Sustainability School

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / cienpies

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / cienpies

Park and recreation managers who are unsure what “green” and “green certification” really mean should not be embarrassed. There appears to be much confusion among both consumers and businesses as to what the terms mean. These are the findings of a study conducted a couple of years back by the Shelton Group, specializing in researching environmental issues.* 

The study sought to better understand what “mainstream” consumers, as they were referred to, know and care about green products, along with clarifying what the green claims suggest. The good news is that approximately 60 percent of the population, according to the study, has a broad desire for greener products. 

However, as to understanding why a product is green, why another one isn’t, or what makes something green, “the average consumer knows only about enough to get through a cocktail-party conversation,” says Susanne Shelton, president of the research group. “They can nod their heads and say a few things [using the words] green and sustainable … but really do not know very much.” 

The study also found that almost half of those questioned were unable to name a green feature in their own homes. The researchers found this surprising since many people now use, know of, or ask for products such as low-wattage lighting, paint and flooring products that are more environmentally friendly (or, taking that a step further, green-certified), and even solar panels. Further, the study revealed there were still widespread misperceptions about specific product claims, such as the terms “natural” and “organic.” Consumers do not appear to really know the difference between the two terms, and large numbers of lower-middle-class income earners indicated the term “organic” is nothing more than a fancy marketing term … one that allows companies to charge more for their products. 

Gaining Some Green Perspective

According to Mike Sawchuk, vice president and general manager of Enviro-Solutions, that manufactures green cleaning products, the concept of healthier foods and environmentally safer products evolved in the 1960s and especially in the ecology movement of the early 1970s. 

“However, the movement ebbed and flowed over the years,” says Sawchuk. In fact, while the 1970s featured a strong push, by the 1980s, outside of the food industry, only a limited number of products in the United States were marketed as “environmentally friendly,” one of the buzz words of the era. 

Conversely, by the early 1990s, things had changed. The notion of manufacturing and marketing products as green became trendier, with more consumers—both at home and in business—indicating they would prefer a product that was more earth-friendly.  But many observers believe green became very popular at the start of the 21st century. A large majority of people were concerned about global warming, climate change, natural-resource depletion, and the impact some conventional products may have on health and the environment. 

Around the same time, researchers began focusing more attention on building-related illnesses. The researchers found that when steps are taken to use products that have less impact on the environment—for instance, green cleaning products—they often result in improved indoor-air and environmental quality, which can have significant health benefits for building users. Soon, more manufacturers in all types of industries, from cleaning and building materials to carpets, fabrics, and upholstery, began manufacturing healthier, green products, and third-party product-certification programs evolved, largely in response to concerns about potential product toxicity and helping consumers identify green products. 

The Certification Connection

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