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National Standards: Helping to Green Companies and Products

An independent public health and environmental organization is helping to set the sustainability standard.



The number of “green” products in the marketplace continues to increase, yet consumer confidence in green marketing claims is declining due to confusion regarding multiple eco-labels, unsubstantiated claims, and a lack of consensus regarding how to evaluate green or sustainable products and services. According to a study by BBMG in New York, nearly one in four U.S. consumers report having “no way of knowing” if a product is green or actually does what it claims. This finding is consistent with a study from Ipsos Public Affairs, which states “a perceived lack of information and credible resources are holding U.S. businesses back from becoming environmentally responsible.” However, the Ipsos survey finds that 85% of respondents are interested in obtaining knowledge and resources about how their business can be more environmentally responsible.

Several national sustainability standards have been developed to help businesses become greener and restore confidence in green claims. These lifecycle-based, multi-attribute sustainability standards have been developed for carpet, resilient flooring, wallcoverings, roofing membranes, commercial furnishing fabrics and business furniture, among other products.

Carpet

The American National Standard for Carpet (NSF/ANSI 140 Sustainability Assessment for Carpet) is designed to help architects, designers and end users identify carpets that have a reduced environmental impact. The standard defines environmental, social, and economic performance requirements, and provides benchmarks for continual improvement and innovation within the building industry.

This is important because all broadloom and carpet tile purchased by the U.S. government must now be certified to the standard, according to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). Current GSA carpet suppliers have until January 1, 2012, to certify their products to NSF/ANSI 140 Gold level in order for their carpets to be considered for purchase through the GSA.

Resilient Flooring

Complementing the standard for carpet, NSF/ANSI 332 Sustainability Assessment for Resilient Floor Coverings evaluates the sustainability of resilient flooring products across their entire product lifecycle. The standard employs an easy-to-use point system to evaluate resilient flooring against established prerequisite requirements, performance criteria, and quantifiable metrics in six key areas: product design, product manufacturing, long-term value, end-of-life management, corporate governance, and innovation. Certification is based on point totals to achieve a Conformant, Silver, Gold or Platinum level.

Wallcoverings

In addition to resilient flooring and carpets, NSF International also has developed an American National Standard for Sustainable Wallcoverings (NSF/ANSI 342 Sustainability Assessment for Wallcovering Products). Like the sustainable carpet standard, the wallcovering standard evaluates the environmental performance and sustainability attributes of wallcoverings. The standard contains criteria across the product lifecycle, from raw material extraction through manufacturing, distribution, use and end-of-life management, including:
  • Raw material inputs (fibers, resins, additives, colorants and process chemicals)
  • Fabric or sheet formation (textiles)
  • Finishing treatments (flame resistance)
  • Attachment systems (adhesives)
  • Product distribution
  • Recycling
  • Indoor air quality


Single-Ply Roofing Membranes

NSF 347 Sustainability Assessment for Single-Ply Roofing Membranes, a standard to evaluate the sustainability of single-ply roofing membranes across their entire product lifecycle, is currently under development. According to the draft standard, single-ply roofing membrane includes membranes produced from ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM), ketone ethylene ester (KEE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO), and polyisobutylene (PIB) products.

NSF 347 uses an easy-to-use weighted point system. Roofing membrane products are evaluated against established prerequisite requirements, performance criteria and quantifiable metrics in five key areas: product design, product manufacturing, membrane durability, corporate governance, and innovation. Criteria examples in product manufacturing include reducing the environmental impact of the energy used to manufacture the product, waste minimization, water conservation and greenhouse gas reductions.

Commercial Furnishings Fabric

NSF/ANSI 336: Sustainability Assessment for Commercial Furnishings Fabric addresses the environmental, economic and social aspects of furnishing fabric products, including woven, nonwoven, bonded and knitted fabrics used for upholstery (e.g., office and hotel furniture), vertical (e.g., drapery or panel systems fabric) and decorative top-of-bed applications (e.g., bedspreads) that are commonly used in institutional, hospitality, and office settings. The standard incorporates lifecycle assessment criteria, which measures inputs, outputs and environmental impacts of textile products across their entire lifespan.

The NSF/ANSI 336 criteria are divided into categories (e.g., fiber sourcing, water and energy use, recycling practices) with a weighted point system applied to each. For example, fiber sourcing criteria include points for the use of fibers with renewable, recycled or organic content, and fibers with reduced toxic chemical inputs.

Certification is based on point totals to achieve a Compliant, Silver, Gold or Platinum level. Manufacturers certified by NSF are authorized to use the NSF Sustainability Certified Mark on their products and in their advertising.

Business Furniture

In order to help move the business/institutional furniture industry toward more sustainable practices, BIFMA International and NSF International partnered to develop a national standard for the production of sustainable office/institutional furniture. The BIFMA e3 sustainability standard establishes performance requirements that address the triple bottom line-economic-environment-social equity-throughout the supply chain.

The standard includes prerequisite requirements, performance requirements and quantifiable metrics in four key areas:
  • Material utilization
  • Energy and atmosphere impacts
  • Human and ecosystem health
  • Social responsibility


Standardized Excellence

By providing science-based verifiable claim substantiation and product differentiation, multi-attribute standards are changing the marketplace and will continue to do so. In addition, standards certified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) are consensus-based, transparent standards that enable the comparison of products against common criteria. Standardized, objective methods of measuring sustainability claims reduce investment risk, instill marketplace confidence, and promote the acceptance of green products and services.

Companies that integrate sustainability into their product offerings and operations can capitalize on the rapidly changing purchasing preferences of industry, government, and consumers. Additional benefits to the manufacturer accrue from the lifecycle focus, which can help identify areas for cost savings, quality improvement and even risk management.

For additional information, visit www.nsfsustainability.org.

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