BIFMA standard provides level playing ground for sustainability

June 8, 2009
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On June 1, BIFMA International, the trade association for the commercial furniture industry, announced its long-awaited sustainable certification program, which it calls “level.”

During the past three years, the Joint Committee on Furniture Sustainability, a group of 125 stakeholders from both inside and outside the industry, has been working to create an open and unbiased certification process that looks at material utilization, energy and atmospheric impacts, human and ecosystem health, and social responsibility.

“We’ve been working through ANSI and a multi-stakeholder group to determine the technical attributes of how furniture is evaluated to determine its sustainable characteristics,” said Tom Reardon, executive director for BIFMA. “At the end of that process, we decided that the best way to communicate conformance to that standard would be through this certification program.”

Until now, sustainable certification for products had little uniformity and was typically done by a company itself. The third-party certifications that did exist were often highly concentrated. This created much confusion for all parties involved, including the consumer.

“We found with another environmental standard that we released that when you just roll an open consensus standard into the marketplace, a lot of different certification bodies pick it up, use it in their programs, and then they all communicate their own brand to the customer,” said Reardon. “Often customers don’t know how program ‘A’ compares to program ‘B,’ when in fact they’re using the same standard. We thought it would be better for the marketplace if there was a consistent message and imaging communicated to the market.”

What sets BIFMA’s level Certification apart is that it looks at a wider view of the sustainable story, and the certification process is conducted by a third-party other than BIFMA. Currently, the only third-party certification organizations are NSF International and Scientific Certification Systems.

Level fits into the BIFMA e3 sustainability standard, which many companies have already been using. Level actually has three levels, with  “level 3” being the highest.

Herman Miller Inc. has already announced its products that have received level Certification, but Reardon said many other manufacturers have worked toward the certification, as well. He believes level will only grow from here.

“We are hopeful that the industry and its customers will gravitate to it; manufacturers will use it in their product development cycles and evaluate products to it; and customers will specify products to it,” he said.

“We’ve gotten a good response from the organizations that we’ve gone to. We’re getting positive feedback to it and are very hopeful and confident that the industry will rally around it and customers will use it, and it will become the de facto method of communicating product sustainability.”

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