Greens’ Product-Testing Feud Heats Up : Environment: Consumer-goods rating services, Green Cross and Green Seal, sign up with high-profile organizations for testing.


Rivalry deepened Wednesday between Green Cross and Green Seal--consumer-goods ratings systems that both aspire to be arbiters of environmental marketing--as each announced ties to better-known organizations.

Washington-based Green Seal, supported by environmentalists, has contracted with Underwriters Laboratories of Northbrook, Ill., to test most products for its certification program.

Green Cross, the Oakland-based system organized originally by retailers, said the Good Housekeeping Institute will test the effectiveness of products that apply for its seal, though not their environmental soundness. Green Cross is also expected today to announce details of its environmental evaluation method.

Behind the announcements lies a controversy over that method--called life cycle assessment--which has grown over the past year.

Green Cross says the long-practiced technique, designed to look at the cradle-to-grave environmental impact of a product, is the only system yet developed that considers the complexity of manufacturing processes.


Green Seal and other groups--including the Environmental Protection Agency, the green labeling task force of a group of state attorneys general and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry--have recently retreated from using the technique.

“There are huge disputes,” said Green Seal President Denis Hayes, citing, as an example, contradictory studies of whether disposable diapers are better or worse for the environment than cloth.

Underwriters Laboratories, the nation’s largest product-safety testing organization, will use criteria selected for each product, instead of life cycle assessment, in its tests for Green Seal.

Green Cross will hold a joint hearing in September with the Good Housekeeping Institute, a not-for-profit group affiliated with Good Housekeeping magazine, to respond to doubts about life cycle assessment.

“Our big disappointment with Green Seal is that they backed out of the only methodology available,” said Stanley Rhodes, president and chief executive of Green Cross.

Rhodes said Lavalin Environmental Inc., a Canadian engineering firm that builds power plants and paper mills, will do most of Green Cross’ product evaluation.