Checklist: What makes a product green?

Checklist: What makes a product green?

By Victoria Schomer and Penny Bonda on 03/22/2010

An important tool in the effort to build greener buildings and live greener lives is the selection of products that were made using environmentally friendly processes and are used in environmentally friendly ways.

Green products are available for just about any daily need, and the ways they are green are many and varied: They are energy or water efficient; they use healthy, nontoxic materials; they are made from recycled or renewable sources; they make current products you use more efficient or more durable; and they are recyclable or biodegradable, among many other things.

But among all the truly green products comes the risk of “greenwashing;” that is, products that are advertised as green without truly offering environmental or health benefits. The checklists below — and directories at bottom — will help you sort through the claims and find the products that best meet your needs.

Manufacturer commitment to sustainability 

  • Is there a written, working environmental policy in place? Is it easy to find on their Web site or product literature? 
  • Does this policy strive to make important improvements in manufacturing, reducing and reusing first, then recycling? 
  • Do they comply with their industry’s voluntary testing programs?

Examine the product’s composition 

  • What are the raw materials used to create the product? 
  • Where did the materials come from? 
  • Did the materials come from renewable resources? Is the manufacturing process energy efficient? 
  • Does the manufacturing process release harmful substances? 
  • Are adhesives needed to make the product viable? What are they using? 
  • Are coatings or finishes needed to make the product viable? 
  • What are they using?

Examine other aspects of the product 

  • Does the product nurture the health and well-being of its occupants? 
  • Does the product do the job well? 
  • How much energy does it use? 
  • Does the product release VOCs? At what rate?
  • How is the product packaged and transported?
  • How is the product installed and maintained?
  • Does it have a color or texture that can lead to reduced lighting energy or an expanded range of thermal comfort conditions? 
  • Can the product be maintained in a benign manner? 
  • Using safe cleaning products?

Examine strategies for disposal 

  • Is the product durable? Biodegradable? Recyclable? 
  • Can the parts be separated for recycling?
  • Can it be made into something else?
  • Can the product be returned to its manufacturer at the end of its useful life?

Cost considerations 

  • What is the price range for the product? 
  • Does the manufacturer provide life cycle cost analysis on this product?


Note: Inclusion or exclusion of any product in these directories does not represent endorsement by ASID or the U.S. Green Building Council.

GreenSpec Directory: The online GreenSpec Directory lists product descriptions for more than 2,100 environmentally preferable products. Products are chosen to be listed by BuildingGreen editors. They do not charge for listings or sell ads.

Green Building Pages: Green Building Pages is an online sustainable design and decision-making tool for building industry professionals and environmentally and socially responsible consumers.

Green2Green: features comprehensive information regarding green building products, materials and practices. The site offers side-by-side comparisons of products using a variety of environmental, technical and economic criteria.

Oikos: Oikos is a World Wide Web site devoted to serving professionals whose work promotes sustainable design and construction.

The Green Guide: National Geographic’s Green Guide offers staff-written reviews of a host of products, ranging from appliances, home furnishings and home-improvement products to personal care and pet supplies.

Good To Be Green: Good To Be Green is a directory of green-building products, sustainable-building materials and green-building service providers. Products must: be made out of recycled materials; ensure a low environmental impact during the construction, operation and/or demolition of the building; conserve natural resources like energy, wood and water; and improve air quality.

For more information, visit

[Developed by Victoria Schomer, ASID and owner of Green Built Environments, with additional contributions from Penny Bonda, FASID. Find out more about Green Built Environments at]]