By Paula Melton and Tristan Roberts
Competing standards for building product emissions represent one of the most confusing areas in green product certifications, and relief may not
be on the way. A highly anticipated effort faces questions following a joint June 3, 2011 announcement from NSF International and Greenguard Environmental Institute (GEI) that the two would pursue separate paths. The two groups had been working together to develop a single, robust, health-based standard for indoor volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
The erstwhile standard, known as GEI/NSF 112—Volatile Organic Emissions from Building Products and Interior Furnishing Products
, was widely expected to end confusion and second-guessing about indoor air quality (IAQ) certification labels for furnishings and other interior building products. Now, the two organizations will work independently on separate standards. They will work within consensus-based ANSI procedures, but will rely on others to “harmonize” the results, according to an email statement sent to all stakeholders currently working on the project.
“We anticipate that there may be similarities between the two standards, but also that there may be substantive differences,” Greenguard spokeswoman Rachel Belew told EBN
. “Ultimately, the marketplace will determine the value of the individual standards, whether they are equivalent to each other for certain applications, and whether the standards might individually have applications to which they are particularly suited.” Belew added that “the outcome was the result of individual business decisions”—not of any “technical or procedural issues.” Building product consumers, specifiers, and policymakers should be familiar with the solution Belew suggests, in which the marketplace sorts things out: it already describes the confusing IAQ certifications market.
NSF International initially withdrew from joint standard development in February 2011. At the time it said that its move was in response to Greenguard’s acquisition by UL Environment—a subsidiary of safety certification behemoth Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and an emerging but powerful player in the rapidly growing green product certification industry. (See “UL Environment Buys Greenguard
February 2011.) Belew said that talks to resume work had failed.
NSF’s response to EBN
’s inquiry was virtually identical to GEI’s, framing the end of cooperative standard development as a “business decision” and citing the organizations’ “mutual respect” and “passion to protect the environment.” Both organizations said that ANSI had not responded to the situation and does not typically comment on cooperative agreements or their dissolution.
Jane Wilson, NSF’s international director of standards, acknowledged that the two efforts, driven as they are by stakeholders, may well diverge. “Those stakeholders may drive each standard toward unique approaches to the many challenges of product emissions testing,” she said.
That’s not acceptable, according to one of those stakeholders, Tom Lent, a panel member and the policy director at Healthy Building Network. “It is very unprofessional that GEI and NSF are each planning to go forward developing redundant competing standards and are asking all of the expert panel to either choose sides or do double work on two redundant committees,” Lent said. “If the two organizations are not capable of working together and ANSI does not rule on the issue, I am suggesting that the expert group act as a whole to select one or come up with a creative way of dividing the work.”
UL has opened public comment on its current version of the standard, which it is now calling UL 118 Ed. 1—Indoor Air Quality
. NSF has invited stakeholders to join a conference call in late June 2011 to discuss their concerns about the process, according to Lent.
For more information
June 9, 2011
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