Green building has been and remains a significant market for many in the wood flooring industry. This is especially true in commercial construction, where green building programs are strongest. While green building may benefit the planet, it has cursed our industry with a bewildering proliferation of certifications, disclosure tools, specialized terminology and acronyms, acronyms, acronyms. Whether you are a manufacturer, distributor or installer, it's more than likely that you have been confronted by customer requests or requirements that have made you want to throw your hands up and yell "WTF!"
If you have ever found yourself casting around for guidance, then look no further! What follows will help you digest the key ingredients of this green alphabet soup. Bon appetit!
Green Building Programs
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a family of green building rating systems that cover a variety of types of commercial and residential construction (though LEED is most commonly used in the commercial sector). Created and administered by U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is currently the most widely used green building program in the world.
There are two versions of LEED currently in use:
- LEEDv4 is the most current. All LEED projects that are registered after October 2016 must do so under this version.
- LEED 2009 is the previous version. Because it typically takes several years to finish a commercial building, there are still many projects out there that were registered prior to the cut-off date and are driving demand for green products today.
LEED is organized into a number of broad categories, e.g., Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality. Each category in turn contains numerous credits, each of which has specific requirements, including specifications for many of the product certifications or attributes that follow. To make things still more confusing, the categories and credits for LEEDv4 and LEED 2009 are different. For example, LEED v4 credit 4 (abbreviated MRc4) is titled "Building product disclosure and optimization – material ingredients" and offers points for products that disclose materials ingredients, including toxic chemicals. On the other hand, LEED 2009 credit 4 (also abbreviated MRc4) is titled "Recycled content" and, as you'd expect, offers points for products with recycled content.
Note that LEED certifies buildings, not products. There is no such thing as a LEED-certified product; a common term for products that meet LEED requirements is "LEED-compliant." Much of what follows below are ways to make a product compliant with LEED and other green building programs.
Green Globes is an online green building certification tool that is used primarily in Canada and the United States and positions itself as more streamlined and flexible than LEED, though it is less widely used. It has modules for new construction and for commercial interiors that can be used for a wide range of commercial, institutional and multi-residential building types.
Living Building Challenge (LBC) bills itself as the world's most rigorous performance standard for buildings, a claim that few dispute. While LEED and Green Globes provide flexibility in choosing among a variety of green building approaches and levels of performance, LBC is a pass/no pass system composed entirely of stringent requirements.
WELL is a relatively recent entry to the green building arena. It is the first standard to focus solely on the health and wellness of building occupants, identifying 100 performance metrics, design strategies and policies that can be implemented by the owners, designers, engineers, contractors, users and operators of a building.
Forest Certification Systems
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is an international organization that provides a green label for wood and paper products through the application of a suite of standards covering forest management as well as companies in the chain of custody (CoC).
SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) competes with FSC but only certifies forests and companies in the United States and Canada. It is affiliated with American Tree Farm System (ATFS), which focuses on certification of small, private landowners.
PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) endorses national forest certification systems around the world, offering a global alternative to FSC. SFI is the PEFC-endorsed system in North America.
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality (IAQ) can be negatively impacted by the off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—chemical compounds that vaporize under normal conditions—from some types of building materials. The most notorious VOC is formaldehyde, but there are many others.
There are a number of independent certification programs, including FloorScore, Indoor Advantage, and UL/Greenguard, that test products and certify that the emission levels of numerous VOCs are below limits set by underlying protocols.
Life Cycle Assessment
LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) is the science of measuring the environmental impact of a given product throughout its lifespan, from extraction through manufacturing, transportation, installation, use, maintenance and disposal or recycling. LCA studies consider the material, energy and other inputs to a product or process as well as emissions, effluents, and solid waste, accounting for things that are more or less precisely measurable in order to produce a series of environmental impact measures such as global warming potential, ozone depletion potential, and acidification.
An EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) presents the environmental impact measures of a given product based on an LCA study. There are two types of EPDs: product-specific EPDs, where the LCA studies measure the impacts of a single, specific product and manufacturer; and industry-wide (or generic) EPDs, which rely on data that has been aggregated and averaged across an entire industry. The ultimate goal of EPDs is to allow for comparison of the relative environmental performance of materials in order to facilitate choice of the least burdensome.
Material Ingredients & Chemicals of Concern
An HPD (Health Product Declaration) is an open standard for reporting product ingredients. An HPD is several pages long, containing detailed information about product ingredients, including chemical contents and any associated health hazards, plus details on any certifications. Manufacturers that use HPDs must affirm "full disclosure of known hazards."
C2C (Cradle to Cradle) certification assesses products in five categories (Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy & Carbon Management, Water Stewardship and Social Fairness) and offers five levels of certification (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum) depending on assessment results. The Material Health category focuses on chemical ingredients and health hazards.
Declare is a product assessment and disclosure tool—with an associated label and product database—created by the International Living Future Institute, the organization that administers the Living Building Challenge. It covers not only ingredients but also information about product certifications, life expectancy, end of life options (e.g., Is it recyclable?), VOC content, etc.
The good news: You have read to the end and apparently haven't choked and passed out. The bad news: If you think the above menu is complete, think again: The green soup bowl is actually a bottomless well, and the contents are always changing! Still, the above should tide you over for a while at least so you can be conversant with your customers when they ask about green issues.