Standards set the bar for sustainability

October 20, 2008
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Standards help companies determine how sustainable a product is. One highly used standard is Cradle to Cradle, a certification that measures the chemical makeup of a product to determine how reusable a product is. This is especially useful when looking at a product’s Life Cycle Analysis, which traces the life of a product from birth to death. Cradle to Cradle certification comes in three levels: silver, gold or platinum. While Cradle to Cradle is extremely useful, it is an expensive process, making it difficult for smaller companies to implement.

“All (certifications) are great and evolving,” said Tom Newhouse of Thomas J. Newhouse Design. “If you use Cradle to Cradle certifications, there are very rigorous material selection criteria, energy and all that — great stuff. Problem: How does the whole world use that? There’s a limited number of Michael Braungarts (co-founder of Cradle to Cradle) and it’s quite expensive to do. To get to true Life Cycle Analysis, that’s the ultimate.”

Newhouse praised the certification, but acknowledged that small businesses would have a hard time achieving it. He said BIFMA’s new standard will be much more accessible to small companies.

“Now we have a guideline for sustainability for any size company,” said Newhouse. “They have the roadmap of how to go about it. They couldn’t have afforded — the smaller companies — to have done what Herman Miller did with McDonough and Braungart (founders of Cradle to Cradle) developing all that stuff. They couldn’t afford it on their own.”

BIFMA briefly defines its new standard, currently titled E3, as “a standardized method of evaluating the sustainable attributes of furniture products,” said Tom Reardon, executive director of BIFMA. “It’s sort of modeled after LEED. It is a multiple and optional credit-based rating system.”

In the broad scope, the standard looks at four different categories: materials, energy and renewable energy, human and ecosystem health, and the corporate social responsibility aspects of sustainability.

The standard went through a consensus ballot process during June and July and was also opened to a 45-day comment period. As a result of those two activities, BIFMA has been working to address the comments and adjust the standard as necessary. Reardon said  an ANSI-accredited standard might be ready as early as the beginning of November, but it could take until December.

Reardon said that the standard was created with furniture in mind, but the outline is very adaptable to other industries.

“The outline and the focus of the credits are all generic enough that any industry could pick this standard up and modify it to suit their own industry and specific needs. There’s a great format, a great template in place,” said Reardon. “This standard that we’re coming out with will serve as a catalyst for more companies to pursue sustainability and go down that open, consensus-based ANSI path we’re paving.”

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