Ok, here’s the last post on language for a bit. Let’s consider the difference between “compliant” and “certified.”

Certification is a process in which a third party is confirming whatever statements are being made—that the product is going to perform in a way stated (be that meeting an emissions level or a strength level or something else) or was produced in the way stated (using specified materials and under agreed-upon conditions.) Most certifications have some form of documentary burden—FSC requires every company in the chain to be certified, while CARB requires record-keeping by all who handle the product.

Compliant products are products that meet specified conditions, but do not automatically have a third party confirming that fact. Being “compliant” can be a function of following rules or using required material or meeting standards. Of course being compliant can also include using a certified production or a certification system. Further, if someone in authority (the government, an auditor, a customer whose demands you need to satisfy) calls your statement of compliance into question, you may need to prove your statement, but unless providing evidence is a specified part of the compliance program, it’s not a requirement.

There is no such thing as a LEED-certified product.

This can come into play in a lot of different areas. In LEED language, as previously noted, there is no such thing as a LEED-certified product, rather there are compliant products that can contribute toward LEED. Of course, the requirement for LEED compliance might be a form of certification—they are moving further and further away from allowing self-certification with every version. But LEED does not certify products themselves, so if someone offers you a “LEED-certified” product, they are confused.

In CARB, products can be both certified and/or compliant. This leads to a lot of confusion in the engineered flooring market place.

CARB regulates a certain number of products, and while they have very technical definitions, we’re just going to call them plywood, particleboard and MDF (which includes what we in the industry call HDF, even though that doesn’t technically exist). These are products that must be certified.

Products using those materials in their construction, like engineered flooring with plywood or MDF cores, must use certified cores to be considered compliant. They themselves however, are not certified.

Companies that make engineered flooring using certified cores do not have to be certified at this time. (Things may change with the new EPA regulations—we’re waiting to see on that.) Manufacturers are required to use certified cores for their products to be compliant, but those floors themselves are not usually certified. So customers should not ask for CARB certifications for floors—for the most part, they don’t exist. That doesn’t mean the floor is bad or that the seller is hiding something—it’s how the regulation is written: for the most part, floors are to be compliant, not certified.

Customers should not ask for CARB certifications for floors—for the most part, they don’t exist.

Some integrated factories that produce their own plywood or their own HDF may have their own certificates. Some might even test their floors rather than the cores and give them a product certification (which is something of a gray area since floors aren’t actually products covered by CARB.) However for the most part, engineered flooring does not come CARB-certified; it should be CARB-compliant.

And here’s another one to remember—lumber-core flooring (also called sandwich or three-layer core) is not regulated by CARB at this time. Which could, from another way of looking at it, make it automatically CARB-compliant—it’s not required to be certified or to use a certified core (no such thing since it’s just lumber), so it exists in a form of permanent compliance!

So when you buy engineered flooring, no matter what the core, seek compliant material. Don’t try to find CARB-certified floors or ask for certifications from your suppliers. Ask them instead for “compliant” flooring.

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")