Many consumers are concerned about the environment, and environmental organizations are helping them make choices about how to spend their money. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan spoke with the president and chief executive of one environmental group, Arthur Weissman of Green Seal, which offers consumers advice about eco-friendly products and services.
Some three dozen organizations around the world certify products or commercial services as environmentally friendly. In the United States, a government program called Energy Star evaluates products based on their energy efficiency. Green Seal, a private program, certifies products and services based on their total impact on the environment.
Arthur Weissman, Green Seal's president and chief executive, says the organization works with individual companies, large institutions and individual sectors, such as lodging and film and television production.
"We have a whole green lodging program based on a standard for how a hotel operates," he said. "We have worked in the past with the Hollywood industry. In the mid-1990s, we developed an online environmental production guide for them. And now we're looking into the possibility of developing an environmental standard for TV and move production."
He says Green Seal evaluates a wide range of products, from coffee filters to cleaning agents, from air conditioners to windows and doors. He says the organization's staff members do a comprehensive study.
"We use what is called the life cycle approach to evaluate a product or service looking at how that product comes into being from the raw materials that it's made from, and its manufacturing," he added. "And then, any transportation issues that are related to the manufacturing and distribution of the product. And then the use phase, which in some products is the primary area of inspection."
Finally, he says evaluators look at the disposal process. He says the evaluation requires balancing many factors before the organization can make a recommendation. He cites the case of fluorescent lamps, which are energy-efficient, but contain a toxic element.
"And that is mercury," he added. "But they contain it in a very small amount, and it's required right now for the operation of a fluorescent lamp."
Still, he says, fluorescent lamps are better than older, incandescent lamps, because the incandescents use more power, and cause more mercury to be released into the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants. He says, in the larger context, the older lamps are less efficient and more polluting.
Weissman says Green Seal helps companies, government agencies and international institutions as they work to reduce their environmental impact.
"Because they have a big impact on the environment, and we're trying to help them green their operations, green their purchasing, green their facilities management," he explained. "And so we have worked with many federal, state and local agencies. We have worked with private entities like the World Bank, the University of Miami, Harvard University coming up, to try to help them reduce their imprint, or make their operations more sustainable."
Green Seal is a non-profit organization and its program is voluntary. Companies pay a fee for the research and certification, and if their product or service is approved, they can use the Green Seal logo, together with a description of what it means. Weissman says the process helps consumers make informed decisions that protect the environment.