power, had joined Green Seal's Environmental Partners program. Eight Environmental Partners are in the public sector, such as the city of Santa Monica and Washington State Department of Ecology.

For More Information on Green Seal's Environmental Partners Program, contact Dana Hollish at (202) 331-7337.

CASE STUDY: The Sustainable City of Santa Monica

Santa Monica has a long-standing commitment to "green" purchasing. As part of its Sustainable City Program, procurement decisions are analyzed in terms of their environmental and social impacts, in addition to the traditional factors of cost, availability and performance, so that Santa Monica may "meet the city's current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same." Green Seal has helped guide these procurement decisions.


Some of the goals the Sustainable Cities Program has set to achieve by the year 2000 include:

* reducing overall energy consumption by 16 percent;

* decreasing water usage by 20 percent;

* reducing wastewater flows by 15 percent;

* converting 75 percent of the city's fleet to reduced-emission vehicles; and

* increasing the total number of trees planted on public property by 350.

By forging ahead with innovative energy conservation, water conservation, transportation and tree planting programs, Santa Monica has already made headway on meeting some of these goals. Between 1990 and 1993, Santa Monica maintained its energy consumption at 4.0 million BTUs/year and reduced its water usage from 14.3 million gallons/day (mgd) to 12 mgd, according to Dean Kubani, an Environmental Analyst with Santa Monica's Environmental Programs Division. As of 1995, it had reached its 15 percent wastewater reduction goal and established a city fleet of about 30 percent reduced-emission buses, trucks, vans and other vehicles (mostly compressed natural gas and three solar-charged electric vehicles).

Changing its purchasing practices has been critical to achieving these goals, says Deborah O. Raphael, another environmental analyst for Santa Monica. Its Environmental Programs Division turned to Green Seal early on for assistance, even before the organization launched its Environmental Partners Program. In fact, Santa Monica's environmental staff provided feedback to Green Seal during the development stage of its standards-setting process. As a result, Green Seal's standards and Santa Monica's environmental procurement specifications are strikingly similar. Like Green Seal, Santa Monica has divided the goods and services it buys into about 50 different categories, according to Kubani. This includes durables (such as electrical and fuel-powered equipment), consumables (such as paper, plastic, medical and office supplies, cleaning products and paints) and services (such as landscaping, pest management and dry-cleaning).

Green Seal helped Santa Monica design "environmentally preferable" product specifications by offering technical expertise which enabled city officials to develop their own environmental standards. "In the process, we came to understand how they made decisions," explained Raphael. "We were impressed with their integrity and follow-up." In order to save its staff time and money, city officials rely on Green Seal to develop future standards for many of its product categories and to independently test products. Summarizing why Santa Monica decided to become a Green Seal Environmental Partner, Raphael noted:

We do not have the resources to be able to set standards and evaluate the wide range of products that we buy. By knowing and trusting their procedures, we know we can rely on them and benefit from the work that they do. We don't require vendors to have Green Seal certification for their products in order to sell them to the city. But if they do, we give them preference. If a product has a Green Seal logo we do not require any extra documentation of its environmental impacts.

Raphael says Santa Monica looks to Green Seal because there are Green Seal standards in many areas where there are no federal purchasing guidelines. "For example, we designed our own bid specifications for cleaning products," explained Raphael, "because there was nothing else out there in the world." She explained that by switching to environmentally-sound cleaners, the city saved 5 percent on custodial supplies and boosted employee morale.


In order to cut energy use, Santa Monica initiated a program with the Southern Cal Edison utility to retrofit several of the city's public facilities. New energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting systems -- including Green Seal-approved compact fluorescent light bulbs -- were installed in City Hall, a police station, three public libraries, a civic auditorium, a municipal pool and six parking structures. The anticipated payback for the entire project is 5.13 years. However, because the retrofit was financed under a 12-year utility-sponsored "turn key" program-- in which the city did not have to pay up-front costs of program design, implementation and warranty -- it will take Santa Monica 12 years to repay the loan. Fortunately, the amount paid by the city under this "municipal lease agreement" is less than it paid prior to the retrofit due to substantially lower utility bills. The city expects the retrofit for the HVAC equipment to also improve air circulation and occupant comfort.

Contact: Deborah O. Raphael, Environmental Analyst, City of Santa Monica, Environmental Programs Division, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Suite F, Santa Monica, CA 90401; (310) 458-2255; fax: (310) 393-1279. Dean Kubani, (310) 458-2227; Susan Munves, (310) 458-8229.

CASE STUDY: Washington State -- Rewarding Environmental Products

For several years, the State of Washington has recognized the importance of joining other buyers to convince suppliers to sell more environmentally sound products. To make good on its commitment to green procurement, the Washington State Department of Ecology has used Green Seal's assistance in several ways.

In 1989, the State Legislature passed a "green" certification and procurement law which helps purchasing agents and other consumers identify items that "are made from recycled materials, are easy to recycle, substitute for more hazardous products, or otherwise help protect the environment." (See below) In order to help implement this law, the Washington Department of Ecology first adopted a policy that enables it to purchase products based on the standards and endorsements developed by third party certification organizations. Among the department's criteria for selecting a third-party certification organization were that the organization have an open, public process that involves key stakeholders in developing standards, that the program maintain a system of data verification, that the program's criteria be based on a "systems" or life-cycle approach, and that the program have "an established goal of updating standards and guidelines as technology and scientific knowledge advance." Green Seal satisfied the department's criteria and was approached for assistance.

Purchasing officials for the Department of Ecology ask their vendors to supply products meeting Green Seal's standards. Furthermore, to increase the procurement of environmentally sound products outside their own agency, the department has been active in two ways. First, with Green Seal's assistance, it held a training in 1993 for state purchasing agents through the Organization of Washington State Buyers. Kitty Gillespie, a planner with the Department, explained that "Our buyers use Green Seal's list of vendors to identify products that are environmentally preferable; and purchasers will give preference to Green Seal-certified products as long as they are cost-competitive." Second, it asked the Department of General Services (DGS) to offer all state agencies a better selection of environmentally preferable products. When the department has been unable to procure the products it wants through DGS, it has bought them directly from suppliers or "off-the-shelf," and encouraged state agencies to do the same.

Green Seal also assisted with identifying water saving equipment for use in the department's new building. In order to comply with state legislation, the building was designed with low-flow sinks, showers, faucets, toilets and drinking fountains. The tenants committee of the Department-- in conjunction with Green Seal -- developed a list of manufacturers that offer water-saving equipment.

According to Gillespie, their experience has been positive. When the department asked Green Seal for a green buyer's guide, it was developed within nine months, she said. They consider the greatest benefit of becoming an Environmental Partner that Green Seal provides them with guidance for their purchasing decisions.

Contacts: Kitty Gillespie, Planner, Washington State Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600; (360) 407-6540; fax: (360) 407-6574; e-mail:; Stephen Fry, (360) 407-6018; fax: (360) 407-6137.

Washington State Law Helps Purchasers Identify Environmentally Preferable Products

The full text of this law is provided below:

43.21A.520 Environmental Excellence Awards Program For Products.

(1) The department of ecology shall develop and implement an environmental excellence awards program that recognizes products that are produced, labeled, or packaged in a manner that helps ensure environmental protection. The award shall be in recognition of products that are made from recycled materials, easy to recycle, substitute for more hazardous products, or otherwise help protect the environment. Application for the award shall be voluntary. The awards may be in a variety of product categories, including, but not limited to:

(a) Paint products;

(b) Cleaning products;

(c) Pest control products;

(d) Automotive, marine and related maintenance products;

(e) Hobby and recreation products; and

(f) Any other product available for retail or wholesale sale.

(2) The state solid waste advisory committee shall establish an environmental excellence product award subcommittee to develop and recommend criteria for awarding environmental excellence awards for products. The subcommittee shall also review award applications and make recommendations to the department. The subcommittee shall consist of equal representation of: (a) Product manufacturing or other business representatives; (b) environmental representatives; (c) labor or consumer representatives; and (d) independent technical experts. Members of the subcommittee need not necessarily be regular members of the state solid waste advisory committee.

(3) Products receiving an environmental excellence award pursuant to this section shall be entitled to display a logo or other symbol developed by the department to signify the award. Awards shall be given each year to as many products as qualify. The award logo may be displayed for a period to be determined by the department.