California Non-Profit Formed to Certify the Sustainability of Products
On May 20, 2010, Google held a public event at its headquarters in Mountain View, California to announce the launch of the non-profit, the Green Products Innovation Institute (GPII). Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, several top Google executives, and other notables attended the event. The Institute was formed to help companies comply with California’s Green Chemistry Initiative, as well as to advance the safety and sustainability of consumer products generally. The Institute will certify products meeting certain criteria and will provide a publicly-accessible database to help companies identify alternatives to chemicals of potential concern.
GPII appears to enjoy the support of California regulators and several large companies, and its work programs are responsive to current market demands, so readers of this blog may want to follow GPII and its initiatives. Whether the Institute will succeed in accomplishing its larger goals or instead merely implement a program with niche appeal remains to be seen. Further details about GPII are set out below.
GPII will use the so-called “cradle-to-cradle” (C2C) framework developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) to establish a rating system. Products meeting the rating system’s criteria will receive the Institute’s C2C certification mark, indicating that the product has been designed or re-designed for sustainability. GPII will train assessors, called “Licensed Assessment Partners (LAPs),” to assist companies in complying with protocol and meeting the ratings criteria, but also to advise on compliance with California’s Green Chemistry regulations. LAPs will submit their product assessments to GPII for review and approval before the Institute will issue the C2C certifications.
The C2C framework is intended to reduce waste through innovative product design. The goal is to enable product components and end-of-life products to be capable of use as raw materials for other products or as nutrients for ecosystems. The framework has five criteria that GPII’s rating system will build upon. Products will be evaluated for compliance with criteria in each of the following categories: (1) safe and appropriately sourced materials; (2) material reutilization; (3) renewable energy; (4) access to and release of abundant, clean water; and (5) social responsibility. After the GPII has rated a product and issued the C2C certification, the Institute will continue to work with a company to identify opportunities for improvement across each of the five categories.
In addition to its product certification, GPII is developing a database that tracks product chemical data and also creates a list of “positive” alternative chemicals, materials, and processes. According to GPII’s website, the database is intended to help companies reformulate or retool to create new products and to augment the Toxics Information Clearinghouse being developed by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) as part of California’s Green Chemistry Initiative. DTSC and the California Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA) have expressed interest in using the database to help provide stakeholders with data on the toxicity characteristics of chemicals and materials used in products.
The database will be compiled from information companies share with the Institute about the chemicals and materials, along with manufacturing processes, used to produce their products. The database will be partially proprietary, and partially collaborative and public. The proprietary portion consists of a detailed review of the makeup of a product. The characteristics of individual chemicals and materials, disassociated from product formulations, will become public. It’s not clear from GPII’s website whether receipt of the C2C product certification will be conditioned on reaching an agreement to publicly share data.
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Additional information about GPII is available here.