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Understanding the green labels

Being a green consumer is getting easier, with more labels sprouting up. As a smart consumer, though, we must also be wary of these claims.

If you see a label in a shop window or your hotel room, you can assume that the business has made an effort to reduce its impact in some way. The downside is the extent of the business's greenness, and what earning the seal entails, is seldom clear. Buyers need to be aware of greenwashing, when a business or product markets itself as being green while not really getting its hands dirty, often overstating the environmental impact reduction.

True green certification requires an audit and verification. Some third-party programs demand exorbitant fees for a window decal without requiring that claims be verified; sometimes it's even as effortless as sending in a check and receiving marketing materials in the mail. These are on the low rung of the green certification ladder, often verging on greenwashing. On the other side of the certification spectrum are time- and resource-intensive programs that are comprehensive in assessing business operations, such as UL-Environment or ISO-14001, which focus on the framework for environmental management systems, life cycle analysis, communication and auditing, and can be used by any organization regardless of sector.

The middle rung of the ladder has programs that are oriented to small- and medium-sized businesses, with fairly comprehensive programs. These are more affordable and can be trusted if they verify claims and require facility audits and upgrades. Many times these programs provide consulting services to help guide a business through the greening process, and often on-site assistance is available to offer insight on sustainability and retrofitting opportunities. Many also assist with obtaining utility and state rebate dollars, maximizing the resources available to help the business owner.

The Illinois Green Business Association is a nonprofit organization in Champaign that offers certification and green business services. You can contact the IGBA via their website at www.illinoisGBA.org or call them at 217-531-2179.

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