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April, 2008

BIFMA Sustainability Assessment Standard (SAS)

BIFMA: Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer's Association

A Sustainability Assessment Standard (SAS) for business and institutional furniture is in the works. It began in 2005 when BIFMA reviewed the types of standards and certifications already in the marketplace and met with the EPA. It was determined that some of the proprietary standards in the marketplace were examples of what BIFMA wanted to avoid. Instead, they wanted to follow the ANSI open process and create a truly consensus based standard. BIFMA is both a trade association and an ANSI standards developer. But, their sustainable standards experience was a bit limited at the time so they began considering partnering with NSF International, an ANSI standards developer as well as a designated standards auditor with broader experience in sustainable standards development. Both NSF's additional designation as an auditor and their broader experience base in sustainability standards development was appealing to BIFMA. Additionally, BIFMA didn't want the standard to have too narrow a foundation in their trade association roots. Instead, they wanted to broaden the base of contributors. NSF was approached and they agreed to a partnership. Together BIFMA, NSF, and many stakeholder volunteers are developing the Sustainability Assessment Standard (SAS).

Developing this standard was first undertaken because "BIFMA believes the marketplace will benefit by having one consensus standard, a common method of evaluating the multiple aspects of sustainability." And in achieving this primary goal, they also strive to meet these objectives:

A draft proposal of the standard has passed through the first phase of the BIFMA ballot process. It is undergoing some revisions based upon comments from BIFMA members. At the next meeting of the Joint Committee in April, the comments will be considered, possible changes made, and then it will be decided if the document is ready for the ANSI process which includes an opportunity for public comment. One other major decision is whether the standard will be released as a trial version or as a final product. Either way, it will be considered to be a living document open to evolution over time as sustainability options also evolve. All in all the earliest the new standard will be ready is Fall of 2008, but it will likely take longer as the process unfolds and possible concerns or further changes are considered. At the latest, it is expected to be ready for release by December 2008.

In summary, the standard is being created using the ANSI process and an open consensus basis. The stakeholders on the Joint Committee are equally representative of three groups of people: manufacturers and suppliers, users, and regulatory/health agencies. These three groups also make up the volunteers in the work groups that have each created different sections of the draft standard. Four of the work group categories reflect the different elements in the standard which are: Materials, Energy & Atmosphere, Human Ecosystem Health, and Social Responsibility. Two additional work groups support the standard: Marketing and Tools. Marketing will help introduce and promote the standard to stakeholders and users. The tools will help support people in the marketplace who want to apply the standard to manufacturing products or to product selection.

A quick review of the standard and its structure will reveal the similarities it intentionally shares with the US Green Building Council's LEED rating systems. The structure of the standard includes a tiered system where products can meet one of three levels of the standard: Gold, Silver, or Platinum. There are prerequisites for each element category and credits and points within each element. The total number of points earned will determine the level of the standard that is being met. Some of the calculations and methodologies are like those in LEED as well. Other standards are referenced such as many from ISO, a DfE program is a prerequisite in the materials section, Energy Star, California Title 24, EPAs Smartway Transportation Partnership, Green-e certified, and the ANSI/BIFMA emissions standard. The wood certifications include FSC, CSA, and SFI. But, the percentage required to be used of each varies. The standard is a life cycle based standard that looks at all the stages of a product's life and includes social concerns such as labor practices. And although this Sustainable Assessment Standard (SAS) was developed with furniture in mind, it could serve as a template for the development of sustainability standards in other product categories.

A copy of the draft of the Sustainability Assessment Standard (SAS) is available on line, as are many other informative documents relating to the process and participants.

Visit BIFMA: Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer's Association at for more information about the SAS.

E-mail Brad Miller at if you're interested in volunteering in the process or if you would like to receive e-mail updates regarding the standard.

Interviews with: Direct quotes and summary information are from the FAQ section and the draft proposal available at
by: Sue Norman