Frontlines – Finding Green Advice

Consulting company Sustainable Research Group hopes to help others focus on sustainability.
special to green@work

Many observers have said that a new economy has begun to emerge with a new breed of business to drive it—firms whose value is based on their intellectual capital and their keen sensitivity to the newest opportunities and trends. Companies and government policymakers at all levels are seeking the assistance of firms that can help them take their next step in the sustainability revolution.Sustainable Research Group, LLC, a company dedicated to identifying, documenting and improving business performance based on environmentally healthy and socially responsible principles, is one organization committed to helping others embrace today’s focus on sustainability. SRG provides consultation on everything from waste stream analysis and end-of-life product impact, and has recently focused on ensuring office furniture meets sustainability guidelines.SRG was integral to the development of one of the first applications of a sustainable product standard for the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association.

As the project manager and lead technical resource for the process, SRG helped BIFMA develop North America’s first industry-wide sustainability guidelines in 2004. Two years later, SRG became responsible for overseeing the organization and development of the complete product sustainability standard.

To accomplish this, SRG monitored the work of nearly one hundred industry volunteers and divided the standard’s technical approach targets into four categories: materials, energy/renewables, human/ecosystem health and social responsibility. The company helped reconcile stakeholder differences, prioritize actions and keep ideas in motion.

To encourage higher levels of achievement, a point system and accreditation will be added to the final product, along with incentives for continuous improvement over time. One of the biggest challenges is to ensure that participants don’t set the bar too low or too high, so that large businesses are able to achieve something better than “business-as-usual,” or small ones have goals that are out of reach.

SRG claims that a growing number of customers are asking for furniture that meets these standards, and BIFMA plans to submit its sustainability standard to the American National Standards Institute. BIFMA’s ultimate goal is to create an ANSI international standard for sustainable furniture, but success will depend on the transparency of the certification process and the promise by BIFMA to revisit its standard at least every five years to ensure that it remains technically current. To bolster credibility, BIFMA will partner with independent third-party auditor and standards group NSF International, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a public comment period will assure transparency and resolve any legitimate issues prior to an ANSI adoption.

“If a company conforms to this standard, it will demonstrate that it has the necessary technical and management skills to deliver a product to the market with cutting-edge sustainability attributes,” said William Stough, CEO of SRG.

Although adopting BIFMA’s sustainable furniture standard will be voluntary for applicants, it will affect the industry’s suppliers and customers worldwide. The new economy will demand organizations provide products and services that protect and restore the ecological and social systems that support us all.

Strategies for Office Furniture SustainabilityIn working toward a national consensus standard with BIFMA, NSF and their stakeholders, SRG promoted the following key sustainability principles:* Energy efficiency aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
* Decision filters that help companies evolve to higher levels of human and ecosystem safety.
* Reduction of the raw material intensity of their products.
* Life-cycle thinking, from creation through reuse and end of life.
* Environmental management systems and triple-bottom-line accountability.

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