products and services. This practice is
known as “greenwashing.” Consumers
can question, evaluate and rate green
claims made in advertising and commercials at www.greenwashingindex.com.
Even in the absence of intentional misrepresentation, validating the green, sustainable or environmentally friendly
characteristics of a product, chemical,
process or building can be complex. Additional complications include the need
to verify the accuracy of validation tools,
formulas or equations and determine the
“green-ness” of building methodologies.
Like consumers, industrial hygienists
need resources, references and tools to
help streamline the process of evaluating
green alternatives. The sidebar on page
47 lists some helpful online resources.
To illustrate the difficulties of validating green claims, consider the example
of selecting a kitchen countertop for a
home remodeling project. Standard
countertops are made of granite or composite solid surface materials derived
from synthetic resins (for example, Corian and Staron) or quartz (Silestone and
CaesarStone). A homeowner who wants a
new countertop must therefore choose
either fossil fuel-derived materials or
The websites for these products display a variety of logos, including NSF
International, USGBC and GreenGuard.
NSF is a global third party certification
organization that covers many categories, standards and products; the NSF
logo, therefore, could indicate that a
countertop is certified for food equipment standards, not for environmental
performance. The USGBC logo simply indicates membership in the organization,
with no pre-qualifications other than
paying dues. GreenGuard Certification is
a third-party testing program for low-emitting products and materials. The materials have to meet certain criteria for
volatile organic compounds (VOCs),
formaldehyde, total aldehydes and 4-
phenylcyclohexene. The state of Washington, the EPA, the World Health
Organization and LEED are referenced for
test methods and maximum allowable
The countertop manufacturers do not
make it easy for consumers to find information on the composition of the products or to locate material safety data
sheets. Dupont’s Corian MSDS lists “Corian
solid surface material” as the only ingredient, but the exposure limit section
includes methyl methacrylate, butyl
acrylate and polymethyl methacrylate.
Staron lists acrylic polymer as an ingredient. The quartz countertops include six
to nine percent polymer resins in the ingredients. A granite countertop is 100
percent stone but requires use of adhesives and sealants, both of which may
Additional research reveals that granite
production, transportation, and fabrication is energy-intensive, generates a lot
of non-recyclable waste, and can be environmentally destructive. Depending on
location, the work can be dangerous, too.
Some product websites provide general
information about sustainability efforts
and environmental practices. CaesarStone’s website mentions its ISO 14001
certification and showcases its air quality
control systems, wastewater recycling
practices, and quarry restoration programs.
Weighing the alternatives, homeowners
might start to wonder whether they can
afford their principles.
Those interested in alternative products
that address many of these issues can look
for more options from green materials