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Session 8: Product Standards & Claims

Thursday, July 17, 1997
10:45 am - Noon



This session covered the development, participation, and use of voluntary standards by federal agencies. Panelists were also asked to discuss the marketing of products based on environmental claims by federal suppliers, as well as the roles, rules, and involvement of the federal government and third party organizations in evaluating and certifying products.

Speaker 1: Krista Johnson Leuteritz, National Institute for Standards &
Technology (NIST)

Ms. Leuteritz is the Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Standards and Technology at NIST. She is secretariat for the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy's ISO 14000/Pollution Prevention Working Group. Among her other duties, she is working to implement NIST's role in the NTTA.

Ms. Leuteritz explained various NIST activities related to EPP. The National Technology Transfer Act (PL104-113) codifies OMB Circular A119 on the use of voluntary standards to the extent possible. It requires agencies to identify their needs and to use applicable voluntary standards whenever possible. It also requires federal agencies to participate in the development of voluntary standards. NIST is working with ANSI through the Interagency Committing on Standards Policy. The committee is developing a strategic standards management plan for use of voluntary national standards. It is addressing issues such as redundancies, speed of standards development, effective use of standards by federal agencies, policies for using standards in regulations, timely notification procedures for new standards, and international developments.

Ms. Leuteritz pointed out that the United States is unique among developed nations in that we have several voluntary standards organizations; in other countries only one federal agency has this responsibility.

Although NIST is given responsibility for product testing in Executive Order 12873, the agency does not do actual product testing. It is working with EPA to fulfill Executive Order requirements. Examples of recent NIST activities pertaining to EPP are its cooperation with ASTM regarding the development of new garment care labeling requirements, and worth with ASTM on Green buildings. NIST is also working with the private sector on the National Voluntary Accreditation Program (NAVLAP) regarding accreditation of testing laboratories. A copy for Ms. Leuteritz' overheads is attached. For more information she can be reached at 301-975-5104 or by email at KJL@nist.gov.

Speaker 2: Dr. Stanley Rhodes, Scientific Certification Systems

Dr. Rhodes is the founder, president, and chief executive officer of Scientific Certification Systems. SCS is an independent environmental claims certification organization, is an active practitioner of life-cycle assessment. In addition, he has been involved in a pioneering effort since 1991 to establish a new environmental performance based labeling system based on life-cycle assessment technology.

Dr. Rhodes discussed designing purchasing programs around environmental performance. He reminded the audience of the definition of Environmentally Preferable Products in Executive Order 12873 and emphasized the importance of identifying environmental attributes and consideration of life cycle (cradle to grave) attributes. He discussed the current shortcomings of environmental assessment and said that a science-based approach to evaluating environmentally preferable products is probably not feasible for now. A large volume of data is not available and is extremely costly. No procedures exist for assessing environmental significance. Current methodologies do not address critical impacts; nor do they include thresholds. ISO 14000 is trying to develop guidelines for EPP but cannot use life cycle inventory. Thus, it is not currently possible to boil down environmental attributes to one single score. Dr. Rhodes maintains that if comparative assertions are to be made, other environmental assessment tools are needed.

An emerging methodology, Life Cycle Stressor Effects Assessments (LCSEA) holds promise for resolving some of these issues. Under developing through ISO, this approach measures net resource use and emissions loadings. It is usually less costly approach than Life Cycle Assessment.

Speaker 3: Mr. Arthur Weissman, Green Seal

Mr. Weissman is president and chief executive officer of Green Seal, the independent, national organization dedicated to promoting environmentally responsible products and services. He is serving in his third consecutive term as Chair of the Global Ecolabeling Network, and is an international convener of an environmental labeling working group of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Mr. Weissman's remarks were entitled "The Problem in Buying Green." He discussed the difficulties in getting appropriate information, verification of claims, making comparisons, and evaluating produce performance and price. He said that the process must be easy for the procurement official and reviewed Green Seal's approach to providing this information. Green Seal sets standards and also certifies products. It also has an Environmental Partners Program currently including 647 participants. Green Seal also publishes green buying guides and reports and provides direct assistance to government agencies. Mr. Weissman mentioned work under a grant for Energy Star Homes, U.S. Postal Service, and work relating to paints and solvents at the Aberdeen Proving Ground for DOD. Green Seal has also done work for the entertainment and hotel industries.

In the development of standards, Green Seal defines a product category, applies a life cycle approach, broadly solicits inputs, publishes a proposed standard for comment and focuses on functional performance criteria. It also has a Certification/Conformity Assessments program whereby it evaluates and tests products against a standard. If the product meets the standard, it is awarded a Green Seal certification, but the organization conducts ongoing monitoring.

Mr. Weissman pointed out that Green Seal maintains an open, transparent process involving widespread public review, an appeals process, and considering EPA, GEN, and ISO14000 principles and criteria. Green Seal, however, does not meet NTTA's definition because it develops leadership standards, which are not necessarily consensus standards. The problem is that, in most cases, the major players in a product category are not necessarily the leaders in environmental performance.

Speaker 4: Mary Engle, Assistant Director of Environmental Enforcement, Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Ms. Engle is Assistant Director of the Enforcement Division of the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Engle joined the FTC in 1990 as a staff attorney in the Division of Advertising Practices. She was lead attorney in the Commission's environmental marketing investigations, as well as in the Commission's guidelines for environmental marketing claims. While at the FTC, Ms. Engle has also served as Attorney-Advisor of the Commissioner Rask B. Stare, III, and as Assistant to the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. Prior to joining the FTC, she was in private practice in Washington, DC.

Ms. Engle reviewed FTC's Environmental Marketing Guides. She observed that implied claims can get marketers in trouble. For example, a claim of "no CFCs" implies no harm to the ozone layer, but if the product contains other ozone-depleting chemicals, a "no CFC" claim is deceptive.

FTC reviewed its guides this year and is still studying the portions of the guidance addressing claims of "recyclable" and "compostable." This review will be completed this Fall.

She emphasized that environmental seals of approval and claims of environmental preferability must be qualified. On third party seals, the basis of award must be disclosed. These claims are monitored by FTC, just like any other marketing claims. The advertiser is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Truth in Advertising law. She cautioned manufacturers not to just rely on third party certifiers; EPP claims must be substantiated. This requirement even extends to government supply catalogs such as those published by the General Services Administration. She specifically asked federal agencies to take responsibility for ensuring that their supply catalogs provide accurate and substantiated product information. She also mentioned a new booklet summarizing FTC's environmental guidance entitled Environmental Marketing Claims: A Message to Vendors from the EPA and the Federal Trade Commission. Copies of the FTC guides are available from the FTC web site [http://www.ftc.gov] under "Consumer Protection Rules and Guides." Copies can also be obtained by calling 202-326-2108. Information is also available from EPA's Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse (202-260-1023) or on EPA's web sites [http://www.epa.gov/oppt/p2home].

FTC staff encourages the public to bring suspected violations of the environmental marketing guides to their attention for investigation.

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