Local Firm Develops Rating System to Help Consumers

By Daniel Kurt
The Freeman, Waukesha, Wis.
Sept. 27, 2007

TOWN OF GENESEE, Wis. - Anyone searching for home improvement materials recently has likely noticed a proliferation of products -- from paints to cabinetry -- now marketed as "green."

But what that term exactly means is somewhat elusive, says Andy Pace, owner of Safe Buildings Solutions in the Town of Genesee.

"For some, ‘green’ means environmentally friendly, for others it means it’s healthy for their family, and for others it means energy efficient," Pace said.

As a result, Pace has developed a new "Degree of Green" rating system to educate consumers on how well a product meets their particular needs.

Manufacturers choosing to utilize the rating will carry a label on their packaging with three categories: health, sustainability and environment.

Each of those categories has a corresponding number -- a "1" indicates no unique benefits, whereas a "4" signifies excellence.

"They want to become educated so they can speak on (the same) level with the sales person," Pace said of today’s customers.

One of the first manufacturers to express interest in "Degree of Green" is AFM Safecoat, a California-based maker of nontoxic paints and wood finishes.

Company president Sam Goldberg said the only other rating systems out there are designed for commercial projects rather than residential materials.

They also define "green" narrowly, ignoring factors such as toxicity, he said.

Goldberg said the new, broader rating system is a way to cut down on what he calls “green washing” – products misrepresenting their benefits.

“In the ‘green’ product market, credibility is huge,” he said.

The review process
Pace enlisted two other home improvement experts to conduct the reviews of each product.

Lyn Falk is the founder of Solterra Studios in Thiensville, Wis., and executive producer of the “Healthy Style” show on public television.

The other consultant is Michael Fallarino, a builder, journalist and holistic counselor who lives in New York State.

“They have incredible experience in the industry,” Goldberg said.

Most of the information required to rate the materials, Pace noted, is available on the material safety data sheet printed by the manufacturer – although it’s often in a form that’s difficult for the average consumer to decipher.

“It looks like a foreign language to them,” he said.

The Degree of Green system puts those facts onto a label that’s easy to understand, he said.

The business model
Pace said he’s already received interest from several companies – including AFM Safecoat – that want their products to carry the label.

One of the advantages for manufacturers is that – unlike some certifications for commercial building materials – a “Degree of Green” rating costs them nothing.

For one, Pace said he doesn’t want to exclude companies that simply can’t afford to pay fees.

Instead, his group plans to charge a “small” licensing fee to manufacturers that utilize the rating as part of their marketing efforts.

They also intend to sell consumers and retailers compact disks that contain data on multiple building material companies, Pace said.

The entrepreneur hopes the rating system will one day become an industry standard that most “green” manufacturers will want to utilize.

For now, it looks like this segment of the market will only continue to grow.

“I have never seen a trend with this much momentum,” Pace said. “It’s rippling throughout the industry.”

(Freeman reporter Daniel Kurt can be reached at dkurt@conleynet.com. Originally published Sept. 27, 2007, The Freeman, Waukesha, Wis., www.gmtoday.com.)


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