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Are Your Products Environment-Responsible?

July 1, 2005
by root
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Interview with Arthur Weissman, PhD, President and CEO, Green Seal, Inc.
Are your products environment-responsible?
An interview with Arthur Weissman, PhD, President and CEO, Green Seal, Inc.
In recent years, environmental concerns have become more and more important for stakeholders to consider when building new facilities, as well as when maintaining their current ones. Using environmentally sound products and services is significant not only for the long-term health of our planet but for the long-term health of our population-perhaps none more so than long-term care residents, who because of their circumstances generally spend the vast majority of their time inside the facility, and are therefore profoundly affected by their surroundings.

One of the most significant organizations at work in the field today is Green Seal, Inc., a nonprofit group that specializes in promoting the purchase and production of environmentally responsible products and services, many of which are used in the LTC field. Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management Assistant Editor Todd Hutlock recently spoke with Green Seal President and CEO Arthur Weissman, PhD, about product certification, the importance of being concerned with environmental matters, and the potential effects on human health and wellness.

Can you provide a brief history of and background on Green Seal, Inc.?
Dr. Weissman:
We were founded 15 years ago. I've been with the organization since 1993, starting as vice-president of certification, and I became president and CEO at the end of 1996. Our mission is to improve the environment by focusing on the products and services in the economy and trying to make them more environmentally responsible or sustainable. We are one of the first organizations that focused on making the economy more sustainable and thereby helping to improve the environment that way. Our flagship program is to set leadership environmental standards for various product and service categories, and to certify products and services that meet those high leadership-level standards.

We were originally founded with an eye on the consumer market, and we found in the United States that was rather a challenge and it required brand recognition. Our seal is in effect a brand; it is actually a registered certification mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but to use it in the consumer context would be like introducing a brand. However, we knew it would require a great deal of resources and effort to get that type of brand recognition in the consumer market. So we switched to a more institutional focus in terms of the products and services that we focus on and the associated manufacturers and service providers. Along with that, we started working with some large institutional purchasers as a way of leveraging the market toward green products and services. We started working with the federal government, as well as state and local governments, and with nongovernmental institutions such as the World Bank and universities.

We also have worked with various industry sectors over the years, targeting specific industries that we want to work with. For instance, we've done a lot of work with the lodging industry-hotels, motels, and such-because it is really a microcosm of all types of buildings and facilities and, like nursing homes, they bring all sorts of different products and services into a single location.

What exactly does Green Seal certification mean?
Dr. Weissman:
This is something that is very important to explain clearly because the certification and the seal that represents it go on product labels and advertisements and the like, and by federal law, those things have to be very clear. The Federal Trade Commission has very strict guidelines on what kinds of claims are made about products, particularly in the environmental marketing area.

That said, Green Seal certification means that a product or service meets the applicable environmental standards that we have set. These standards are available either on our Web site or by contacting us directly, and they contain explicit criteria. We are trying to set standards at leadership levels for a product or service in the existing and emerging market, so that the products or services that we certify are those that have the best environmental performance of all similar products or services in the market. That concept of a leadership level is key. Certification is not exclusive-a number of products in the same category can be Green Seal certified, meaning that they all have met the standard. However, not many products will be certified overall because they are leadership standards-meaning only the cream of the crop will qualify. Maybe 15 to 20% of the products might be eligible to be certified. If we started to see a much higher percentage than that being certified, that would mean we didn't set the standards high enough or they now have to be revised.

What are some basic criteria and standards, and how are they developed?

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