Green Business
On July 2016, Green Seal issued an Environmental Leadership Standard for Architectural Insulation Materials. Below, you can read summaries of our research, review our definition of "green" insulation, and learn about the benefits of designing, purchasing, and installing Green Seal-certified insulation.
What others are saying about our new standard, GS-54:
"...the most comprehensive guide to date for choosing products with the lowest potential to damage
human health and the environment."
- Green Building Advisor, Green Seal Publishes a New Insulation Standard.

Environmental Leadership in Today's Insulation Market

Above are the major requirements of Green Seal's Insulation Standard. To learn how these requirements were developed, read through the sections below.

Health and Environmental Impacts of Insulation

Throughout 2015 and 2016, Green Seal's researchers dived into the complex market of insulation. One of the first research steps we conducted was to map the environmental and health impacts of a variety of insulation products. This research is briefly summarized below. To review reports with the full research, visit the GS-54 Standard Development page.

  • Effective Performance - Energy Saved
  • Energy Used During Manufacturing
  • Global Warming Effects - Blowing Agents
  • Use of Natural Resources
  • Health Hazards During Installation
  • Additional Protections for SPF
  • Hazardous Substances
  • Flame Retardants
Effective Performance - Energy Saved
nsulation's main function, heat-flow resistance, provides an environmental benefit: energy efficiency. In other words, choosing effective insulation and correctly installing it in a building leads directly to environmental improvements. The more efficient our buildings, the less energy we spend on heating and cooling which leads to the reduced use of fossil fuels and lower rates of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. Effective insulation products save hundreds of times the energy that was used during their production. If an insulation product doesn't function as well as it claims, or if it becomes easily waterlogged or falls apart after just a few years, it may actually waste energy. For that reason, Green Seal has included specific performance requirements and installation requirements in our Insulation Standard. For example, insulation products must demonstrate that they perform to industry specifications, meet fire codes, and have proved the validity of other claims such as durability, weight-bearing strength, and moisture-resistance.

Energy Used During the Manufacturing Process
All products require energy to be consumed during different phases - raw material extraction, transportation, or manufacturing, for example. The amount of energy expended for all of these processes combined is referred to as a product's "embodied energy." Manufacturers and green building analysts estimate this value in order to set benchmarks for energy savings, and that value can also help purchasers who are seeking products with low environmental impacts. For example, a homeowner most concerned about embodied energy may choose to purchase cellulose insulation (made from old newspapers) instead of plastic foam (fossil fuel-based) and forego the higher insulation efficiency. Unfortunately, there is no single standardized way to quantify the embodied energy of one specific insulation product because the manufacturing processes are complex and may change frequently. Since we are unable to accurately measure this impact, Green Seal has not included a requirement for a minimum embodied energy in the Insulation Standard.

Global Warming - Blowing Agents

Foam insulation (polystyrene, polyurethane, and polyisocyanurate) requires blowing agents - gases that are injected into the plastic raw material. The pressure from the gas expands the plastic into a fluffy solid shape and is captured in the foam's tiny bubbles. Certain types of gases are used as blowing agents because they make the foam a more effective insulator. In the past, the blowing agents that were used in foam insulation were potent greenhouse gases. The industry has greatly improved over the past thirty years, but there are still some products that incorporate blowing agents that contribute significantly to global warming. In our Insulation Standard, leadership products are defined as those that use blowing agents with a Global Warming Potential of no more than 25. We have provided an exemption for the product category XPS (extruded polystyrene foams) because that industry in the US still depends on a certain blowing agent with a Global Warming Potential of 1400; Green Seal's exemption expires in 2019.

Use of Natural Resources
All physical products consume natural resources when they are manufactured. For example, fiberglass is made from sand, rock wool is made from minerals, foam products are made from fossil fuels (like all plastics), and cellulose is made from old newspapers. Manufacturers can limit their use of natural resources by incorporating recycled materials. Not only does this prevent the additional mining or extraction of raw materials, it also reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. For this reason, you see products of all types (such as paper, packaging, carpets, and paints) made from recycled materials. In the Insulation Standard, Green Seal has set specific recycled content requirements for most types of insulation materials; these requirements are based on percentages. For example, fiberglass insulation products must be made of 40% recycled content.  

Health Hazards During Installation and Use

The majority of insulation products pose minimal health hazards to workers and building occupants. Most products are manufactured in a controlled setting where hazardous chemicals are carefully and safely handled. By the time the product has been transported to the construction site, there are only a few possible health risks, which can be minimized when workers use protective equipment. Examples of these risks are: skin irritation from touching the fibers of fiberglass or rock wool with bare skin, and respiratory irritation from inhaling dust that is created when some types of insulation are blown in or being cut and fitted into a tight area. Several types of insulation emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which may be harmful when they are inhaled. In the Insulation Standard, Green Seal requires VOC emissions to meet the requirements of California Specification 1350 for the appropriate setting (residential, school, or office).

Health Considerations for Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF)

SPF currently provides the highest R-value per inch of all insulation products, and there are no alternatives offered in the market that provide the same functions. Of the products included in Green Seal's Insulation Standard, SPF is the only one that is created at the project site by mixing and immediately applying chemicals to a surface. Faulty installation can prevent SPF from working properly and can pose serious risks to installers and building occupants due to the potential release of MDI, an asthma-causing chemical. MDI is essential for the functionality of spray foam and no safer substitutes are commercially available.

The few known cases of health effects caused by SPF are well understood and were due to improper installation. When the product is correctly mixed and the foam is fully cured, SPF is considered to be inert and may release MDI only in the extremely rare occurrence of temperatures above 250 ºC. Due to the significant environmental benefits of this product and the known, manageable risks, Green Seal opted to include SPF in this standard in order to provide a leadership option to purchasers.

To reduce the risk of faulty installations, Green Seal has restricted our certification to SPF products that are accessible only to professional installers. Additionally, Green Seal requires manufacturers to provide detailed training materials that cover a wide range of technical and safety procedures to promote safer, effective installation of SPF by professional installers.

Hazardous Substances
So far, no insulation product is free of hazardous substances because some of those chemicals provide useful functions in the product, for example: adhesives and binders, flame retardants, and pesticides. Insulation products must be durable, long lasting, and fire resistant in order to provide the greatest benefits to a building. The current set of hazardous substances that are incorporated into insulation are generally less toxic than the previous generations of chemicals, so we are making progress. However, there are some hazardous chemicals that have safer substitutes but still used in insulation materials. In Green Seal's Insulation Standard, we have set specific prohibitions on certain chemicals and classes of chemicals such as carcinogens and reproductive toxins. For example, a Green Seal-certified insulation product will not be formulated with formaldehyde, certain heavy metals, the flame retardant HBCD, and certain harmful pesticides. To define the classes of chemicals that are not allowed in certified products, Green Seal references legitimate sources such as the UN's Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and California's Proposition 65.   

Additional Environmental Impacts
There are many other possible environmental impacts which cannot be accurately quantified or evaluated, such as the impacts of industrial waste from the manufacturing processes and discarded insulation that sit in landfills. Many manufacturers are taking steps to reduce these impacts. For our standards, Green Seal focuses on the most significant impacts that can be measured and evaluated. Green Seal standards are the backbone of our certification process; the requirements must be clear and provide an unambiguous "pass/fail" result for applicants undergoing the review process. As technologies evolve to better control these environmental impacts, and as manufacturers take additional steps to improve their products, Green Seal may consider updating the Insulation Standard in the future to reflect these shifts and improvements.   

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The Case for Certification

Green Seal certification provides a clear and accurate assessment of a product's environmental leadership. Green Seal has certified thousands of products over the past thirty years. In 2015, we made the decision to develop an Insulation Standard.

Why Insulation?

Green Seal chose insulation as a category for this new standard because we were able to identify a wide range of products - from conventional options to environmental leaders. We also recognized a strong demand for greener insulation products from architects, green builders, and consumers. Beyond a range of selection and strong interest for choosing safer, healthier products, Green Seal's researchers also observed confusion about green claims in the market.

Green Claims on Insulation Products are Scattered and Vague
"Formaldehyde-Free"   " Low VOC"    "Contains a minimum percentage of post-consumer recycled content"
There are a wide variety of insulation options, from conventional products to those that boast green claims. Green claims may demonstrate positive steps that an industry is taking, however, oftentimes these claims are not verified by an independent party, and they may also be only a small piece of the story. Highlighting an insignificant environmental benefit can in fact be a deceptive marketing practice.

Purchasers Need a Simpler Process for Finding Leadership Products

Green Product Awards - EPDs and HPDs - Lists of Ingredients
Purchasers in the construction and building industries have been vocal about their interest in choosing greener insulation - insulation that is healthier for workers and building occupants, and insulation that has a lower environmental footprint. Hundreds of web pages exist online that are tools for finding "green" insulation. However, these tools tend to be complicated, confusing, overly-technical, or may be biased. Green Seal certification provides a simple and clear option for purchasers. As a third-party, we provide an unbiased assessment. Our requirements are clearly outlined in the Insulation Standard. In addition to environmental and health requirements, such as prohibited chemicals and recycled content, Green Seal requires performance testing and ensures that the product user can easily and thoroughly understand steps for safe installation.

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Developing the Insulation Standard

In mid-2015, Green Seal announced the focus of our 32nd standard: Architectural Thermal Insulation Materials. We began the Standard Development Process, based on international ecolabeling guidelines. Learn more about our decision-making process below.

Initial Research
Green Seal's research starts by defining a product's function. How is the product useful, and in what specific ways, and how is that performance evaluated? Next, we identify hazards. What part of this product poses risk to humans, the atmosphere, or wildlife? We also identify aspects of environmental leadership; in other words, what environmental improvements do certain products offer that set them apart from conventional products? For example, some products have incorporated recycled content, have limited their packaging, or have been formulated with safer ingredients. We then consider if any of these environmental leadership benefits may compromise or reduce the performance of the product.

Choosing Challenging Yet
Attainable Requirements
The goal of our research is to develop a set of stipulations that define a product that is effective and significantly safer and healthier for humans and the environment. The criteria in our standards usually consist of product performance evaluations, lists of chemicals or chemical classes that are not allowed in the product, ways in which packaging waste must be minimized, and ways in which the product must be labeled to ensure that any precautionary safety statements and symbols are visible and understandable. These requirements pose a challenge to manufacturers - to offer a product that is effective and provides a wide range of environmental improvements, when compared to conventional products.  The leadership products currently on the market should be able to attain Green Seal certification without a major reformulation or major changes to their manufacturing processes. In other words, our goal is to demonstrate the current state of environmental leadership and to help distinguish those leaders through our certification.

Identifying Exemptions
In some cases, there is a conflict between performance and leadership, and a tough decision must be made. For example, in some cases, a harmful ingredient, which does not have a substitute, is vital to the function of the product. In this case, when there is no better substitute and the risk to humans and the environment is limited, we will include an exemption, which means that the ingredient will not be prohibited. Even with exemptions, Green Seal-certified products exceed US regulatory requirements and represent safer, healthier, and greener alternatives to conventional products on the market.

Filling in the Gaps, Gathering Feedback from Experts
Although Green Seal conducts thorough research by reviewing market literature and scientific journals, there is critical information that can only be provided by industry experts, manufacturers, consultants, raw material suppliers, product evaluation laboratories, and public health experts. We have gained vital information through phone calls and in-person meetings with dozens of individuals who supported the standard development process and are dedicated to defining environmental leadership on today's insulation market. One major way that stakeholders provide support is by commenting on our Draft Standard, Rationale, and Technical Review. Green Seal reviews the submitted comments and makes any necessary changes to the standard before issuing the first edition. When we issue the standard, Green Seal also publishes a Response to Comment that documents our decision-making process and directly responds to the submitted feedback.

The groups and individuals below provided valuable comments on the Draft Standard.

  American Chemistry Council 
Aye Open Outcomes
BlueGreen Alliance 
BuildingGreen, Inc. 
California Department of Public Health/Public Health Institute DCAT 
EPS Industry Alliance
Fire Science and Technology Inc. 
Google Inc. 
Green Science Policy Institute 
Healthy Building Network 
Healthy Schools Network 
Independent Kaiser Permanente
Kingspan Insulation 
Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Michigan State University 
National Environmental Health Association 
Nu Wool Company Inc 
Occupational Health Clinical Centers 
Oregon Environmental Council 
Owens Corning Sustainability
Paul Wermer 
Sustainability Consulting
R&D Services, Inc. 
Reflectix, Inc. 
Responsible Purchasing Network 
Siegel & Strain Architects 
Sierra Club 
TEGNOS Research, Inc. 
WA State Department of Labor and Industries 
Wight & Co 
ZGF Architects LLP
Publishing the Standard, Certifying Products
After reviewing the comments and feedback from the individuals and groups, Green Seal makes the hard choices, and finalize the standard and issue the first edition. The Standard for Insulation was issued on July 26, 2016.

Manufacturers are now invited to submit an application to get their insulation products certified.

Please check back in a few months to stay updated on the available certified insulation products.

Other Resources

GS-54 Standard, Edition 1.0

Standard Summary          

                         Response to Comments
                         The Development of GS-54 

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How You Can Get Involved

Manufacturers - Highlight Your Leadership: Purchasers and buyers are looking for greener, safer options. Prove that your products are environmental leaders by applying for Green Seal certification. Fill out an initial application here.

Institutional Purchasers - Specify Green Seal-Certified Insulation: Your institution seeks to provide healthier, safer buildings for your staff. Ensure that your contractors are using effective, greener insulation by specifying Green Seal-certified insulation in your bids and RFP announcements. Need support drafting this language? Contact

Buyers - Ask for Greener Insulation: As the Insulation Standard was published in July 2016, it will be several months before manufacturers apply and certified products are available in stores. You can encourage your favorite brands to prove their environmental leadership. Contact the manufacturer and ask them to apply for Green Seal certification. 

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