Furniture sustainability standard gets final OK

January 21, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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BIFMA International has announced there is formal approval of the Furniture Sustainability Standard by the American National Standards Institute, and more than 650 products already are certified to have met the standard at some level.

Modeled after the LEED rating system, the ANSI/BIFMA e3-2010 Furniture Sustainability Standard is a structured process for evaluating the “green” or "sustainable" attributes of furniture products, and constitutes the technical criteria of the product certification program.

BIFMA originally released the standard for practical use by the furniture industry beginning in 2008, but it has not had ANSI approval until now. Stakeholders within the office furniture industry that helped BIFMA and NSF International develop the standards felt it was usable by the industry, pending final approval by ANSI, according to Brad Miller, director of communications and government affairs at BIFMA.

Miller said there are hundreds of “green” or ecological labels in the world marketplace that purport to signify a given product’s “greenness,” whereas the ANSI-BIFMA standard is now the one officially recognized throughout the furniture industry.

NSF International is an Ann Arbor firm that certifies product standards and also has expertise in developing standards.

There are several certifying organizations qualified for the ANSI-BIFMA standard, according to Miller. He said he has heard that cost of certification of a product can range from $5,000 to $50,000. He said that once a company has certified one product, it is generally able to help streamline the analysis process, reducing the cost.

The standard is the result of an extraordinary amount of development work on the part of numerous stakeholders representing a broad cross section of disciplines, backgrounds and perspectives, according to Miller.

The standard includes six prerequisites and numerous optional credit criteria, with factors ranging from the origin of the materials used, their chemical composition, the amount and type of energy consumed by the factory the furniture is made in, and even the corporation’s established policies related to sustainability.

As a product is determined to conform to the various optional criteria, points are accumulated toward an ultimate score and a corresponding conformance tier on one of three levels. A minimum of 32 points must be achieved in order to reach the first conformance threshold (level 1). A total of 90 possible points are available.

About 20 companies now have products certified to meet the ANSI-BIFMA e3 sustainability standard, according to Miller.

“There are now over 650 products that have been certified, with many more in the pipeline,” said Miller. Those products are listed on a new website accessible to anyone: levelcertified.org.

Of the 650 products, 79 percent fall into the lowest level, level 1, according to Miller. Level 2 has about 21 percent of the certified products, and only 1 percent of the 650 are in level 3.

Miller said seating, with 400 certified products, is the largest category so far, but only three office chairs so far are at the top level 3 certification: one from Knoll and two from Steelcase.

Most companies start with the goal of achieving level 1 and then work their way upward, said Miller.

“Knoll is an interesting case,” said Miller. “Knoll has put all their energy into thinking about what they might get at level 3, and they went after that. So they have only level 3 products,” he said, one in seating and two in systems furniture.

Steelcase has dozens of level 1 and 2 certified products but only two at level 3.

Either approach, said Miller, is a legitimate learning experience.

“After you’ve done one (product certification), you’ve kind of broken the trail. You know how the system works,” he said.

Some credits, once applied to the first product, can count toward other products, too, such as the points regarding energy consumption by the factory.

One of the Knoll products at level 3 is the Generation chair, which also earned a Sustainable Platinum rating under the SMaRT Consensus Sustainable Product Standard, which requires a Life Cycle Assessment, an independent audit process that evaluates the environmental impact of a product throughout its life.

Generation is manufactured in a LEED Gold facility and does not involve the use of “ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons,” according to Knoll. The adhesives used are water-based or hot melt, which are 99 percent VOC-free. Returnable packaging is used for shipping the chair parts, and “100 percent of electricity used at the (manufacturing) site is offset by wind energy,” states the product publicity.

Copies of the standard are available from BIFMA. Contact Roxanne DeBoer at BIFMA International for further information at email@bifma.org or (616) 285-3963. Standards can also be ordered online at the BIFMA website: https://bifma.org/secure/orderform/html

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