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What Does GREENGUARD Gold Certified Mean?

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More than ever before, consumers are waking up to the profound impact their purchases have — not just on their homes, but on their health and well-being.  As rooms fill with furniture, they also fill with questions: “Will it introduce toxins to my home? Is this safe for my child and my family?   Is it sustainable for the environment?”

In a perfect world, every piece of furniture — whether it’s a sofa where family memories are made or a crib where an infant peacefully dreams — would be safe, toxin-free, and eco-friendly.  In reality, that’s not always true.  Even that new furniture smell could be your new couch or bed frame off-gassing, releasing harmful toxins into your home.

With many of us spending a significant portion of our time indoors, the need for certifications like GREENGUARD Gold Certified are more important than ever.

But what does a GREENGUARD Gold Certification really mean?  And why does it matter in our purchase decisions?  Let’s discuss what it is and why it’s so important to your family and well-being.

What is GREENGUARD Gold Certified?

Furniture products can produce chemical emissions and lower indoor air quality because of the materials and processes used in manufacturing.  GREENGUARD Gold is a certification from UL Environment that ensures products have lower chemical emissions, thus contributing to healthier indoor air quality.  This certification is particularly stringent, addressing the needs of sensitive environments like schools and healthcare facilities.

Furniture products can produce chemical emissions and lower indoor air quality because of the materials and processes used in manufacturing.  GREENGUARD Gold is a certification from UL Environment that ensures products have lower chemical emissions, thus contributing to healthier indoor air quality.  This certification is particularly stringent, addressing the needs of sensitive environments like schools and healthcare facilities.

The motivation behind GREENGUARD Gold stems from the critical role of indoor air quality on our health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), people in the U.S. spend 90% of their time indoors, where certain pollutants, such as VOCs, can be 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations (1).  Even short-term exposure to these pollutants can have ramifications for your health and well-being.

UL (Underwriters Laboratories) Environment formulated the more stringent GREENGUARD Gold standards in response to these health issues.  Through their scientific rigor and robust testing standards, UL ensures GREENGUARD Gold certified products are safe and actively combat the threats posed by indoor air pollution.

What are VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) rank prominently among indoor pollutants and can cause severe health issues. That is because VOCs are chemicals that easily become vapors or gasses, escaping into the indoor air around us.  A vast array of chemicals qualify as VOCs, each with its own unique properties and potential for health damage.

indoor sources of voc air pollution

Common Sources of VOCs: 

  • Furniture: Particularly those made using adhesives, sealants, or finishes.
  • Household Products: Paints, varnishes, wax, and many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products.
  • Building Materials: Flooring, paint, caulking, adhesives, and other materials.
  • Automobiles: Gasoline, exhaust, and interior components.

Potential Health Effects:

  • Respiratory issues, especially for individuals with asthma
  • Burning or watering eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Allergic reactions (itching, watery eyes, sneezing, and skin rashes)
  • Headaches, dizziness, and fatigue
  • Cognitive impairment: A study from Harvard University found that cognitive performance scores for office workers were 61% higher in environments with lower VOC levels (2).
  • Long-term health concerns: Chronic exposure is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system (3).

In a world where we spend more time than ever indoors, these risks underscore the need to choose wisely about what we bring into our home.

Is GREENGUARD Gold Legitimate?

Absolutely. GREENGUARD Gold is a legitimate and reputable certification administered by UL Environment, a global leader in safety science.  When you purchase a GREENGUARD Gold Certified product, you can trust that it has low chemical emissions and VOCs.

UL Environment, part of the well-established Underwriters Laboratories (UL), is recognized for its dedication to promoting safe living and working conditions through the application of science to safety. When it comes to product certifications, UL’s approval is globally recognized.

So, what makes the GREENGUARD Gold certification process stand out?

  1. Rigorous Testing Protocols: Products aiming for GREENGUARD Gold certification undergo meticulous testing in state-of-the-art dynamic environmental chambers. These tests evaluate over 360 individual VOCs, including formaldehyde, ensuring they are below the stringent allowable levels set by UL.
  2. Annual Re-evaluation: Products aren’t just certified and forgotten. They are required to be re-tested annually, ensuring they continue to meet the high standards of the certification.
  3. Third-party Verification: Impartiality is key. Independent entities verify the accuracy of the testing results, emphasizing the certification’s credibility.

However, while GREENGUARD Gold excels in its domain, it’s essential to understand its scope and limitations:

  1. Limited to Chemical Emissions: The certification focuses on reducing chemical emissions that contribute to indoor air pollution. It does not specifically address other sustainability issues like resource conservation, biodegradability, or overall product lifespan.
  2. Does Not Address All Health Risks: While GREENGUARD Gold ensures products have low emissions of VOCs, it doesn’t necessarily evaluate all potential health hazards. For example, it doesn’t test for endocrine disruptors or allergens unless they are volatile organic compounds.

While GREENGUARD Gold provides a robust and trustworthy certification for low chemical emissions, consumers should consider other certifications and research when evaluating the complete sustainability and health profile of a product.

Criteria for GREENGUARD Gold Certification

Standards for GREENGUARD Gold Certified Products

  1. Low Total VOC Emission Levels: One of the primary criteria is that products should have low total volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions to improve indoor air quality. Emitted VOCs should not exceed the set limit defined by the certification (220 μg/m3 total VOCs).
  2. Restriction on Specific VOCs: Products must also ensure that they emit minimal quantities of specific VOCs, including known irritants and carcinogens, further contributing to safer indoor environments.
  3. Additional Air Quality Requirements: Beyond VOCs, GREENGUARD Gold certified products must also meet requirements related to airborne particles and microbial emissions, ensuring the overall air quality remains untarnished.
  4. Requirement for Regular Testing: Products aren’t just tested once. They undergo a rigorous testing regimen both during the initial certification process and in periodic re-evaluations, typically on an annual basis.

Differences Between GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Gold

There are 2 levels of the GREENGUARD certification and both are reliable indicators for low chemical and VOC emission levels. The GREENGUARD Gold certification has stricter emission limits than the standard and is the better choice of the two. Key differences are:

greenguard and greenguarad gold logo
  1. Stricter VOC Limits: The Gold certification imposes more stringent VOC emission limits than the basic GREENGUARD certification (220 μg/m3 total VOCs vs. 500 μg/m3 total VOCs), ensuring even safer products for sensitive individuals.  This is particularly beneficial for spaces like schools and healthcare facilities.
  2. Specific Focus on Sensitive Populations: GREENGUARD Gold takes into account the safety of sensitive individuals like children and the elderly, whereas the basic GREENGUARD certification looks at the general population.
  3.  Consideration of Additional Emission Sources: The Gold standard evaluates a more extensive list of chemicals and pollutants compared to its basic counterpart, ensuring a broader safety net.

Does GREENGUARD Gold Mean Zero VOC?

No, GREENGUARD Gold certification does not indicate that a product emits zero VOCs. Instead, it’s an assurance that the VOC emissions from the product remain within the defined safe limits, contributing to maintaining healthy indoor air quality.  GREENGUARD Gold’s limits are stricter than the basic GREENGUARD certification, and help ensure products are safe for sensitive settings like education and healthcare facilities.

The presence of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) in indoor environments is almost inevitable, but the key lies in ensuring their levels stay within safe parameters.  VOCs are a group of organic chemicals that vaporize and enter the air under normal indoor atmospheric conditions. They are found in a plethora of products, from paints and coatings to furniture and even some cleaning supplies.

Certifications like GREENGUARD Gold play a pivotal role in guiding consumers to products that prioritize low levels of VOCs in order to ensure air quality and safety.

Does GREENGUARD Gold Allow Formaldehyde?

Yes, GREENGUARD Gold does allow products to contain formaldehyde, but it sets stringent emission limits that the product must meet. Any product sporting the GREENGUARD Gold seal ensures that formaldehyde emissions are within the specified safe thresholds.

Formaldehyde, a colorless and highly toxic gas with a pungent smell, is used in many products, from building materials like plywood and fiberboard to cosmetics and air fresheners (4). While its applications are diverse, its health implications are a subject of concern.

  • Immediate Reactions: Exposure to formaldehyde can cause various immediate symptoms, including a sore throat, cough, itchy eyes, and skin irritation. Some individuals are more sensitive and might experience these symptoms at levels below what might affect others.
  • Long-Term Concerns: Chronic exposure to elevated formaldehyde levels has been linked to respiratory problems and nasal and throat cancers (5).

Given these potential health risks, organizations and regulatory bodies have set guidelines to limit formaldehyde exposure.  Certifications like GREENGUARD Gold step in to offer an added layer of assurance, ensuring products adhere to strict emission standards, thereby safeguarding indoor air quality.

Benefits of Buying GREENGUARD Gold Certified Products

Is investing in GREENGUARD Gold Certified products worth it?  Absolutely.  For those who place a premium on indoor air quality and the well-being of their family or employees, investing in GREENGUARD Gold certified products is a wise choice.

Here are some of the health and environmental benefits of GREENGUARD Gold Certified products:

  1. Safer Indoor Spaces: Indoor air quality can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. By choosing products with the GREENGUARD Gold certification, you’re reducing your risk of exposure to harmful chemicals and VOCs. This can lead to fewer health issues, such as respiratory problems, allergies, and even long-term ailments.
  2. Peace of Mind: Knowing that a product meets stringent emission standards provides a peace of mind that’s hard to put a price on.  This is especially valuable for if you have young children, elderly family members, or heightened sensitivities to chemicals.
  3. A Step Towards Sustainability: Beyond individual health, GREENGUARD Gold certified products promote environmental goals. By adhering to strict standards, these products have a minimized ecological footprint, contributing to a more sustainable and responsible consumption pattern.

Choosing GREENGUARD Gold certified products is a definitive step towards a healthier, greener future.

Common Products with GREENGUARD Gold Certification

source: UL Environment

GREENGUARD Gold is increasingly prevalent across a range of everyday items and well-known brands, reinforcing its importance in today’s consumer landscape.

Where to check for GREENGUARD Gold certifications:

  • Office Furniture
  • Children’s Furniture
  • Flooring Solutions (tiles, laminates, and hardwood)
  • Paints, Primers, and Finishes
  • Electronics and Appliances
  • Cleaning Products

Whether you’re setting up a new office, redecorating your home, or searching for eco-friendly tech, there’s likely a GREENGUARD Gold certified option waiting for you.

Making Informed Choices

In a consumer landscape brimming with buzzwords and greenwashing, certifications like GREENGUARD Gold are invaluable.  As you shop, make sure to check for clear labeling and do your research on what the labels mean.  Our purchasing decisions have power. Power to demand better products, champion our health, and shape a sustainable future.  Looking for labels like GREENGUARD Gold Certified ensures that you’re making an informed choice in a world that increasingly needs us to choose wisely.


  1. “Indoor Air Quality.”  EPA, 2023.
  2. “Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments.”  Environmental Health Perspectives, 2016.  
  3. “Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.”  EPA, 2023.
  4. “Formaldehyde.”  CDC, 2019.
  5. “Formaldehyde.”  EPA, 2016.