September 20, 2013

Werner Braun: Green guides going viral

I remember when I came to Dalton back in 2000 how impressed I was with the incredible job the carpet industry had done to make the industry more environmentally sustainable.

In fact, between 1990 and 2002 the industry voluntarily, and I stress voluntarily, reduced its environmental footprint by more than 50 percent. No one made them do it. Industry leaders simply had the foresight to see that it needed to be done.

Let’s fast forward to 2004. By that time, a number of outside organizations had taken it upon themselves to devise their own proprietary “green guides” for distribution, to push their own personal and organizational agendas. And unfortunately, none of them brought the depth or the breadth of expertise and backgrounds that a national standards process, such as the process adhered to by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), creates.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that in principle. But the problem was that there was no one set of standards for determining how environmental stewardship was to be measured — many outside organizations were pretty much each following their own proprietary standards for doing the right thing.

In fact, these outside groups were pushing their own schemes and programs. While some placed higher value upon energy efficiency when producing carpet, others measured how much recycled material went into their product, and still others stressed the amount of water they were saving in production. It all basically depended upon what agenda they were trying to push.

The upshot was that there was a lot of confusion in the marketplace. Industry folks became concerned. They knew that while all of these various methods were valuable, it was hard to make sense of all of it. We were not comparing apples to apples.

A decision was made to come to a consensus about just which standards should be used in terms of gauging a company’s environmental stewardship. We wanted everyone’s efforts to be measured by the same yardstick, so to speak.

So we enlisted the help of the ANSI, working with them to create a national standard for carpet sustainability.

The consensus body comprised a very diverse group of interested parties, including manufacturers, industry suppliers, mill owners, academic professors, consultants, architects and designers, government officials and others. This body spent about two-and-a-half to three years coming up with a set of standards by which to judge a company’s sustainability. In that way, no one organization could dominate the creation of those standards.

By 2007, we had in place an excellent set of standards, called NSF/ANSI 140, Sustainability Assessment for Carpet (also referred to as NSF/ANSI 140-2012). And since 2007, these standards have served the industry and the customer very well.

It seemed that for a long while, life was good.

Then, over the last few years, people started coming out of the woodwork trying to create their own new green guides. For us, that’s very exasperating. We spent a lot of time putting together a document standard only to have it undermined by organizations that want to only play by their own rules.

It’s unfortunate that these new organizations have been somewhat successful in getting various carpet customers to demand that they use their particular “green guide.” It allows them to push their agenda whether or not it is valid or reasonable.  

And it’s even more unfortunate that this effort has gained traction with other organizations. We’re basically going back to where we started from in 2002 when there was such confusion in the marketplace.

From our vantage point, NSF/ANSI 140 is the only standard that should be used. That’s because it’s the only one that’s ANSI certified.

In our industry, it’s of no advantage to confuse or befuddle the customer by having multiple “standards” floating around. We at CRI urge all of those who are specifying carpet for use in buildings to do the right thing — make sure that the carpet you buy meets the consensus standards set by ANSI. There’s no need to “reinvent the wheel.”  

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.



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