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green, certifications, greenwashing

Green Certifications You Should Know (and Ones That Can Be Misleading)

By Sydney Bernardo

Whether you are a business leader or a conscious consumer, here are some green certifications you should know:

TRUE Zero Waste

Accomplishing zero waste shows great dedication and leadership within an industry. The True Zero Waste Certification has rigorous requirements, including that a business must have an average of 90% or greater overall waste diversion. Rethinking the lifecycle of different resources can cut down considerably on a business’ ecological footprint and work to advance a green economy. The certification is verified annually, which guarantees that businesses keep up their zero waste practices.

FSC Certifications (Forest Stewardship Council)

If you want to protect native forests, this one’s for you. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has two certifications: Chain of Custody Certification and Forest Management Certification.

The difference depends on what kind of company is certified. Forest managers qualify for the Forest Management Certification and any other business along the production line qualifies for the Chain of Custody Certification. Either of these certifications mean that a paper product is produced responsibly with the environmental impact to the forest in mind. Specific guidelines include enhancing the long-term wellbeing of existing communities and conserving biological diversity, water quality, and soil health among many others.

Certified B Corporation

Businesses with the B Corp Certification are legally required to balance purpose and profit. Businesses that are B Corp certified have a deep commitment to ethical and sustainable business practices and the B Corp logo serves as a clear signal of that commitment. To get the B Corp Certification, a business has to score 80 points or higher on the B Impact Assessment, which considers the following categories:

  • Governance
  • Workers
  • Community
  • Environment
  • Customers

Each B Corp shows tremendous strength in each of these areas. Some of the most forward thinking companies are proud B Corps, including Patagonia, Ben&Jerry’s, and Eileen Fisher.

While many certifications highlight environmentally conscious businesses, some can be misleading. The following certifications are some that are not necessarily as good for the planet as you might think:

LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)

The U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED Certification to identify environmentally responsible buildings. There are four levels of certification (Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum), which indicate performance in six categories including Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation in Design.

Unfortunately, the LEED Certification can be misleading. The LEED designation certifies the environmental impact of a building’s design, which is not necessarily its actual performance. For example, the certification measures predicted energy use rather than the building’s actual energy use. Because of this, it’s still debated if LEED buildings typically save any more energy than their non-certified counterparts. Also, tearing down a building to build a new LEED-certified building is resource intensive and may be worse for the environment than just updating the old building. A LEED Certification demonstrates the intent was there, but not necessarily the outcome.

USDA Organic

You’re probably familiar with USDA Organic, a label that can be used for farm products like poultry, meat, produce, and manufactured products. But did you know that there are actually three different degrees of certification?

  • “Made with Organic” – made with at least 70% certified organic ingredients
  • “Organic” – product contains no less than 95% certified organic ingredients
  • “100% Organic” – product contains only certified organic ingredients

Basically, if your milk says that it is “made with organic” ingredients, it is made with non-organic ingredients too. USDA Organic can also be misleading because it assures customers that there are no pesticides, synthetics, or GMOs in their products. Which would be true except that the USDA has a list of approved practices that includes the use of approved pesticides and synthetics. USDA Organic can still be useful, but it should be considered among other factors.


BPA is associated with numerous health risks and is a big reason many people avoid pre-packaged food and drinks. When a packaged product says that it’s “BPA-free,” this can be a huge relief. According to a study conducted by Consumer Reports, this claim isn’t always true. Of 19 food samples they tested, even the two that were supposedly BPA-free contained some level of BPA. The best way to avoid BPA is to choose fresh food over canned foods as much as possible.

Understanding “Green” certifications can feel like a puzzle. But just like a puzzle, the image becomes clearer with each piece. With some research and dedication, we can all make choices with our planet in mind.

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