by Elemental Green staff

Want to hear some good green news? According to TerraChoice, the number of “greener” products in the marketplace has gone up a whopping 73% since 2009. Consumer demand is clearly changing things for the better (yay!), but it’s also causing an unfortunate side effect – rampant greenwashing. Many brands want in on the green game and the increased profits it brings, so they’re slapping words like “natural” and “eco-friendly” all over the place even though their product may not be very natural or eco-friendly – or as much as they’d like you to believe. TerraChoice has outlined what they call the “7 Sins of Greenwashing” and in their last study, they found that 95% of “greener” products committed one or more of the sins. Don’t be duped! How, you ask? Turn to credible certifications from government agencies, nonprofits, and experts you can trust. There’s no greenwashing your way into becoming an Energy Star certified appliance. You have to meet all the criteria to earn the label. Here are 23 green certifications to look for to ensure your home building or renovation project meets your personal standards for green living.

Energy Star

The Energy Star Program is run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is one of the most recognizable eco-labels. This voluntary program rates products such as appliances, electronics, and lighting fixtures, on their energy efficiency. Energy Star also has a certification that is given to new homes that have superior heating and cooling efficiency and feature Energy Star-certified appliances and fixtures.


The WaterSense label allows consumers to recognize products and programs that save water without sacrificing performance or quality. This label is issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for products that are 20% more water-efficient that average products in the same category. The products must also perform as well or better than their less efficient counterparts in categories such as toilets, faucets, urinals, and showerheads.

Cradle to Cradle

Based on the renowned book by William McDonough and Michael Braungart of MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry), the Cradle to Cradle Certification verifies that a product uses environmentally safe and healthy materials and is designed for material re-utilization, recycling or composting. It must also consider energy efficient manufacturing and the use of renewable energy. Finally, the manufacturing process must make efficient use of water and protect water quality.

FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council)

This certification accredits forest managers, manufacturing companies, and controlled wood products that exhibit responsible consumption of forest products. FSC is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization and the certification is completely voluntary.

SFI Chain-of-Custody

SFI chain-of-custody (COC) certification tracks the percentage of fiber from certified forests, certified sourcing and post-consumer recycled content. SFI on-product labels identify both certified sourcing and COC claims to help consumers make responsible purchasing decisions.


GREENGUARD Certification ensures that a product has met some of the world’s most rigorous and comprehensive standards for low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into indoor air. This certification has been widely adopted as a trusted standard for low-emitting products. In fact, more than 400 green building codes, standards, guidelines, procurements policies, and rating systems give credit for GREENGUARD Certified products.


Leaders around the world have made LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the most widely used third-party verification for green buildings, with around 1.85 million square feet being certified daily. Homeowners and builders pursuing LEED certification for their project earn points across several areas that address sustainability issues. LEED-certified buildings are resource-efficient, eco-friendly, and cost less money to run than non-LEED buildings. Plus, they incorporate tactics and technologies that make the building healthier for its inhabitants.


BREEAM is a worldwide system for measuring sustainable architecture. It was based off of work in the UK, but is now widely used across Europe and the rest of the world. 


For 30 years, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), known also as SCS Global Services Inc., has been providing global leadership in third-party environmental and sustainability certification, auditing, testing, and standards development. As a global leader in independent certification and verification of environmental and sustainable stewardship, SCS has developed internationally recognized standards and certification programs in pursuit of the highest level of environmental performance and social accountability.

National Green Building Standard

The National Green Building Standard certification goes well beyond saying a home is energy efficient. It provides independent, third-party verification that a home, apartment building, or land development is designed and built to achieve high performance in six key areas: Site Design, Resource Efficiency, Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Building Operation & Maintenance. NGBS is currently the only residential green building rating system to be approved by ANSI as an American National Standard.

Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge is a building certification program, advocacy tool and philosophy that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today, with the goal of minimizing the gap between current limits and the end-game positive solutions we seek. The Challenge is comprised of seven performance categories called Petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence. This compilation of Imperatives can be applied to almost every conceivable building project, of any scale and any location—be it a new building or an existing structure.

Green Seal

Green Seal provides science-based environmental certification standards that are credible, transparent and essential to helping manufacturers, purchasers and consumers make responsible choices that positively impact business behavior and improve quality of life. Thousands of products and services in hundreds of categories have been certified to meet Green Seal standards. The Green Seal mark represents a company’s compliance with a rigorous set of criteria designed to achieve leadership levels in sustainability, and an ongoing commitment to health and the environment.


EPEAT is a free and trusted source of environmental product ratings that makes it easy to select high-performance electronics. The system began in 2003 and has grown to become the definitive global environmental rating system for electronics. Managed by the Green Electronics Council, EPEAT currently tracks more than 4,400 products from more than 60 manufacturers across 43 countries. The environmental criteria underlying the EPEAT system address the full product lifecycle, from design and production to energy use and recycling. (EPEAT is typically used by businesses, but it’s still a great resource for individuals, as well.)

Safer Choice

The Safer Choice label is coordinated by the EPA and they use stringent criteria when they assess a product. The Safer Choice program reviews more than just product ingredients. They also look at product performance, pH, packaging and more to ensure that products with the label are safer for you and your family. Once a product meets the Safer Choice Standard, EPA conducts annual audits to ensure our standards continue to be met.

USDA Biopreferred

The USDA Biopreferred label is for biobased products. Biobased products are commercial or industrial products (other than food or feed) that are composed in whole, or in significant part, of biological products, renewable agricultural materials or forestry materials.


Specifically focused on composite wood products, this label verifies that standards set by the California Air Resources Board are being met. Compliance requires that the producers of plywood, particleboard, MDF, and other composite products meet the limits for formaldehyde emissions

Rainforest Alliance Certified

The Rainforest Alliance created this seal to verify that farms and forests (and any products that they produce) are economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. The Rainforest Alliance partners with the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the Forest Stewardship Council, and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council to ensure that their standards are being met.

Processed Chlorine Free and Totally Chlorine Free

These accreditations from the not-for-profit Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) are meant to distinguish paper products that do not use chlorine or chlorine compounds in the processing. Chlorine-free processing can aid in keeping rivers and water supplies clean. The Processed Chlorine Free label is reserved for recycled content paper with at least 30% post consumer content.

CRI Green Label & Green Label Plus

These labels issued by the Carpet and Rug Institute indicate that carpet, carpet backings, cushions and adhesives emit low amounts of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). The Green Label Plus is given to those carpeting products that exceed the green building requirements dictated by California schools which focus on post-consumer content, VOC emissions, the absence of PBDE flame retardant, life cycle assessment, and recycling.

SMaRT Certified

The Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability developed SMaRT certification to help homeowners better identify eco-friendly building materials. Materials are held to strict social performance requirements for sustainable products, achieving Sustainable, Sustainable Silver, Sustainable Gold or Sustainable Platinum ratings. Building products, fabric, apparel, textiles & flooring coverings that meet rigorous standards for life cycle assessment and green practices throughout the supply chain are awarded the SMaRT certification label.


FloorScore is the most recognized indoor air quality (IAQ) certification standard for hard surface flooring materials, adhesives, and underlayments. This certification was developed by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) in conjunction with Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) to test and certify hard surface flooring and flooring adhesive products for compliance with rigorous indoor air quality and low-VOC emissions requirements.

SCS Certified Indoor Advantage

The VOC criteria for SCS Indoor Advantage certification is based on emission criteria established by the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association‘s (BIFMA) standard for low-emitting office furniture systems and seating. Indoor Advantage Gold certification includes other product categories such as paints and coatings, adhesives and sealants, carpet, insulation, wall coverings, and other interior products.

SCS Certified Recycled Content

This certification validates that a product contains pre-consumer or post-consumer materials. As defined by SCS, pre-consumer material has been diverted from the waste stream during the manufacturing process. Materials generated in a process and capable of being reclaimed within the same process (such as rework, regrind or scrap) are excluded. Post-consumer material is generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end-users of a product that can no longer be used for its intended purpose.

Whether you’re doing a remodel or building an entirely new home these certifications will help you make sure you’re using the most environmentally friendly and sustainable products. Another added benefit is that you can get your home certified by one of these organizations and if you decide to sell in the future you can prove that the home is well above standard construction practices in its energy-efficiency and carbon footprint.In fact, in 2011 an Earth Advantage Study found that “on average, green-certified, new homes sold for 8 percent more than non-certified green homes. Additionally, resale prices of existing green homes were about 30 percent more than conventional homes.”