NWFA CEO Michael Martin on sustainability
By Michael Martin
There is no doubt that green building initiatives continue to capture the attention of architects, designers and other trade professionals involved in the construction and remodeling industry. During the past few years, the prevalence and use of these programs has risen dramatically, and companies throughout the industry have scrambled to demonstrate the green attributes of their products.
In some cases, there have been accusations of greenwashing with these claims. Many organizations have promoted their products as being green without any scientific data to support their marketing messages. Increasingly, the public has become skeptical and has demanded that companies present concrete verification that the products they promote as being green are truly environmentally sound.
The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) responded with such a program five years ago with the introduction of its Responsible Procurement Program (R
PP), developed to recognize companies that work to sustain our world’s forests. The NWFA worked with top environmental groups to develop the program and utilizes third-party audits to provide independent verification.
Organizations involved in the development of the NWFA RPP include the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC-U.S.), World Wildlife Fund Global Forests & Trade Network (WWF-GFTN), Rainforest Alliance (RA), Nature Conservancy (NC), and Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), which provides the required third-party audit for participating companies. These organizations provided significant guidance on developing a program that establishes specific and detailed criteria to demonstrate that environmental responsibility. In addition, the program is transitional, allowing companies to gradually increase their level of environmental performance over time. Initially, companies participate in third-party audits that demonstrate their domestic raw materials are sourced only from U.S. renewing forests as identified by U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Forest Inventory Assessment (FIA) statistics, but they commit to transitioning to FSC-certified products over time.
INTEGRATING RPP INTO HOME BUILDING PROGRAMS
Since the program was launched, the NWFA has sought to obtain recognition for products that qualify for the RPP Verified from U.S. Renewing Forests label with green building programs. Initially, efforts were made to gain recognition for the RPP within the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building rating systems (among certification systems for forests and wood, LEED currently recognizes only FSC). However, most wood flooring is used in residential applications and the LEED program is most commonly used in commercial and institutional construction.
LEED has standards for both single-family and multi-family residential construction. LEED for Homes was relatively late in being developed and has not yet achieved the level of market acceptance that the commercial rating systems have enjoyed. However, as the green building movement surged in the first decade of this century, a number of regional residential green building programs were founded, and subsequently pioneered the market for residential green building certification years before LEED for Homes was launched. In some parts of the country, municipalities and counties provide incentives for their use, and, in others, their use is required. Consequently, earlier this year, NWFA leaders decided to pursue a new approach to establishing market drivers for RPP targeting these regional residential green building programs. Significant progress has been achieved already.
Just this fall, the NWFA RPP has been recognized by Earth Advantage for inclusion in its green building certification program. The mission of Earth Advantage is to accelerate the creation of better buildings through green building standards that cover a wide range of building types and levels of sustainability. The program is active throughout the Pacific Northwest and has significant market influence, focusing primarily in Oregon and southern Washington. In Bend, Oregon, Earth Advantage’s marketshare is more than 30% of all new homes built. In the Portland zip codes closest to the inner city, Earth Advantage enjoys a marketshare of 40% of all new homes, and in the larger Portland area, its marketshare is about 20% of all new homes built.
In a little more than a decade, Earth Advantage has certified more than 13,800 single-family homes. The program also is very active in LEED for Homes certification, being the nation’s fourth largest LEED for Homes provider. Earth Advantage also administers a multi-family certification program called Earth Advantage Multi-Family, which has more than 500 apartment and condo units currently in various stages within the certification process.
To obtain Earth Advantage certification, a structure must be evaluated using a point system. Each residential structure must achieve at least 60 points to be considered certified. Earth Advantage has agreed to recognize wood flooring that is NWFA RPP Verified from U.S. Renewing Forests in the next version of all of its residential rating systems, which are expected to be introduced in late 2013 or early 2014. At that time, wood products that are NWFA RPP verified will be eligible for one point in the materials category in both the Earth Advantage residential and commercial certification programs.
The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) is another green building program based in the western U.S. that has recognized wood flooring that is NWFA RPP Verified from U.S. Renewing Forests in the latest draft of its rating system. CHPS is leading a national movement to improve student performance and the entire educational experience by building the best possible schools. The program is based on the belief that children learn better in schools with good lighting, clean air, and comfortable classrooms, and works with schools and experts to make changes to ensure that every child has the best possible learning environment with the smallest impact on the planet. CHPS specifically works to conserve energy, water and other natural resources, while reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation.
To date, more than 80 schools have been built using CHPS standards. Thirteen states have embraced CHPS and created a state-specific building standard adapted specifically for their climate and local building codes. Thousands of building professionals have been trained through CHPS, and hundreds of high-performance, healthy, green products are available in the CHPS product database.
NWFA RPP Verified from U.S. Renewing Forests certified hardwood is recognized in Version 2.0 of the CHPS National Core Criteria, which currently is out for public review. The new standard will be used starting in 2014.
In addition to Earth Advantage and CHPS, NWFA is targeting a number of additional regional green building programs, including Build It Green, Built Green, and EarthCraft.
Based in California, Build It Green is a membership-supported organization representing more than 10,000 building industry professionals that strives to change how homes are designed and built in order to prevent climate change, minimize pollution and protect natural resources. In 2012 alone, Build It Green produced more than 3,600 energy efficient homes and more than 4,000 GreenPoint rated homes. To date, Build It Green has rated more than 17,000 single-family and multi-family homes, with about another 25,000 homes in the pipeline. While the program currently only operates in California, expansion is being planned in other western states with the eventual goal of national expansion.
Located in the state of Washington, Built Green encourages environmentally responsible home construction designed to provide homeowners with comfortable, durable, environmentally friendly homes that are cost-effective to own and operate. These resource-efficient homes are crafted to exceed building codes and provide homeowners with years of healthy, quality living, while protecting the environment. Programs are administered by local homebuilder associations, using a checklist-based system. Built Green has certified more than 14,200 homes since 2000.
Developed in 1999, EarthCraft, which serves the southeastern U.S., has a variety of residential green building programs, including standards for single-family homes, multi-family homes, light commercial, communities and renovation. Primarily serving Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina, EarthCraft has certified more than 25,000 homes, multi-family units and commercial buildings.
Although this new focus for the NWFA RPP on regional green building programs has just begun, considerable progress has been made in a very short period of time. And with the housing market in recovery, the timing could not be better. There is no national recognition program available for residential green building projects other than LEED for Homes, so reaching out in multiple markets to multiple programs is the key to expanding recognition for NWFA RPP certified products. When you consider that about 90% of wood flooring goes into residential structures, recognition from these organizations is a good avenue for bolstering the value and awareness of the program.
All sectors of the hardwood lumber industry could be eligible to participate in the NWFA RPP, including furniture, cabinetry and other hardwood products. NWFA wood flooring manufacturers that are RPP members include Anderson Hardwood Floors, Mannington, Mullican Flooring, Shaw Hardwoods, and Sheoga Hardwood Flooring & Paneling.
As the program grows, NWFA will research and reach out to more residential green building programs throughout the nation to gain additional recognition for NWFA RPP Verified from U.S. Renewing Forests products within these programs.
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