Building Materials and Furnishings Sustainability Assessment Standards  

by Bill Freeman, Consultant, Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI), Jeff Carrier, Director of Regulatory Issues, Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), Tom Reardon, Executive Director, Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA), Bill Griese, Standards Development and Green Initiative Manager, Tile Council of North America (TCNA), and Josh Jacobs, Technical Information & Public Affairs Manager, UL Environment



A growing number of manufacturers of building materials and furnishings are leading the industry in moving toward improved product sustainability. To help achieve this mission, sustainability assessment standards have been developed across a broad range of product categories to assist manufacturers in identifying strategies and communicating improved performance. The standards often include relevant criteria across the product's life cycle, i.e. from growth phase of renewable materials, raw material extraction, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management. Through multiple levels of achievement, many of these standards are providing an incentive for manufacturers to continue reducing the environmental impacts of their products and providing a way for designers and specifiers to distinguish among industry leaders.


The purpose of sustainability assessment standards is to provide a thorough communication of information that is verifiable, accurate, and not misleading about the environmental and social aspects associated with the production and use of building materials and furnishings. Such communication is expected to encourage the demand for and supply of products that cause less stress on the environment and society, thereby stimulating the potential for market-driven continuous improvement. Private and public sector interests have encouraged manufacturers to improve the environmental performance of and provide environmental impact information on the products they produce.

These standards are intended to be science based, provide transparency, and offer credibility for manufacturers in making claims of environmental preferability and sustainability, and to harmonize the principles and procedures used to support such claims. These standards provide a practice for assessing the sustainability of building materials and furnishings. Sustainability-related information can inform a manufacturer's decisions about supply chain modifications, product(s) content changes, manufacturing adjustments, performance improvements, end-of-life options, and corporate governance, with the goal of producing more sustainable products.

Sustainability assessment standards also provide a means to track incremental changes to the products' sustainability profile. These standards are intended to provide a consistent framework in which to compare and assess the sustainable nature of different products that perform similar functions.

Trends in the criteria of sustainability assessment standards include:

  • Multi-attribute assessment of the product/product category of interest
  • Life-cycle based consideration of the product/product category of interest
  • Science-based, verifiable criteria
  • Assessment of corporate governance and social responsibility indicator reporting
  • Product performance assessment as baseline criteria
  • Consideration of relevant international criteria, or is adaptable to international markets

Most sustainability assessment standards have been designed, in part, to satisfy the following criteria:

  • Product design, encouraging manufacturers to integrate environmental and life-cycle thinking into the product(s) design process.

  • Product manufacturing, encouraging manufacturers to quantify the environmental impacts from their manufacturing, and then act to reduce or remove those impacts.

  • Long-term value, encouraging manufacturers to maximize product(s) longevity.

  • End of life management, ensuring that existing and new resilient flooring products can be collected, processed, recycled, and/or composted within the existing materials recycling infrastructure.

  • Corporate governance, encouraging corporate social responsibility in the forms of providing a desirable workplace, being involved in the local community, and demonstrating financial health.

  • Innovation, to give manufacturers the opportunity to be awarded points for exceptional performance above the requirements set forth in the standard.

Standard Data Elements Carpet NSF 140 Textile NSF 336 Furniture BIFMA e-3 Wallcoverings NSF 342 Resilient Flooring NSF 332 Single Ply Roofing NSF 347 Laminate Flooring NALFA LF 02 Ceramic Tile ANSI A138.1 Gypsum Board UL 100 Swinging Door UL 102
Product Content
Health & Environment
Recycling / Reclamation
Water Conservation
Air Quality
Social Responsibility

ANSI Requirements for Voluntary Consensus Standards

An ANSI-accredited voluntary consensus standards body follows a process with the following attributes:

  • Openness to all impacted stakeholders and interested parties;
  • Balance of diverse interests and participation by all impacted stakeholders;
  • Due process allowing for the expression of positions and their basis, and the consideration of all positions;
  • A readily available and impartial appeals process;
  • Consensus, which is defined as general agreement, but not necessarily unanimity, and includes process for attempting to resolve objections by interested parties, as long as all comments have been fairly considered, each objector is advised of the disposition of his or her objection(s) and the reason why, and the consensus body members are given the opportunity to change their votes after reviewing the comments


Once a sustainability assessment standard has been published there are several ways in which products can be certified as meeting the requirements contained in the standard including:


A product manufacturer may choose to certify that its product meets the requirements in a standard to achieve a specified achievement level. They simply provide a statement or certificate stating the product meets the standard requirements. The value or strength of this type of certification is solely based on the reputation of the product manufacturer.

2nd Party Certification

An association, to which the product manufacturer belongs, provides the assurance for this certification. It is the responsibility of the association to monitor and assure the quality of the individual members to ensure the reputation of the product association.

3rd Party Certification

A third party provides the certification, which is completely independent from the product manufacturer, contractor, designer, and specifier. Third party certifications are the more trusted form of environmental conformance verification since they require the hiring of an outside auditing firm. Although they are the most expensive type of certification, third party certifications can be very helpful because they validate the product meets industry independent standards. They also provide assurance to specifiers, building owners, designers, and consumers that the product manufacturer's marketing claims are accurately stated.


These standards are intended to be used primarily by product(s) manufacturers interested in understanding the sustainability performance of their product(s). Independent auditors, certification bodies, and environmental labeling organizations are also potential users of these standards for their use in supporting market-based environmental and sustainability claims. These standards may also be used by purchasers and consumers who wish to ensure that manufacturers are accurately declaring the sustainable nature of their products. These standards can be used where building materials and furnishings are being specified for green commercial, industrial, and residential buildings.

Additionally these standards can be used as part of government programs that identify products which exhibit reduced impacts on the environment.

The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (NTTAA) directs federal agencies to use voluntary consensus standards, in lieu of government-unique standards, in procurement and regulatory activities, unless use of such standards would be inconsistent with applicable law or otherwise impractical. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-119 implements the NTTAA and defines standards and voluntary consensus standards for the federal community. OMB A-119 does not establish a preference between consensus and non-consensus standards developed in the private sector. In general, A-119 provides broad discretion to individual agencies in determining if/how to make use of non-governmental standards. This provides agencies with the flexibility to select standards that best meet their needs.

Various laws and parts of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) require that agencies purchase environmentally sustainable products and services. All GSA employees are responsible for complying with the GSA Green Purchasing Plan (GPP) . The General Services Administration (GSA) currently references several sustainability standards in PBS-P100 Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service.

The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) references several sustainability assessment standards in the Environmentally Preferable Products section of their Best Practices Manual.

The ICC-700 National Green Building Standard references several sustainability assessment standards in the Innovative Practices section. (See also Green Building Standards and Certification Systems.)

ISO Principles for Third-party Conformity Assessment Programs

Conformity assessment refers to the procedures and practices used to determine whether a product conforms to the requirements of a standard and/or ecolabeling program. In order to instill confidence among specifiers Type 1 independent third party certification programs developed in accordance with the principles of ISO 14024 have been established for a growing number of voluntary consensus product sustainability assessment standards. These certification programs are typically distinguished by adherence to the following principles:

  • Independence in auditing processes and decision making
  • Accessibility to interested parties
  • Involvement of a balance of interests in management of the program
  • Process for the management and resolution of complaints and appeals
  • Accreditation as an independent third party certifier under ISO Guide 65 by ANSI.

Emerging Issues

EPA Efforts to Develop Guidelines for Selecting Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Federal Procurement

In the near future, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to seek public comment on draft Guidelines intended to provide a transparent, fair, and consistent approach to using non-governmental product environmental performance standards and ecolabels in federal purchasing, consistent with federal standards policy and sustainable acquisition mandates. The draft Guidelines are being developed in response to requests via a wide variety of stakeholder engagement channels from manufacturers, environmental organizations, federal purchasers, and other stakeholders over the last several years.

Use of the Guidelines would facilitate an effective and efficient implementation of Section 2(h) of Executive Order (E.O) 13514 "Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance" and Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 23.103 which requires 95 percent of the government's applicable contract actions to be sustainable. Specifically, the Guidelines would provide clarity regarding the term "environmentally preferable" for purposes of the E.O.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Additional Resources

Training Courses

Procurement courses in WBDG continuing education

Federal Agencies