Today’s building materials industry is awash in Eco-Labeling. Green Label Programs range from easy to get and maintain, to difficult to obtain and stay on. The wide range of labeling programs out there are confusing to manufacturers, Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), retailers, and the purchasing public.
Most manufacturers are eager to advertise any attributes their products may have that meet the general requirements of “Green.” These attributes range from percent recycled content, through energy efficiency, to contains no dangerous or toxic chemicals. While the manufacturer is aware of these attributes, and anxious to make purchasers, specifiers and approvers familiar with them, how does he best accomplish that goal?
The two basic program types available today consist of Verification (or Validation) Programs and Certification Programs.
A Verification Program, usually for manufacturers of materials, products or assemblies for the construction industry, consists of the submittal of test reports which assert the performance or "green" attribute(s) for which a Green Label is desired. The Verification company will consider these test results as part of a Verification Program, and will determine which of the “green” attributes requested by the manufacturer have been met, and to what degree. A Green Label will then be issued for the product, to be used in marketing by the manufacturer. This Verification Label is often used to determine points towards a LEED certified building. Many of these programs do not include a factory visit, and most do not include any ongoing product testing or facility auditing.
A Certification Program consists of an increased level of monitoring, significantly more than a Verification Program. The normal steps involved in a true Certification Program include:
1 - Test Plan development
The test plan shoudl be carefully considered, in light of the manufacturer’s desired Green Certification attributes. Consideration should be given to any local standards in the market area for which the product is being sold, and national or international standards selected that will demonstrate the performance.
2 - Perform an initial plant audit
The initial audit is done to witness the production of the actual test specimens, and to gather the quality information which describes how the product was made, and any specific details that are significant to its performance.
3 - Perform qualification tests for desired attributes
The test standards indicated in the Test Plan will then be carried out. Some of these are pass/fail and others indicate a performance level. The results of these tests will qualify the product for specific "green" attributes which will be included in the certification program.
4 - Preparation of a Quality Control Manual
This manual is typically developed and written by the certification agency. It contains all of the information pertinent to the manufacture of the product. The manual is used during the future monitoring of the manufacturing facility, to gain assurance and confidence that the product continues to be manufactured to the required quality level.
5 - Authorize the use of the Green Label
The manufacturer will then be issued a Green Label that clearly indicates the attributes for which the product is certified, so that no confusion can exist in the marketplace. Manufacturers can use this label on products, packaging, websites, etc. to promote their “green” certification.
6 - Manufacturing plant audits
Routine visits, normally performed quarterly, consist of a thorough audit of the manufacturing facility to ensure that good, quality procedures are being followed. The inspector will also randomly select specimens (either finished product or materials involved during the manufacturing process) and send them to the certification agency’s laboratories for verification.
The main difference between a Verification Program and a Certification Program is one of intensity and thoroughness. Both are quality assurance techniques, but the Certification Program offers a complete, third-party assurance to purchasers, specifiers, retailers and consumers of the on-going quality and performance of a product. Being more intensely monitored than the normal Verification Program, the Certification Program is preferred by Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), making the product easier to market, and giving manufacturers a competitive advantage.
Products under Certification Programs are capable of being used for points towards a LEED certification with confidence that they will qualify.