Zero Toxics Knowledge Base
GREENGUARD is a product certification programs which recommends products that improve indoor air quality.
The Greenguard Environmental Institute was founded in 2001 by indoor air quality scientist Dr. Marilyn Black. Her vision was to create a third-party product certifier that could educate consumers and industry professionals about the importance of good indoor air quality and low-emitting products.
In 2011, UL Environment, a business unit of Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) acquired Greenguard Environmental Institute. For more than a century UL has been testing various products for a variety of safety issues, and doing so has become a trusted name. So it was only natural that UL would also take on the testing of products for chemical emissions when there was a demand to do so.
Since then many products have been certified that I personally would not recommend. As good as the testing itself might be, the program seems to be focused more on how broadly the certification can be sold rather than on how safe the products are that are certified (see Limitations of GREENGUARD below).
GREENGUARD operates on the principle of testing finished products for emissions that affect indoor air quality. They do not evaluate what materials are used to make the product. They only look at emissions. But this makes sense from their viewpoint. Originally GREENGUARD was conceived by an indoor air quality scientist who wanted to reduce toxic exposures. UL is a testing organization.
GREENGUARD currently has three programs:
- GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified® (for low emitting interior building materials, furnishings, and finish systems)
- GREENGUARD for Children & SchoolsSM (for low emitting interior building materials, furnishings, and finish systems used in educational (daycare and K-12) environments)
- GREENGUARD for Building ConstructionSM (for newly constructed multifamily and commercial properties that follow best practice guidelines for preventing mold during the design, construction and ongoing operations).
All GREENGUARD Certified Products have been tested for their chemical emissions performance according to specific emissions standards given on the website.
Particle Matter less than 10 µm
Individual VOC Criteria
Ethylene glycol monoethyl ether
Ethylene glycol monoethyl ether acetate
Ethylene glycol monomethyl ether
Ethylene glycol monomethyl ether acetate
Methyl t-butyl ether
Propylene glycol monomethyl ether
Xylenes (m-, o-, p- combined)
Limitations of GREENGUARD
In my opinion there are some major limitations to GREENGUARD as a toxic-free certification. This is unfortunate because public perception is that GREENGUARD is an all-encompassing nontoxic certification. Almost every day I hear, “It’s GREENGUARD certfied/ Doesn’t that mean it’s nontoxic/” No, that’s not what it means.
First, GREENGUARD is a certification for air emissions. So a product could pass their air emissions tests, but it could still contain lead or other substances that are not emitting into the air.
Second, they only test for a limited number of volatile chemicals. Phthalates is not one of them. I haven’t compared their list to a list of volatile chemicals I think they should be testing for, phthalates just happened to come to my attention.
Third, the certification only says that a product does not contain this list of volatile toxic chemicals down to a certain level. So if the level is 10 parts per million, a product that has 9 parts per million of a chemical would qualify but so would a product that has zero parts per million. And you have no way of knowing what the emission are that are coming off the products at these low levels.
So personally, as popular as it is, I don’t find this certification useful and it may be misleading.
Two posts that share my concern about the limitations of GREENGUARD:
In November 2016 I wrote to GREENGUARD asking specific questions. Below are their replies.
Thank you for contacting UL Environment.
GREENGUARD tests for chemical emissions rather than content so lead and phthalates are outside of our scope of testing. You may want to contact the manufacturer directly to see if they have done any content testing for these chemicals.
Attached is a list of the primary chemicals of concern that are tested for in the GREENGUARD program. There are also chemicals that are not listed that contribute to the “TVOC” or “Total VOC” limit – this includes any organic chemicals with 6 to 16 carbons and a boiling point in the range of 35ºC to 250ºC.
Any of the GREENGUARD certified options are a great choice for keeping your indoor air as chemical free as possible. GREENGUARD Gold certified products are ultra-low emitting and meet CA 01350 too.
You can also download the full detailed standard for free at http://www.comm-2000.com/Catalog.aspx
– Search 2818 for the standard that applies to building materials and furniture
– Search 2819 for the standard that applies to electronics
2211 Newmarket Parkway Ste. 106
Marietta, GA 30067 USA
Sure thing! The attachment was a brief summary. For more detail, you may download the method for free from Comm 2000 (http://www.comm-2000.com/Catalog.aspx)by searching for UL 2821. There are thousands of chemicals that are lumped into the Total VOC measurement so it is unfortunately impossible to provide a comprehensive list (see highlighted comment below for VOC range).
PFCs would be very unlikely to show up as VOC’s in our testing since they tend to be very large, heavy chemicals that are unlikely to off-gas. There is limited concern about these types of chemicals affecting indoor air quality which is what GREENGUARD is concerned about. These types of chemicals would be detected generally by doing a content test rather than an emissions test. We unfortunately only do emissions testing, so for more information on product content and safety from that perspective one would need to contact the manufacturer.
2211 Newmarket Parkway Ste. 106
Marietta, GA 30067 USA
ZERO TOXICS is rooted in my forty years of research and experience living toxic-free. I'm gathering and organizing the data I have to make this knowledge available to everyone. Feel free to ask questions, share data, and join in the discussion in the comments section below.
How to Comment