five non blondes

The Pharos Project
June 22, 2008, 1:51 pm
Filed under: design, environmental issues | Tags:


Finding green materials & products is one of the biggest hurdles for designers & consumers in general. A group called the Pharos Project has been working diligently to solve that problem. I had the privilege of hearing one of the founders, Tom Lent, speak at a USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) meeting a week or so ago. Apparently, the whole thing started with a casual discussion at another USGBC meeting a few years back. Designers & Architects were complaining about the market, all the greenwashing, and how even if a product says its green, you don’t really know what that means. A few napkin sketches later and the pharos project was born.

It’s not in use yet. They’ve been developing this for awhile, because they want to make sure they get it right. They’ll be doing some testing with private companies this summer, doing beta testing in the fall, and ideally launching early next year, from what I understand.

It’s meant to be the most comprehensive green review of products out there. All products are rated on a scale from 1-10, in 16 categories, which are divided up into 3 sectors: Health & Pollution, Environment & Resources, & Social & Community. It’s all represented on an easy to read circular chart that gives you a good idea about all aspects of the product at a quick glance. There are many other green material rating systems being developed right now that cover some of these categories, but most leave out Social & Community. This sector includes some vital things like the occupational safety of employees of the company, consumer safety, fairness & equity, community contributions, & corporate leadership.

All the information is gathered from questionnaires the manufacturers themselves fill out, plus third party certifications like energy star & green guard. They even have a percentage next to each category showing their confidence level in the rating. i.e. If the only information available is from the manufacturer, their confidence level would be much lower. There are also forums where you can argue the rating if you disagree.

The entire database is stored online and seems to be incredibly user friendly (at least in theory). You’re able to filter your searches and prioritize categories. For example, if you only want to see products with good air quality ratings. Or, you can filter all products with ratings in all categories of 3 and above.

I can’t wait for this to get launched. I was so impressed by Tom. He seemed to be so genuine in his desire to create a good tool and help fill that need in the industry. It wasn’t about money or the green trend. You could tell this was something he believed in and that he had put a lot of thought into. I think it could be incredibly helpful and really streamline the entire design process. I’m hoping that eventually it could be extended to all products on the market. Maybe it could even become part of a required label on the packaging. Manufacturers would be held directly accountable and with all the information out there and in people’s faces, I have a feeling that bad behavior would start changing quickly.



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