By Arthur Weissman, Ph.D, Green Seal President/CEO
In a previous blog in this series [reference: “Our role in the sustainability movement: the nature of our work”], I made a distinction between the goals of Green Seal’s work and how we try to achieve them. I even objected to our being considered merely as an ecolabeling or certification program, only because this is a tool or method we employ, not the purpose of our work.
In actuality, over the twenty-plus years of our existence, Green Seal has used a number of different tools to accomplish its mission of greening the economy to protect health and the environment. Ecolabeling or certification is our primary tool (and flagship program), but it is not our only one.
Green Seal was about four or five years old when it first tried another approach. We were concerned then about the slow uptake of the standards we had issued to date. It had been assumed from the beginning that consumer preference for green products provided the impetus for companies to sign up for certification, but consumer demand was fickle and unreliable.
Someone in Green Seal had the idea to stimulate demand for green products from institutional buyers in government agencies, non-profit organizations, and large companies. There are typically fewer purchasers in institutions, each with greater purchasing power, than in the consumer market. Increasingly, institutions – especially government agencies – were committing to green procurement policies, and encouraging them to seek Green Seal-certified products could impel manufacturers to get products certified. Thus was born the Environmental Partners Program.
This was a membership program, with the requirement that institutions commit to recycling and a green purchasing policy. To provide guidance on how to implement the latter, Green Seal first produced the Office Green Buying Guide. Then, since there was still not a sufficient number of certified green products in the market, Green Seal provided recommendations in a number of product categories through its series, the Choose Green Reports. For these we selected some key criteria for each category (from standards, if available), obtained relevant data from suppliers, and screened the data to come up with recommended products for Environmental Partners to purchase.
As we paid more attention to the demand side of the market, an even more interesting and powerful program emerged – Institutional Greening. In the mid- to late-1990s, Green Seal began working with institutions, primarily Federal agencies at first, on implementing green procurement programs. These included the National Park Service and the U.S. Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Some of the projects were broad in scale, covering a number of categories; others were in-depth, focusing on a specific category. For instance, for APG we developed a buying program for paint, and we also created a cleaning product standard (GS-37) for the thousands of buildings on base.
The Institutional Greening Program (originally called Greening Your Government Program) continued in the 2000s in projects with State and local governments, including California, Pennsylvania, Los Angeles County, and others, as well as with non-governmental institutions like the World Bank and universities, as we’ll discuss in future blogs.
The Environmental Partners and Institutional Greening Programs thus helped promote our mission in ways complementary to certification. Each of these programs is a method, even an experiment, for making the economy more sustainable. And in each case, the end goal remains the same.