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GREEN WILL MARK PRODUCTS ENVIRONMENTALLY PREFERABLE

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Starting this month, the term "seeing green" will assume an entirely new meaning among some store owners and manufacturers.

The Green Cross symbol, which will appear on about a dozen products in supermarkets beginning in mid-July, means the product has met the environmental standards set up by a private, non-profit group in California.A similar environmental label by another company, Green Seal, will appear on products early next year.

While both seals have similar objectives - informing consumers which products are environmentally preferable - they take different approaches.

Green Cross's standards, which the company established using scientific guidelines, are "strict," said spokeswoman Linda Brown. Green Cross is managed by Scientific Certification Systems of Oakland, Calif.

A Green Cross symbol on a product will show consumers that the manufacturer has taken specific measures to satisfy outside observers that it has made good on claims, such as using recycled materials or being energy-efficient.

"We don't want this to be a marketing gimmick," Brown said. "Our opinion is that there really aren't very many products that should get a seal."

Green Seal, however, looks at all the products in a certain category and then awards its seal to those that are environmentally preferable.

"The preface of Green Seal is that every product has some impact on the environment," said Ellen Schaplowsky, a spokeswoman for the non-profit Green Seal.

Brown of Green Cross said that that's where the labels differ. "We feel that it should be used with care and caution, not just slapped on any product because it's a little better than the product next to it," she said.

Green Cross examines only companies that ask that their specific claims be certified. The manufacturer pays a fee for the service.

Green Seal, chaired by former Earth Day leader Dennis Hayes, also examines only interested companies that pay a fee, but it invites manufacturers in certain categories. The first categories include light bulbs, laundry detergents, cleaners, house paint, toilet paper and facial tissue.

Manufacturers participate in determining criteria, and the products meeting the criteria are awarded use of the Green Seal for a fee.

The initial five categories were chosen because they represent household products, some of which are better for the environment than others.

But Brown warned against believing that products labeled better than others are good for the environment.

"This is our greatest fear - that as we address certification, that consumers not be led down the rosy path that this product is wonderful and they have nothing to worry about," she said.

Others worry that consumers will become confused by differing labels.

"We wouldn't want to see a proliferation of claims in the environmental arena like we have seen from the health arena," said a spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute.

Brown said Green Cross is working with four supermarket chains - Ralph Grocery Co., Raley's supermarkets, Fred Meyer Inc. and ABCO Markets Inc. - on the West Coast to educate the public about the seal and program.

The stores will offer literature about Green Cross and highlight items on their shelves that pass environmental muster.

Several more grocery chains, including some on the East Coast, will be announced later this summer, Brown said, and more certified products will be released.