Good Morning (Afternoon); Thank you for joining me today to discuss Single-impact Certifications: What promises do they really make? My name is Tim Cole and I am the Director of Environmental Initiatives & Product Development of Forbo Flooring. My presentation today is sponsored by the Alliance for Sustainable Built Environments, an organization of which Forbo is a founding member. The Alliance is a group of industry leaders dedicated to helping the business community make wise decisions that also help preserve our natural resources. We’ve been around since 2003 and our goal is and has been to promote the triple bottom line and sustainability. We make the business case for going green – for financial, environmental and social reasons. Our goal is to inform and educate. Please visit our booth co-sponsored with IFMA in the Green Zone, for information on high performance green buildings.
If you were asked which you prefer; clean air or clean water, which would you choose? Before answering, most people would ask “Why can’t I have both?” Or “Why do I have to choose? The answer is you shouldn’t have to choose, but that is what can happen when you make product purchasing decisions, specifically green product purchasing decisions, based on single-impact certifications. What promises do they really make? Well-intentioned decisions are made regularly by manufacturers who work hard to deliver innovative products to the marketplace – products their customers ask for, and products they believe will meet a new need and expand their market share. But those decisions don’t always take into account certain consequences.
Having products meet third-party certifications provides customers with written assurance that a product, process or service conforms to specified requirements. But what promises do these certifications really make? Everyone’s heard of and trusts the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that ensures the safety of products. This is a good example of a single certification program. UL delivers valuable product safety information to consumers, but it is not looking beyond the attribute of safety regarding the life cycle of the product. Since 1894, Underwriters Laboratory has certified for safety. In those 104 years: 21 billion UL Marks have appeared on products 72,542 manufacturers have produced UL certified products
The sustainability movement has expanded the building design and operations & maintenance product markets, and a flood of green products has poured into to almost every building and maintenance product segment. Less than two years ago as I spoke to audiences interested in the sustainability movement and how the triple bottom line – profit, planet and people – makes good business sense, event attendees and sponsors were very concerned about presentations being too commercial or a sales pitch. I can tell you now, 18 months later, the questions I get now are “Okay, I get sustainability, I understand how I can impact my company’s or clients’ economic, environmental and social bottom lines - now just tell me what products to buy.” That is not an easy question for me to answer, well, unless of course you are in the market for sustainable flooring… But, seriously, my goal today is not to provide you with a list of “the best or greenest products on the market,” but to provide you with the information that will help you wade through the green marketing claims and focus on what are the most important attributes a product that claims to be sustainable can and should deliver. Let me do a quick 90-second overview of what the triple-bottom line can deliver.
For most of us, inquiring about a product’s impact on the environment or human health hasn’t been an option because many companies didn’t feel the need to provide that information. And even if they wanted to share that information they couldn’t do it easily because most didn’t specifically measure their impact on the environment or community. You could certainly find out the financial health of a publicly held company, but not its environmental or social health. Globalization and technology have changed the playing field and the demand for corporate transparency by consumers and NGOs is being heard and responded to regarding environmental and social impacts, including within the built environment. Companies ARE filling this information gap. But what YOU must ask is: is the information complete, or merely a marketing response from an industry interested in being perceived as green. This list of green product attributes is what you can focus on when making decisions about a product, service or a company’s commitment to sustainability. Is it: Energy Efficient Water Conserving Low/No VOCs Recycled Content Organic Bio-based Locally Produced Recyclable From a Renewable Resource
When a company decide to become sustainable or more sustainable, its leadership usually develops an environmental profile around the simplest terms: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The order of these three R’s is important.
A company must first choose to improve its environmental performance by: Reducing energy demands, use of natural resources and waste Reuse scrap back into manufacturing and when possible gathering that waste from other processes. Recycle what cannot be used by finding a home for the waste in another product or process. It is quite common to hear companies promote the recycled content of their products and is often the first thing pursued as a sustainable initiative. It’s a great start, but not the be all and end all.
Starbucks was a leader in 2005 when it introduced a coffee cup with 10 percent recycled material. Starbucks showed corporate leadership as FDA approval was needed because the cup delivered a food product (coffee). But did anyone ask the question: What process was needed to make this cup? Did all of the benefits of this recycled cup get erased because the manufacturing process of the cup and how it was distributed waste energy or use up scarce natural resources?
Life Cycle Assessment To understand which green-product attributes are important in making a decision about the sustainability of a product, you need to have a basic understanding of the process of life-cycle assessment. A life-cycle assessment provides an understanding of what the full impact of a manufacturer’s products and processes have on the environment. This is known as an environmental footprint.
My company, Forbo, has gone through LCA and understands its impact on the environment. We keep trying to improve our environmental performance. For example, we use renewable power such as the wind power at our factory in Holland. We always try to recycle as much as possible. 100% of our factory scrap is recycled back into the process. Our Field to Field program works with farmers that grow the flax to use “best practices” such as no till methods, and proper crop rotation. We also divert all our North American scrap and roll ends, as well as job site scrap to produce compost, thus the term “field to field”. We have also offered a sample reuse program for several years. If I send ten samples to a designer and she only needs to keep one, then all she has to do is take the unused samples, put them in a self-address envelop supplied by Forbo and the samples will continue to be reused. We have been recognized for a number of environmental quality standards and awards from groups around the world. Our environmental policies start in the boardroom and not the marketing department. We are constantly working to improve our performance. One of our major focuses is trying to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. We are, therefore, working with our suppliers on reducing the carbon footprint.
It is valuable information to understand the environmental footprint of an organization (and yourself). At the very least, we need to be aware of what we are doing and the impact of our decisions.
We ask for third-party certification … Be careful what you wish for…. [Click Mouse as you start script below] From Green Seal and GREENGUARD to ENERGY STAR and Water Sense, there are many labels on products today that indicate a product has a certain green attribute whether it is energy efficient, conserves water, uses recycled materials or doesn’t harm indoor air quality. These certifications, conducted by an independent, neutral party with no interest in the manufacturer being certified, verify that products meet a certain set of standards and facility managers who are concerned with making operations in their facilities more sustainable look to these certifications when making purchasing decisions. Some of these certifications are single-attribute certifications, which only look at one particular criterion of a product. While these single-attribute certifications are a good start for making purchasing decisions, it is important to look beyond the single-attribute certification of the product and consider other environmental impacts the products might have. This is where an understanding of life-cycle assessment is important. For example, a product might be certified because it includes a high percentage of recycled material, but it might have used massive amounts of energy during the manufacturing process. There are multiple-attribute certifications that exist that take into account several characteristics of a product, and furthermore, there are life-cycle based certifications that examine a product’s raw materials, how it is manufactures, how it performs and what happens to it when it is done being used—the entire life of a product.
Started in 1992, ENERGY STAR, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, is a certification for more than products used in both commercial buildings and homes that save money and protect the environment through energy efficiency. To be ENERGY STAR certified, products must meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy. The U.S. Green Building Council also uses the Energy Star rating system within its LEED Existing Building: Operations and Maintenance building certification program. Projects can receive up to 15 points toward certification for meeting the ENERGY STAR standards for energy efficiency, which are based on national benchmarks. The ENERGY STAR program also certifies products within 50 categories. HVAC units, lighting, flat screen TVs, refrigerators, roofing materials, windows, fax machines and copiers all can be purchased with the ENERGY STAR label.
The EPA also sponsors Water Sense, a program that certifies products, programs and practices that protect the nation’s water supply through water efficiency. Products with the Water Sense label perform well, help save money, and encourage innovation in manufacturing. According to the EPA’s Web site, “Recent advancements have allowed toilets to use 20 percent less water than the current federal standard, while still providing equal or superior performance” (EPA Web site, 2008). The EPA estimates that “Over the course of your lifetime, you will likely flush the toilet nearly 140,000 times. If you replace older, existing toilets with Water Sense labeled models, you can save 4,000 gallons per year with this simpler, greener choice” (EPA Web site). Water Sense is similar to ENERGY STAR in that both programs work toward market enhancement and public recognition through the labeling of products and programs. One of the main differences between these two programs is that Water Sense requires third-party certification of its products and services, ensuring that they comply with Water Sense's specifications. Another major difference is that Water Sense focuses on water-using products and services that don't require energy to run, solely focusing on their water-efficient properties. ENERGY STAR includes water-using products that conserve energy. Both of these certification programs (Energy Star and Water Sense) only look at one attribute each: energy or water. Although the certification offers consumers a relatively easy way to make apples-to-apples comparisons among products that use electricity or water, they don’t evaluate what the product is made of, how it is made or what will happen when its useful life is over.
There are also a few different certifications that look at how a product impacts indoor environmental quality. GREENGUARD Environmental Institute sponsors three different certifications that aim to improve public health and quality of life through improving indoor air: GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified, GREENGUARD for Children & Schools and GREENGUARD for Building Construction that improve indoor air. GREENGUARD Certified products are tested for their chemical emissions performance.
Certifications also exist for certain materials such as wood and plastic. The Forest Stewardship Council promotes environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests, by setting standards that guide forest management toward sustainable outcomes. Products with an FSC logo guarantees that the wood is from a certified well-managed forest.
Founded in 1989, Green Seal aims to achieve a more sustainable world by promoting environmentally responsible production, purchasing and products. Green Seal evaluates products in many different categories with a life-cycle approach—looking at material extraction, manufacturing and use, and recycling and disposal. Green Seal certified products have been through evaluation, testing and a plant visit and are better for human health and the environment. A 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, Green Seal issued its first environmental standards in 1991-2, and the first product certifications were completed in 1992. Hundreds of products and services from major companies such as 3M, Benjamin Moore, JohnsonDiversey, and Andersen Windows have now been certified to meet Green Seal standards, and the number of major product categories covered by standards has increased to more than 40.
The Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability is a non-profit organization made up of leading environmental groups, governments and companies working to transform manufacturing and retail practices worldwide so that by 2015, sustainable products are available in 90 percent of the global marketplace. Mike Italiano, a founder of the U.S. Green Building Council has worked to developed SMART—Sustainable Materials Rating Technology—a standard based on the entire life cycle of a product. I consider SMART® one example of a benchmark standard. It takes into account the cradle to grave, or cradle-to-cradle, cycle that a product goes through from when its natural resources are extracted to what becomes of it when its useful life is over. SMART has been accepted by the USGBC and point can be achieved for using SMART certified products in a building.
So how do you use third-party certification? Although the way to measure and report a product’s level of sustainability has not been established as an accepted standard yet, it is important for everybody who has the responsibility of purchasing products for their companies to take responsibility and action to hold manufacturers responsible and accountable for what products they sell and how they market them. You might think you don’t have time or the knowledge to ask all of the right questions, but perhaps nobody does - yet. All product manufacturers should be looking at reducing their environmental footprints. That commitment needs to be thoroughly entrenched in the boardroom of a company and not just in the marketing department. As a product purchaser you have the power to help make change. I, frankly, see it as a responsibility.
Suggested Guidelines for those who purchase product and want their choices to reflect sustainability. First and foremost, the product or service needs to meet your needs. For example, if a window cleaning product can’t clean a glass window, it really doesn’t matter if it is low in VOCs. If an HVAC system doesn’t keep you comfortable year around, then it doesn’t matter if it is energy efficient. Understand the generalities of product-life cycles Raw material extraction Processing Manufacturing Distribution Use End-of-life outcome, including all intervening transportation steps. Understand Green Product Attributes Energy Efficient Water Conserving Low/No VOCs Recycled Content Organic Bio-based Locally Produced Recyclable Renewable Resource 3. Understand the potential product life cycle impacts on: Global Warming Acidification Eutrophication Habitat Alteration Natural Resource Depletion Solid Waste Generation Ecological toxicity Human Toxicity Ozone Depletion Smog Formation Indoor Air Quality Embodied Energy Content 4. Ask additional questions beyond the certification being used
So the next time it seems as if a product’s third-party certification is making you choose between clean air clean water…
Looking Past Single-impact Certifications: What promises do they really make? Tim Cole Director of Environmental Initiatives & Product Development Forbo Flooring