30 Years Strong: A Look at Green Seal and Ecolabelling


If you follow us on social media, you probably already know that Green Seal is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month. Because anniversaries are a natural time to reflect, we’ve been looking back at our history and the role Green Seal has played in the wider story of the sustainability movement. We’ve also been digging into our archives to unearth public service announcements and news clips from our early years (preppy outfits included), and to reveal key moments where we catalyzed economy-wide shifts toward safer, greener products.  

You can see it all in our new interactive timeline, here

It is stunning to remember that just 50 years ago, there were no legal limits on how much pollution companies could dump into communities. Then, a burning river, a major oil spill, and growing unease about worsening air quality spurred a nationwide uprising that prompted the creation of the EPA and an era of environmental regulation. 

This combination of public demand and government action drove big strides in cleaning up some of the heaviest sources of toxic air and water pollution in America. But by 1990, it was clear that government regulation alone could not adequately address critical global challenges like climate change, water shortages and natural resource depletion. The world needed a new era of action by businesses, institutions and consumers on everything from energy and water efficiency to greening the supply chain, to creating healthier, greener spaces in which to work, learn and play.  

To meet these needs, environmental leaders largely turned their attention toward voluntary market-transformation initiatives that have created the basis of a new brand of environmentalism – Sustainability.  

When Green Seal launched in 1989, there was nothing like it in the United States: a non-profit organization committed to independently verifying sustainable products. Environmental movement leader Denis Hayes signed on as our first Chair and CEO, two decades after organizing the first Earth Day. The New York Times, the L.A. Times, Time Magazine and other major outlets covered Green Seal’s launch as a critical moment in the burgeoning green consumer movement – and it was.  

Thirty years later, Green Seal has driven transformational change in the definition of and demand for sustainable products.  Each year, Green Seal standards and certified products save millions of metric tons of C02 emissions; hundreds of thousands of pounds of VOC pollution; and half a billion pounds of organochloride pollution – and that’s just a partial list.  

More than 7 million children reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals and asthma triggers every day because they attend schools cleaned with Green Seal certified cleaning products. And more than 120 million square feet of office space, hospitals and other commercial spaces are significantly safer for occupants because of Green Seal’s paints and coatings standard.  

The sustainability movement today has evolved beyond product ecolabeling to new frontiers like zero-waste, circularity, social equity and health and wellness – all areas Green Seal is capturing in our new standards, programs and initiatives.  

Even as we appreciate all that we have achieved in 30 years, anniversaries are also a time to look ahead. As we consider our path for the next 30 years, we are keeping some key values in mind:

We are doubling down on making it simple for consumers to make healthier, greener choices. We will be even more clear that Green Seal-certified means no carcinogens, no mutagens, no reproductive toxins, and a deep-dive look at the product’s sustainability from raw materials extraction all the way to packaging.  

We are invested in a new, service-oriented model that recognizes that none of our achievements would be possible without our partners.  It is their commitment to and investment in green chemistry and innovation that transforms our ambitious standards from an academic exercise into scientific breakthroughs that make their way into the products people use every day.  

We are committed to expanding our impact in the marketplace. From our Formula Facts ingredient labels, to our Environmental Innovation program, to powerful new partnerships in the works, we will continue to invest in market transformation initiatives that bring Green Seal’s certified products, services and expertise to an even wider audience.

As we look back at where we started, one thing is clear: The ecolabeling movement that Green Seal pioneered is flourishing today, driven by a rising tide of consumer demand for more sustainable products, especially among those who are now steering the economy. A full 78 percent of Millennials believe sustainability is important and say they make sustainable choices – higher than any generation before them. 

Millennials face a very different challenge to that of the 1989 green consumer: they have too many ecolabels to navigate. Today, there are meaningless ecolabels that allow companies to self-certify, and single-attribute ecolabels that examine only one product feature and ignore other significant environmental impacts. Thirty years after we started this movement, people still want to know what is good from an authority they can trust.  And that’s still Green Seal.  

We’ll be celebrating key moments in our history and the impressive achievements of our partners for the rest of the year. Be sure to tune in on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn. Thank you for joining us on the journey to a healthier, greener planet. We’re looking forward to the amazing things we can do together over the next 30 years – starting now. 

Doug Gatlin

Doug Gatlin is CEO of Green Seal.