Recently, both the New York Times and Washington Post posted articles that raised several important questions for consumers seeking “green” products in the marketplace.  Congress is also weighing on the issue.  Recently, a group of US representatives sent a letter to Rick Fedrizzi, President and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, indicating their concern with the changes to the LEED rating system. The letter addresses LEED’s exclusive choice of FSC certified products and that 90% of FSC certified lands are located outside of the United States.  Both news articles and the congressional letter indicate that environmental certification standards can sometimes confuse more than clarify, and they can possibly mislead well-intentioned consumers and businesses who purchase green products.  Whether one type of certification benefits the environment more than another, and whether the benefits outweigh the costs to retailers and consumers, deserves a thorough examination.

In the coming weeks, we will explore the issue of third-party certification of “green” products and its benefits and costs to consumers.  The ongoing debate between The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the two most common certification programs in North America, translates directly to the consumer frustration and costs.  On one hand, SFI-certified lands outnumber those of the FSC in the U.S, but some environmental groups, green rating schemes and government policies favor the FSC.  The differences in these approaches can produce differences in consumer costs.  The prices of wood, toilet paper and building exteriors and interiors remain subject to supply and demand, as well as policies at the local, state and federal levels of government.  These prices convey the costs of complying with certification standards and audits, and transporting products across large distances.  Given the importance of preventing deforestation, as well as encouraging consumers to use safer and more environmentally-friendly products, public policies need to be mindful of the cost of certification versus the benefits, in order to improve total social welfare. 

Going forward, we will attempt to quantify the costs and other differences of certified products, so consumers of wood and paper products can make better and more responsible decisions.