Volume 10, Issue 3 - March 2009

eye on energy

Green Approved!
NAHB Program Closes Gap for Prudent Manufacturers
by Arlene Zavocki Stewart

In case you haven’t heard, at long last, the National Green Building Standard – ICC 700-2008 - received ANSI approval on January 29, 2009 (see related article on page 12). More than two years in the making, this is the first honest-to-goodness standard promulgated specifically for green building. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Research Center has not only created a building certification program to that standard, but also had the foresight to make a place for manufacturers. I’m so excited about it because, in my opinion, NAHB Research Center Green Approved provides a clear and prudent path for manufacturers to participate in the quickly expanding green building market.

The FTC is Watching
When I use the word prudent I’m talking liability. Never forget that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the jurisdiction to investigate false advertising claims, including those of an “environmental” nature, such as marketing statements that a product is “green,” “recyclable” and “sustainable.” A competitor could also try to allege that a manufacturer’s claims of providing a green product are unsupported. 

Manufacturers always have to think about making accurate and fair advertising claims. That’s why quality assurance programs have three fundamental tenets that give rise to accuracy and fairness. Say what you do? Rather, it should be do what you say and document it. Of course, companies look to standards to define the “say” part and certification programs to provide independence confirmation on the “do” and “document” parts. It’s basic and simple.

So what certification should a company get for a green product? I really haven’t been comfortable recommending a program because I think almost every green product program out there needs work on one or more of those three basic steps. Some need a little, most need a lot. 

A few months ago, DWM covered FTC activity on updating the Green Guides extensively (see October issue of DWM, page 32). 

So what was the important take-away about certification? The Green Guides state: “The FTC analyzes third-party certification claims to ensure that they are substantiated and not deceptive. Third-party certification does not insulate an advertiser from Commission scrutiny or eliminate an advertiser’s obligation to ensure for itself that the claims communicated by the certification are substantiated. According to the Guides, if a marketer makes claims that are inconsistent with the Guides, the FTC can take action under Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive practices.” This is in play NOW.

What does that mean exactly? It’s entirely possible that a manufacturer would comply with the parameters of a certification program, relying on the supposed expertise of the certification entity to determine what is “green.” Then the FTC investigates that particular “Seal-of-Approval” and determines that the “say” portion was not vigorous enough to provide adequate substantiation. In this situation, the manufacturer isn’t insulated. The manufacturer tried to do the right thing, but it turns out that the certificate program they relied on was too thin on supporting data. Now the manufacturer is left having to pay to defend itself from the charge that they duped the consumer with false advertising.

Why pay the money to be in a certification program if it is not supported with the substance and detail needed to protect you from an allegation that your product isn’t really “green”? There will be a certification program that fulfills these requirements but no one is there yet. For the above reasons, a bad certification program is worse than no certification program at all in my opinion. 

Why Go Green Approved? 
So, in light of this backdrop, I think the NAHB Green Approved program is the better choice right now, because it gets down to basics. 

First and foremost, the “say” portion cites an ANSI approved standard which reflects FTC requirements having a “reasonable basis” for setting criteria to make an environmental claim. 

Secondly, if the manufacturer can only prove they “do” one criteria, they can still play. It’s not all of the “say” or nothing at all. Plus the company now has some idea about what else they could to “do” to expand participation and the documentation they need to prove it. 

Third, the Research Center is not looking to reinvent the wheel. They will rely upon other “say, do, document” programs for specific attributes as long as the certification programs are reliable. So since they also follow ANSI protocols, AAMA and WDMA Hallmark Certification will provide adequate substantiation for air leakage and NFRC and Energy Star will suffice for thermal requirements.

Fourth, while there is no requirement for manufacturers to participate in Green Approved, it’s a no-brainer for me because the program participation fees will pay for themselves in sheer headache avoidance. I’ve sat in too many meetings hearing sales people grouse about how one building department allowed their product but the one down the road didn’t. Now, multiply that number by independent verifiers all over the country (who might know green but don’t necessarily know product approval or standards language), doing the same thing for the National Green Building Standard. If the product is Green Approved, the Research Center can play the trump card and dictate that the verifier must allow its use as it was determined by the Research Center. Oh, to have that powerful an enforcement entity in the national building code arena!

Lastly, it turns out that the Research Center has produced quite possibly the most powerful tool that allows builders to make their own choices about building green (found at http://www.nahbgreen.org/ScoringTool.aspx). The middle man who so often dictates how a builder should get to green is taken out of the mix, even though the homes still need to be verified. The pièce de lá résistance is that builders scoring their projects can see in real time which of the products they already use is Green-Approved, meeting ICC 700-2008 criteria, with the “say” part clearly defined and accessible to the consumer. 

Simple, clear, accurate and substantiated. Does it get any better?

Arlene Zavocki Stewart is the principal for AZS Consulting Inc. She can be reached at azstewart@azsconsultinginc.com. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.

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