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Companies define what it means to be green

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As long as the definition of green depends upon who is giving it, companies relying on vinyl for their livelihoods may face a response to the word “plastics” similar to the one uttered by Dustin Hoffman’s character in the classic film, The Graduate: “Just how do you mean that, sir?”

“We have been working on that one,” says CEO Pete McKernan when asked how Herculite Products defines green. “We got into this several years ago as a strategic initiative. There are so many definitions. What is biodegradable? The number of definitions we came across was quite surprising. We’re looking for an authoritative definition … Is there a ‘light green’ and a ‘dark green’?”

McKernan, who chairs the Industrial Fabrics Association International’s nonprofit research foundation, believes a standard definition would help companies and consumers answer that question. “I have challenged [the Industrial Fabrics Foundation board] to think about this very idea,” he says.

Recognizing the confusion resulting from varied definitions of green, the Healthy Building Network (HBN) is working on what it calls the Pharos Project, a “navigational aid” to guide consumers toward green products. The HBN claims the evaluation of materials will involve architects, designers, specifiers and purchasers, but it doesn’t include manufacturers and suppliers.

“We need to realize that we take things in incremental steps; that green means we are trying to use things and produce things in a greener way with our processes that are better than before, that are a bit more friendly to the environment, and have business practices that are better than before,” says Lynn Krinsky, owner of Stella Color, Wash. Though she is dedicated to green printing processes and the use of recycled materials wherever possible, she says, “Form and function really need to come first.

“Green does not mean that you spend money 15 times making a sign that you could have made once,” Krinsky says. “People seem to think that you can flip a switch and everything is all green. Nothing is all green until man is no longer on Earth.”

McKernan holds a more optimistic view-one of green-product development.

“We are excited about that part of the future,” he says. “I think that’s needed technology, and we think it’s going to happen in the future. That’s a fun spot to be in when you are in business: where the innovations are.”

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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