We’ve all heard companies say those infamous buzzwords, “We’re going green!” Sustainable initiatives are great for our environment and sometimes can be fun when employees are involved, but when it comes to buying “green” furniture for your office, what do all the certifications really mean? Is one better than the others? And what does all this really mean for the environment, and you?
Let’s start by defining who the agencies are that provide these certifications:
ANSI – American National Standards Institute
- “The American National Standards Institute is a private non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary consensus standards for products, services, processes, systems, and personnel in the United States.”
- ANSI has been around since 1918, being “the voice” of the US Standards and Conformity Assessment system, they are pretty much the overarching accreditation agency that approves or disapproves of your set of standards – the approval system for other approval systems, if you will.
EPA ETV – Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Technology Verification Program
- “EPA ETV was created in October 1995 to help accelerate the entrance of new environmental technologies into the domestic and international marketplaces. It developed test protocols and verified the performance of innovative technologies. ETV provided credible performance data for commercial-ready environmental technologies to speed their implementation for the benefit of purchasers, permitters, vendors and the public. The program concluded operations in March 2014.”
- These standards are now considered to be outdated, and the EPA ETV Program is no longer ANSI-accredited.
- Any office furniture tested to these certifications may not be as helpful to your office environment as furniture tested against newer, ANSI-accredited standards.
BIFMA – Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers
- Also known as Level certification, which “certifies to the BIFMA e3 Sustainability Standard; Unites industry and government in development of standard metrics for rating sustainable furniture items.”
- The replacement to the EPA ETV standard, BIFMA is now the generally accepted standard of evaluating furniture for environmental sustainability and improvement.
- BIFMA is an ANSI Accredited Product Certification Body.
- Consists of 3 Levels:
- 1 – The minimum for any GSA (General Services Administration) preferred vendor
- 2 -
- 3 – Only 2% of products in the entire furniture industry achieve level 3
LEED – Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design
- “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, homes and neighborhoods.”
- LEED certification is recognized across the globe as the premier mark of achievement in green building.
- There are a variety of rating systems and credit categories within the LEED compliance paths. Office furniture typically is focused on the Indoor Environmental Quality credit.
The two major certifying bodies in the office furniture industry are SCS and Greenguard:
SCS stands for Scientific Certification Systems and is one of the leading certifying bodies for environmental practices, serving many industries including food and agriculture, forest stewardship, indoor air quality, and carpeting. For office furniture, SCS evaluates each piece based on indoor air quality standards.
Greenguard Environmental Institute is the certifying body for distributing Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certifications. This certification gives assurance that products designed for use in indoor spaces meet strict chemical emissions limits, which contribute to the creation of healthier interiors.
Let’s do a side-by-side comparison of SCS and Greenguard to see what the real differences are:
- Most stringent among accepted LEED compliance paths
- Test procedures are ANSI approved
- Tested to the new BIFMA standard
- Component-based testing
- Allows manufacturer to pinpoint where to make improvements
- Tests in any qualified, independent laboratory
- Least stringent among accepted LEED compliance path
- Test procedures are not ANSI approved
- Tested to older EPA ETV standard
- Pass/fail testing of product only
- Little opportunity to understand how to make improvements
- Tests only in one Greenguard approved laboratory
Once you start looking at the details of SCS and Greenguard certifications, you can clearly see a difference in the quality of testing methods and quality of standards to which each are held. However, Greenguard products are still going to be better for your office environment than non-certified products. They are simply held to an older standard. SCS Certified products are tested against the newest standards. That’s why HON products are tested against BIFMA standards and are largely SCS Certified. And according to BIFMA standards, over 80% of HON products are level 1 certified, and over 60% are level 2 certified.
HON also has a few products that are environmentally sustainable as well as good for your indoor air quality, like the Initiate Panel System. Initiate has a Nature Core tackable acoustical fiberboard, a plant-based alternative to synthetic materials, that has no added formaldehyde. Initiate also features a powder-coated frame, low-emitting backer to their worksurfaces, and meets Indoor Advantage Gold certification from LEED.