Best-Kept Secret: LEVEL ®

The office furniture industry has quietly made tremendous strides in sustainability over the last several years. The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association, BIFMA, has brought together its membership — including the top sustainability experts from across the industry — along with representatives from many other stakeholder groups to jointly develop and launch a consensus-driven voluntary sustainability standard.

The ANSI/BIFMA e3 standard and the third-party certification program that supports it is commonly referred to as level ®.

While acceptance has already been recognized by client procurement teams and the green building movement, level ® is, unfortunately, still a best-kept secret and relatively unknown in the architectural and interior design communities.

level ® follows the template of the U.S. Green Building Council’s USGBC, LEED rating system for buildings. To describe it simply, level ® is to furniture as LEED is to green buildings. It is a voluntary, holistic confirmation of a product’s environmental and social impact in the built environment.

Kimball Office, Priority Bench

It accounts for more attributes than any other standard in the marketplace. level ® is an open, transparent, and non-proprietary standard accredited by third-party certifiers.

The level ® standard applies to all business and institutional furniture including moveable walls, systems furniture, desking systems, casegoods, tables, seating, accessories, and materials and components supplied to furniture manufacturers.

While the standard is product focused, it measures four elements (impact areas) and three categories, as follows:

Elements

  • Materials
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Human and Ecosystem Health
  • Social Responsibility

Categories

  • Product
  • Facility
  • Organization

The level ® standard includes prerequisites, credits based on any of the elements, and points. It works with three conformance tiers including level 1, level 2 and level 3 (level 3 being the highest rating achievement). It measures the following elements:

Materials Energy and Atmosphere Human and Ecosystem Health Social Responsibility
Prerequisites Prerequisites Prerequisites Prerequisites
Climate Neutral Building Energy ISO 14001 Social Responsibility
LCA LEED Facilities Chemical Mgmt. Plan Health and Safety
Material Efficiency Embodied Energy Chemical Use in Products, Processes and Maintenance Inclusiveness
Rapidly Renewable Lighting Chemical Reduction in Product, Processes and Maintenance Community Outreach
Sustainable Wood Transportation Furniture Emissions Social Reporting
Recycled Content Renewable Energy Supply Chain
Biodegradable Greenhouse Gases
Product Responsibility
Solid Waste Management
Water Management

 

The level ® standard measures performance of categories along with the elements including the manufacturing organization, its facilities and products. The maximum point spread is allotted to 17 points for the organization, 38 points for the facility, and 35 points for the product. A total of 90 points is possible.

Many architects and interior designers are impressed by the points awarded for human and ecosystem health and social responsibility. These impact the well-being of employees, the community, and product users.

Designers favor the special consideration given to social responsibility measurements, including employee health and safety, labor, and human rights. level ® also focuses on other important aspects of social responsibility including inclusiveness, community outreach and involvement, social responsibility reporting, and supply chain management.

The U.S. Green Building Council has recognized level in its LEED Pilot Credit #43. Initiated on June 15, 2011, it ran for nine months and recently closed with the March 1, 2012 opening of the 3rd public comment period on LEED 2012. It awarded one point for the use of level certified products on LEED projects meeting a minimum threshold and was restricted to those projects participating in the pilot credit.

There is current consideration being given to a new Pilot Credit #52 assessing the use of level and third-party certified products. At this date, it is listed as non-operational on the USGBC website.

BIFMA has made informational access regarding the level standard fast and easy on its impressive new website. The website provides a certified product search function by level certification category achievement, product category, manufacturer, and certified.

Kimball Office, Villa Cafe

It includes level bid spec language for architects and interior designers that want to ensure they specify environmentally preferable furniture products for their clients.

Two versions are included, one for mandating level certified products and another expressing a preference. The website also includes informative short videos, a blog, and training opportunities.

The new BIFMA level sustainability standard has been well received, especially by those seeking a standardized set of evaluation metrics for comparing furniture products. It is a voluntary, holistic confirmation of a product’s environmental and social impact in the built environment.

Architects and interior designers commend the fact that level is third-party certified, helping to curtail greenwash in our industry.

When they learn about level ®, it is evident that the best-kept secret has become good news on sustainability.

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