• FAQs About GREENGUARD Sustainability Standards
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Click on one of the links below to jump to the specific section that most closely matches your area of interest, or scroll through the entire page to view questions from all sections.  If your question is not answered below please feel free to contact GEI by calling 800.427.9681 or e-mail us at info@greenguard.org

    General Questions about Indoor Air Quality

    Questions Regarding the GREENGUARD Certification Program

    Questions Regarding Indoor Air Quality and Schools

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    General Questions about Indoor Air Quality
    Why should you care?
    How does indoor air quality affect your health?
    What's that smell?
    What can you do?
    What type of products should I choose for use in my home?

    Why should you care?
    People spend over 90 percent of their time indoors where they may be exposed to thousands of airborne pollutants. Products and materials indoors release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particles into the air that may negatively affect human health or result in unacceptable odors. Inadequate ventilation, high temperatures and high humidity levels increase concentrations of some pollutants, leading to indoor air pollution levels up to 1000 times higher than those outdoors. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), the American Lung Association, the World Health Organization, and other public health and environmental organizations view indoor air pollution as one of the greatest risks to human health. Poor indoor air quality can lead to allergies, asthma, reproductive and developmental problems, and cancer.

    The economic impact of indoor air pollution is equally alarming. Poor indoor air quality can adversely affect employee health and productivity. The U.S. EPA has estimated these costs to U.S. businesses to be in the "tens of billions of dollars per year."  Improvements in the indoor air environment may substantially increase employee morale and productivity and reduce healthcare costs.

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    How does indoor air quality affect your health?
    People can experience health effects from indoor air pollutants soon after exposure or years later. Immediate effects include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Such immediate effects are usually short term and treatable. Indoor air pollution may also trigger symptoms of some diseases, including asthma, dermatitis, allergic rhinitis and hypersensitivity pneumonitis soon after exposure. More serious health effects may show up either years after exposure or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects include some respiratory diseases, heart disease, cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, and they can be severely debilitating or fatal.

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    What's that smell?
    Many complaints about the indoor environment are triggered by odors which can severely impair people’s quality of life and their work performance. Odors result from the presence of VOCs in the air, and these chemicals may or may not be hazardous at the levels present at the time of exposure. However, they do signal the presence of unacceptable air quality and may result in considerable concern and anxiety among building occupants.

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    What can you do?
    The best way to reduce indoor air pollution is to control the sources. The toxic emissions from many of these sources are not controlled or are only partially controlled by federal, state or local law. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency encourages voluntary standards, such as those set by GEI, to help establish federal, state or local regulations. The GREENGUARD Certification Program can help you find low-emitting interior products and building materials. Other helpful hints to reduce indoor air pollution include no smoking indoors; airing out the building when new materials are brought in; applying wet products such as paints and adhesives before the installation of dry products such as carpet and ceiling tile; using exhaust fans when cooking; avoiding use of fragranced materials, deodorizers, and aerosol sprays; and storing construction chemicals outside of the building.

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    What products should I choose for use in my home ?
    GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certified products are a good option for use in a home as they meet the most stringent standards offered by the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute.Ventilation rates are lower in homes than in schools or commercial spaces, so choosing the lowest emitting products available is especially important. 

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    Questions Regarding the GREENGUARD Certification Program

    Who can I contact for more information?
    What is the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI)?
    What is GREENGUARD Certification?
    Why is third-party certification important?
    What is involved in the GREENGUARD product certification process?
    What differentiates GREENGUARD Certification from other product certification programs?
    What criteria do products have to meet?
    Does GREENGUARD Certification meet the CA 1350 materials emissions specification?
    Why does GEI use TVOC as a product criterion?
    Can I get green building credits for GREENGUARD Certified products?
    How are products tested?
    What type of test data is obtained?
    How is the product compliance determined?
    What is GEI's relationship with its scientific partners?
    How do I receive more specific IAQ performance data on the product?
    How will I know when new products are certified and available on the product guide?
    How often does a manufacturer need to re-qualify a product?

    Who can I contact for more information?
    Please call 800.427.9681 or email us at info@greenguard.org for more information.

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    What is the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute?
    Founded in 2001, the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) is an industry independent, third-party, not-for-profit organization that oversees the GREENGUARD Certification Program. The GEI mission is to protect human health and quality of life through programs that reduce chemical exposure and improve indoor air quality.

    For more information, access About GEI

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    What is the GREENGUARD Certification Program?
    The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute is an industry independent, not-for-profit organization that provides and implements the voluntary third-party GREENGUARD Certification Program. The program currently includes two product certification types, GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification and GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certification.

    Both certifications qualify low-emitting  products through rigorous testing and ongoing verification. Certification is available to all interior product manufacturers and suppliers. All GREENGUARD Certified products carry a GREENGUARD Certification mark, and are listed in the free online GREENGUARD Product Guide.




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    Why is third-party certification important?
    Third-party certification verifies that a product, process or service meets defined, industry-independent criteria or standards, including verification and review by an impartial agent. Examples of third-party organizations include Green Seal, Eco Logo, GREENGUARD and the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC).

    First- or second-party certifications do not provide the marketplace with the confidence that the products, processes or services have been independently developed and verified.

    Second-party certification typically describes an industry-based association, which means an individual or organization belongs to an association that provides the standard, label, or set of criteria for certification.

    First-party certification is a self-declaration. This is when a company creates its own verification program, green label or certification.

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    What is involved in the GREENGUARD product certification process?
    Certification demands corporate commitment from a manufacturer to produce non-toxic low-emitting products on a consistent basis. Manufacturers work with one of GEI’s scientific partners to develop a certification plan for all products seeking certification. Various manufacturing reviews and material testing is conducted to establish representative certification categories. Once categories are certified, manufacturers participate in on-going quality monitoring and annual re-verification of product performance.  For more information please visit the Certification Programs section of the web site.

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    What differentiates GREENGUARD Certification from other product certification programs?

    GREENGUARD Certification programs prescribe to the most comprehensive t indoor air quality standards available including defined chemical and particle criteria. Certification requires accurate emissions testing, review of data according to indoor air quality standards and risk evaluations recommended and provided by key public health agencies, and ongoing product performance verification. GREENGUARD Certified products are tested and reviewed for more than 10,000 individual volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and required to meet stringent health-based emission levels for over 350 of these individual VOCs.

    Many programs either let manufacturers select representative sample products for testing or use materials lists to choose representative samples, GREENGUARD Certification uses a unique process based on materials science, manufacturing audits, supply chain review, and actual materials emissions testing to group products into categories in order to select truly representative test samples. This in-depth evaluation process conducted prior to certification testing ensures that product samples are the potentially highest emitting and actually represent the certified products.

    GREENGUARD Certification also employs the most rigorous testing requirements, including requiring most products to undergo annual re-certification testing and quarterly monitoring tests to safeguard against potential changes in the products or manufacturing. These ongoing stringent testing requirements provide assurance to customers who use GREENGUARD Certified products and help participating manufacturers monitor their supply chain and processes to avoid surprises when the annual re-certification test comes due.


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    What criteria do products have to meet?
    The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute offers various programs to certify products across multiple industries. The specific certification determines which criteria are to be met. Please visit the Certification Standards section of this web site to review specific program requirements, standards and performance requirements.

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    Does GREENGUARD Certification meet the California Section 01350 materials emissions specification?
    The answer is yes. GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certified products meet and exceed these requirements. The California Section 01350 specification was originally written on behalf of the California Sustainable Building Task Force for the design and construction of the state’s Capitol Area East End Complex in 2002 to 2003. Material testing for VOCs was a key element of this specification, requiring materials to meet exposure limits for VOCs with chronic reference exposure level (CREL) values. The material testing methodology and criteria became known as the “Standard Practice.”  GREENGUARD product handling, testing and analysis procedures have been harmonized with California Section 01350. In addition, any product certified within the GREENGUARD Children & Schools Program meets health-based criteria including one-half of the CRELs. All GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certified products meet these requirements and are recognized as suitable for use in Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) projects or any other building program recognizing California Section 01350.

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    Why does GEI use TVOC as a product criterion?
    While GREENGUARD Certification programs review products for more individual VOCs than any other product certification program, they also consider the sum of all VOCs released from a product which is reported as total volatile organic compound (TVOC). This includes chemicals for which government or public health organizations have not yet established acceptable criteria. The use of TVOC, as a certification criterion, minimizes the total amount of VOCs a product is allowed to emit. The use of TVOC further harmonizes GREENGUARD standards with global requirements, which also rely on this criterion.

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    Can I get green building credits for GREENGUARD Certified products?
    Yes, the GREENGUARD Certification programs are recognized and referenced in countless building rating programs, standards and specifications around the world. Low-emitting products that are GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified and/or GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certified contribute to the achievement of points in established green building rating programs, satisfy code or ordinance criteria and meet indoor air quality specific RFP requirements. Please visit the Recognized and Referenced page of this web site for additional resources. You can also find specific sustainable building program credits as search criteria in the GREENGUARD Product Guide.

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    How are products tested?
    Products are tested for emissions of formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), aldehydes, respirable particles, ozone and other pollutants using stringent environmental chamber protocols. Specific measurements may vary based on the requirements of the specific certification program and type of product. Testing takes place in dynamic environmental chambers designed to simulate product use in typical indoor environments. Environmental chamber operation and testing protocols follow scientific principles established by the US Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and its Environmental Technology Verification Program, the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM), the state of Washington, Germany's Federal Environment Agency (Blue Angel Program), and other applicable government or industry programs. For technical details, visit the Testing Procedures as presented in the Technical Center of this web site.

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    What type of test data is obtained?
    Newly manufactured products are delivered for testing within a few days of being manufactured. They are packaged, sealed and shipped to an accredited GREENGUARD scientific partner where testing begins within seven days of receipt. This rapid process ensures that the highest possible emissions are monitored. Pollutant emissions are generally higher for freshly manufactured products and are found to decrease with time. Products are tested in dynamic environmental chambers for specific pollutants over a period of one week or longer, so that emission profiles are monitored. Product specific emission rates are measured and are then used to determine exposure concentrations in microgram per cubic meter (µg/m³) or parts-per-billion (ppb). For most products, data is obtained for formaldehyde and other aldehydes, individual volatile organic compounds (VOCs), total VOCs (TVOC), and respirable particles. Additional gases, such as ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide may be monitored for electronic equipment and processes.

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    How is the product compliance determined?
    Exposure concentrations are compared against specific pollutant standards for each product type. All construction materials, furnishings and furniture must meet these standard levels within a 7 to 14 day period. This allows for typical off gassing and decay of pollutants associated with newly manufactured products. Office equipment and certain indoor processes must meet pollutant requirements immediately upon operation.

    In general, all products found to meet the GREENGUARD Certification standards will contribute only minimal levels of pollutants to the indoor environment. These standards are subject to change to accommodate changes in international, federal and state regulations.

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    What is the relationship between the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute and its scientific partners?
    The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) is an industry independent, not-for-profit organization that offers third-party certification. Its scientific partners, who are experts in indoor air quality, toxicology, testing, building studies and product manufacturing, assist in program development of standards and methodologies, and provide testing and review. Presently, there are three scientific partners, including Air Quality Sciences, Inc. (United States), Bureau VERITAS Consumer Product Services (United States) and TÜV Rheinland LGA (Germany). Administration and monitoring of the GREENGUARD Certification Program remains solely with GEI.

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    How do I receive more performance data on the product?
    A manufacturer may be contacted for more complete product data. The contact will have complete certification reports and certification compliance certificates showing that the products meet the specific GREENGUARD criteria. Certificates of Compliance are publicly available and can also be downloaded from the GREENGUARD Product Guide on this web site.

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    How will I know when new products are certified?
    The GREENGUARD Product Guide will be updated on the GEI web site as new certified products become available. Announcements of additions will also be noted in the GREENGUARD e-newsletter. To sign up please click here.

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    How often does a manufacturer need to re-qualify a product?
    The GREENGUARD Certification programs require on-going product verification, including quarterly quality monitoring of material and components for complex certification categories and annual re-certification. Product formulation and manufacturing process changes are reviewed and evaluated to ensure that the product meets the certification requirements.


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    Questions Regarding Indoor Air Quality and Schools

    Why is indoor air pollution a problem?
    What are volatile organic compounds or VOCs?
    How big of a problem is indoor air pollution in schools?
    Are school buildings unique with respect to indoor air quality?
    What are the health effects of poor indoor air quality?
    Does indoor air quality in schools affect asthma?
    What are the sources of indoor air pollution in schools?
    What pollutants are most commonly found in the indoor air of school buildings?
    What can be done to address and prevent indoor air quality problems?
    Is there a list of indoor air quality certified products?
    Will indoor air quality certified products cost more?

    Why is indoor air pollution a problem?
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S.EPA) calls indoor air pollution "one of the greatest risks to human health." Indoor air can be as much as 100 times more polluted than outside air. Possible health effects of poor indoor air quality include irritation, allergies, asthma, cancer as well as reproductive and developmental problems. Most products used indoors, such as furnishings, construction materials, consumer products and cleaners, release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. Many of these indoor pollutants are known to cause cancer, such as formaldehyde, benzene and radon, or are likely to cause cancer, such as certain pesticides, chlorinated solvents and aldehydes.

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    What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?
    Volatile organic compounds are chemicals used to manufacture and maintain building materials, interior furnishings, cleaning products and personal care products. "Volatile" means that at room temperature these chemicals evaporate or can easily get into the air. That makes them an indoor air concern. Studies by the U.S. EPA and other researchers have found that VOCs are common in indoor environments and that their levels may be ten to thousands of times higher indoors than outdoors. There may be anywhere from 50 to hundreds of individual VOCs in the indoor air of a building. Many VOCs are irritants and can cause headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation, and dizziness. Long-term exposure to certain VOCs may lead to chronic diseases or cancer. At high concentrations, some VOCs are toxic.

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    How big of a problem is indoor air pollution in schools?
    According to the U.S. EPA, 20 percent of the US population spends most of their time in more than 120,000 public and private schools. Many of the school buildings are in poor condition, and the state of their indoor environments often inhibit learning and pose elevated health risks for children and teachers. The U.S. EPA estimates that one-half of U.S. schools have indoor air quality problems. Children are at greater risk to develop health problems due to poor indoor air quality, because they are more susceptible to pollutants than adults and they spend the majority of their time in school or daycare facilities.

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    Are school buildings unique with respect to indoor air quality?
    Schools have unique characteristics that make them more of a concern than other types of buildings. A typical school can have four times as many occupants as an office building for the same amount of floor space, leading to much greater occupant density. New classrooms may be built or classrooms may be divided without considering the ventilation system. Most schools, whether public or private, are usually strapped for funds, which often leads to fast, cheap construction with high potential for building defects and few considerations for indoor air quality and future chemical exposure.

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    What are the health effects of poor indoor air quality?
    Health problems that may result from poor indoor air quality in schools include headaches, nasal congestion, breathing problems, eyes, nose and throat irritation, coughing, rashes and many other problems depending on the type of chemical. Chemicals have also been linked to asthma, developmental effects, and cancer. Molds and allergens can lead to respiratory illnesses, trigger allergy or asthma attacks and worsen allergy and asthma symptoms.

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    Does indoor air quality in schools affect asthma?

    Yes. Asthma rates among children are reaching alarming numbers. One in 13 children suffers from asthma - 8.7 percent or 6.8 million children in the year 2001 compared with 3.6 percent in 1980. This means more than double the rate of children suffers from asthma than two decades before. While the specific reasons for this increase are still unknown, exposure to specific allergens, volatile chemicals and strong odors are known to trigger asthma and other respiratory symptoms. Environmental asthma triggers commonly found in school buildings are cockroaches and other pests, mold resulting from excess moisture in the building, animal dander and dust mite allergens. Children suffering from asthma are also affected by VOCs emitting from sources such as cleaning agents, dry-erase markers, furnishings, building materials and personal hygiene products.



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    What are the sources of indoor air pollution in schools?
    There are numerous sources of indoor air pollutants in schools and daycare facilities, due to the wide variety of activities that occur (and often occur concurrently). The most significant sources for VOCs are products and materials, such as furniture, flooring, insulation, paints, as well as products and processes used to clean and maintain them. Cleaning products, building maintenance and renovation activities significantly contribute to indoor air pollution in schools.

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    What pollutants are most commonly found in the indoor air of school buildings?
    Over years of testing and indoor air analysis the following chemicals have been found measured frequently in schools and childcare facilities:
    · Toluene, Xylene - common solvents used in many products
    · Cleaning chemicals - alcohols and glycols, also limonene and pinene
    · Propellants in aerosol sprays (Isopentane, Isobutene)
    · Phthalates from plasticizers
    · Ketones such as MIBK - Methyl Isobutylketone from dry-erase markers
    · Personal care products
    · Formaldehyde from wood products, such as furniture and shelving, and art supplies
    · Combustion gases
    Many schools experience indoor air quality problems due to mold growth, caused by excessive moisture, humidity or water intrusion problems.

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    What can be done to address and prevent indoor air quality problems?
    The following are some strategies:
    · Select low-emitting, non-toxic products and materials wherever possible when furnishing, renovating or
      constructing a school building.
    · Schedule cleaning and maintenance activities during off hours wherever possible.
    · Establish an indoor air quality operations and maintenance program to track and respond to complaints; to
      train appropriate staff in early detection of problems as well as prevention and corrective measures; and to
      establish good communications channels including staff, administration, faculty, and parents; and to document
      all of the above. Periodic inspections by staff or outside consultants are an important preventive step.
    · Monitor indoor air pollutants and their sources (or potential sources) periodically to assure they are under
      control. It is not realistic to think they can be eliminated entirely. Monitoring includes visual inspection as well
      as air and dust sampling and analysis to measure the levels of pollutants.

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    Is there a list of all certified products?
    Yes, the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute provides a free online product guide that lists third-party certified low-emitting products and materials suitable for use in schools and other indoor environments. The GREENGUARD Product Guide is a valuable resource for consumers, architects, designers, specifiers, contractors and procurement professionals.

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    Will indoor air quality certified products cost more?
    Typically there is not cost premium associated with selecting certified products. Most manufacturers improve on their standard products to ensure their indoor air quality performance. However, a few manufacturers only offer certain product types or configurations as low-emitting.

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