Eco labels: A wake-up call for manufacturers

by Tania Wannenburg
Eco lables a wakeup1

Product manufacturers have to get on the product certification bandwagon if they want to ensure the competitiveness of their products.

The launch of the Green Building Council of South Africa’s (GBCSA’s) Green Star SA – Interiors v1 rating tool earlier this year has cast the spotlight on the need for green product certifications.

The interior tool rates interior fit-outs of buildings according to nine categories, with the overall aim to reduce the environmental impact of interior fitout projects. One of these, the materials category, assesses the major products selected for the fit-out looking at furniture, assemblies, flooring and wall coverings.

However, as more and more manufacturers claim that their products are green and eco-friendly, architects and interior designers are facing a confusing case of “greenwashing” and often find that it is not at all straightforward to find the necessary proof to back-up these claims.

Product certification and ratings
The GBCSA has developed a process and criteria to assess product certification schemes, adapted from the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA’s) system. This assessment is aimed at making it easier for products that have been rated by such a product label to be used and scored in the Green Star SA – Interiors v1 tool, where projects are rewarded points for choosing products that are labelled with product labels that have been assessed and categorised by the GBCSA either as A, B or C.

According to the chief technical officer, Manfred Braune, the GBCSA does not test, review or certify products or materials, but relies on credible, third-party certification bodies to do so, and in turn the GBCSA will assess and acknowledge such product labels. Currently the GBCSA has assessed a number of international and local product labelling schemes, of which the local ones are from Global GreenTag and EcoStandard. To categorise labelled products, the GBCSA reviews all documents provided by these bodies in support of meeting the criteria set by them. A full list of which Ecolabels have been assessed and categorised by the GBCSA are found on their website here https://www.gbcsa.org.za/products-materials/ on this document https://www.gbcsa.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/GBCSAs-Evaluation-of-Product-Certification-Schemes-2015-06.pdf – there are currently 139 different product labels that have been assessed and categorised by the GBCSA.

“Products and materials in Green Star SA rating tools are addressed by credits which target the consumption of resources through selection, use, reuse and efficient management practices of building and fit-out materials,” Braune explains.

To support development of these local product labelling schemes the GBCSA has an agreement with EcoStandard and Ecospecifier, where as a member of the GBCSA, product owner companies will enjoy specially negotiated discounts on your product assessments or certifications with Ecostandard and Ecospecifier.

“There are many misconceptions out there about what is really important when selecting products,” highlights Bonté Edwards from EcoStandard South Africa. “It is necessary to look at the complete lifecycle of a product, because something might be environmentally friendly when applied, while the actual manufacturing thereof could be harmful to the environment.”

Operating as an NPO, EcoStandard’s eco labelling assessment process follows the principles of the Life Cycle Analysis (an assessment from Cradle-to-Grave and in line with the guidelines established by ISO 14024) prior to awarding the EcoProduct star rating and Ecolabel, should the product meet the required standards. The assessment process considers five categories, of which a percentage can be achieved in each category and up to five stars awarded. The categories consider resources, manufacturing, packaging and distribution, product use and recyclability.

Rating challenges
“One of the biggest difficulties we have when rating products is a lack of information. It is not a simple matter of just documenting processes as we need proof that manufacturers are doing what they say they are doing,” notes Edwards.

“As one of our philosophies is continued improvement, we offer recommendations on how various aspects under each of the five categories can be improved upon. This not only increases the chances of achieving a higher star rating, but ultimately should improve sustainability. Even if a product scores five stars, there are always opportunities for improvement,” she says.

Global GreenTag
Global GreenTag’s Lizette Swanevelder explains that the GreenTag certification and rating scheme is underpinned by rigorous scientific and lifecycle assessment (LCA) processes. “Its advanced, robust, beyond LCA certification methodology and based on type 1 ISO 14024 eco label,” she states.

Operated under licence by Global GreenTag (Pty) Ltd, originally launched in Australia, it is also recognised in numerous other countries. It comprises two individual schemes, GreenRate, which was developed specifically to respond to Green Building Council requirements, and LCARate, a unique whole-of-life, lifecycle analysis (LCA) based sustainability rating system. LCARate certifies products that deliver real cradle-to-grave LCA data into projects, looking to perform comparative lifecycle impact analysis.

LCARate uses the scientifically robust life cycle analysis (LCA) practice to comparatively rank the performance of eco and health-preferred products compared to business as usual products allowing all certified products in a sector to be compared to one another using EcoPOINT scores.

It provides built environment products a ‘snap-view’ solution to green building industry product procurement issues.

LCARate enables environmental, health, biodiversity, climate and social impacts as well as efficiency benefits of products to become consideration factors for professionals making purchasing or specification decisions. It is performance-based, using a ‘cradle-to-end of life fate’ analysis of product impacts and benefits. Furthermore, the provision of Global GreenTag certification Marks and EcoPOINT scores and ‘nutrition label’ like Eco Scorecards make the whole system intuitively simple and easy-to-understand.

“Such whole project LCA is becoming widespread in other countries using Green Star, LEED and BREEAM,” Swanevelder adds. “While these processes are not common in Africa currently, measuring the environmental footprint of a project using LCA is getting easier all the time.”

Sustainable product database
To help architects and designers save time specifying green products, Ecospecifier and EcoStandard lists certified products on their websites, which is also viewable on mobile devices and tablets. The Ecospecifier product assessment reports along with the product scorecards are also published online, allowing a great level of transparency.

In May this year, AutoSpec and Global GreenTag South Africa have announced a collaboration to enhance user experience and facilitate awareness of green product availability when users are preparing specifications or seeking to make sustainable product decisions. Having been linking their databases for some time, Ecospecifier-verified products appear in AutoSpec searches and vice versa.

AutoSpec users now have direct links to the Ecospecifier information pages, allowing them to select the correct fit-for-purpose product or material and to trust its health and environmental credentials. Similarly users of the Ecospecifier site can generate product specifications for their chosen products by activating the AutoSpec button on each specific product page.

It is now time for product manufacturers and suppliers to wake up and get their products certified. Just a few years ago, there were no nutritional values printed on packaging, but today it is standard. This is what is going to happen with all the products that architects specify, and those products that are not keeping up with the times are going to get left behind.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to the GBCSA, Ecospecifier Global GreenTag South Africa and EcoStandard for the information given to write this article.

Product certifications:
–    The GBCSA assesses product certification schemes – refer to the document highlighted earlier as to the full list of labels assessed by the GBCSA and what the process is for Ecolabels that still want to be assessed by the GBCSA
o    EcoStandard
o    Global GreenTag
–    Both consider the full lifecycle of products, but according to different categories.
–    A database of certified products makes specifying easier.
–    Product manufacturers and suppliers need to ensure that their products are rated and certified by such product labelling schemes recognised by the GBCSA.

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