By Donna Kelly

17 October 2013 — It’s an “interesting” time for green industries at the moment, says David Baggs, chief executive of product sustainability certification system Global GreenTag, which last week won the Banksia Award for the built environment.

The industry was moving “a bit sideways at the moment”, Baggs told The Fifth Estate this week, partly due to the new political situation caused by the election of a conservative government.

“Now that politics is out of climate change the vocab might change; probably it will be not so much about sustainability, maybe efficiency, but at the end of the day people care about this stuff.”

Baggs, however, has high hopes his product can be useful and successful in this challenging new climate, with ambitions to expand globally.

Global GreenTag

According to the company’s submission for the award, Global GreenTag is “a unique, world first, whole of life, whole of sustainability green product rating/certification program”.

It uses “scientifically robust” life cycle analysis to comparatively rank the performance of eco and health-preferred products, with a “focus on built environment products as a solution to these industry issues”.

Key is that the system allows “environmental, health and social impacts to become consideration factors in making building decisions, at no extra cost”. And reports and details are available free on its website.

Metrics range from energy and water efficiency to indoor environmental quality, pollution prevention, resource use, producer responsibility and detailed health impacts.

The business started life under the umbrella of Ecospecifier Global about four years ago but has been operating as its own entity about a year ago, Baggs says.

Today it works with more than 85 certified manufacturers with nearly 700 products certified or under certification.

Global ambitions

On the global stage, Baggs has ambitions for the system to become a “truly global”.

“At this point, GreenTag is largely in the Australian market but its goal is to continue building to a global market relevance,” Baggs told The Fifth Estate.

“It has begun this process by creating connections with national and international certification schemes such as Earth Check (70 countries), BRE’s BREEAM (44 countries), Lotus (Vietnam), GBI (Malaysia) – where it is now in discussions directly with the government, Green Star (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) and LEED (USA).”

Mr Baggs said Global GreenTag had also just finalised a standard that related to the Living Building Challenge and also worked with the UDIA’s EnviroDevelopment.

“So with the three schemes that pretty much cover the market [in Australia], we can work with all of them.”

The business has been driven by the requests of many manufacturers for choice in green product certification in Australia.

Its market includes architects, builders, designers, procurement professionals and consumers “who want to make eco and health preferable product purchasing or specification decisions with information they can trust”, Baggs says.

Benefits

Baggs says that the system is highly useful.

“Not only does certification benefit manufacturers by putting research and fact behind their environmental claims, but it allows all building industry professionals to make environmental decisions simply at the same time as their normal product assessment processes.”

But it’s been a tough road to travel. Baggs says one of the main challenges, that has been overcome, is the “shepherding of the program through all of the certification and recognition programs necessary not only as a business but also as a third-party certifier”.

“Not content with just ISO 14024 compliance, GreenTag was developed to be the sectors’ most certified third-party certifier and set out to achieve this over nearly three years,” he says. (See details below.)

Baggs said every Global GreenTag certified product is issued a scorecard, with detailed information on the product’s outcome from assessment against six sustainability criteria.

They are:

  • Synergy: how a product makes other products or systems more efficient (does not apply to all product categories)
  • Health and ecotoxicity: deep assessment (based on the UN Globally Harmonized Chemical System and Australian HSIS databases)
  • Biodiversity and sustainable timber certification
  • Life Cycle Impact Analysis – ISO 14040-44 compliant
  • Greenhouse Gas Emission or Sink – ISO 14067-compliant figure
  • Social Responsibility and Labour Conditions – including social and biodiversity NGO engagement

The criteria then come together to be represented as one eco point score to two decimal places between -1 and +1, and an eco product rating of bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

“These metrics allow manufacturers to easily demonstrate the measurement of the sustainability of the product, and allow consumers and professionals to compare products and choose the one most suited to their needs,” he says.

Global GreenTag currently employs 14 to 16 staff. Baggs says there is also an active overseas intern program meaning there were often two long-term interns on the team.

“We have people from the US, France or Italy approaching us, wanting to work with us, because there are very few companies which do what we do,” he says.

Other gongs received from the Banksia Awards include Ecospecifier Global chief executive officer Mary-Lou Kelly was a finalist in the CEO Awards, and Global GreenTag was also a finalist in the small to medium business category.

Highlights of Global GreenTag’s statement for the Banskia awards include:

The vision is to provide a single point of reference for green consumers, professionals and procurement processes with world-leading global reach and relevance.

The objective to be the single most useful, easy to understand and use sustainability metric for the building and interiors sector, driven by the requests of many manufacturers for choice in green product certification in Australia.

The market includes architects, builders, designers, procurement professionals and consumers who want to make eco and health preferable product purchasing or specification decisions with information they can trust.

Certified products span products in the building industry that range from foundational and construction, to interior and decorative, with a recent expansion into consumer markets.

Solutions to industry drivers that have included the following:

  • Typically, building professionals make decisions on the products they choose for projects based on two factors: cost and fitness for purpose. There is often a gap between the desires or intentions of an industry professional to build sustainably and the choice that they ultimately make.
  • Many designers, architects, procurement professionals and builders have the assumption that environmentally-friendly products are more expensive, while not truly researching the environmental and health cost and benefits of choosing these green products.
  • Professionals and consumers are often confused by the sea of green wash—the frequently-used terms and phrases that companies can use to claim environmental benefits without scientific or legal basis.

The product is a unique, world first, whole of life, whole of sustainability green product rating/certification program. It uses scientifically robust life cycle analysis to comparatively rank the performance of eco and health-preferred products, with a focus on built environment products as a solution to these industry issues. It includes metrics on energy and water efficiency, indoor environment quality, pollution prevention, resource use, producer responsibility and detailed health impacts.

The program allows environmental, health and social impacts to become consideration factors in making building decisions, at no extra cost. It is performance-based, using a cradle-to-grave analysis of product impacts and benefits, synergy with other products, detailed health impacts, and others.

It is quantifiable and objective with different, scored levels of certification, allowing for infinite determination of which products are good, better and best.

Reports and detail are available to the public at no charge whatsoever, on a free-to-air website (ecospecifier.com.au).

The vision and objectives of the program are monitored by stakeholders and partners actively contributing to the development of the Standards and Certification program as they are regularly approached for contribution to consultation processes in accordance with ISO 14024 requirements.

Global GreenTag is also overseen by a national advisory committee and a building product expert panel.

Both of these independent committees are made up of representatives of industry bodies, associations and NGOs/community members and assist the program in operation of the program, development of standards, appeals, disputes and stakeholder review processes.

Annual surveys are conducted of all clients, including certified manufacturers in concert with ISO 9001 Quality Process.

The initial development of the program was developed and delivered by the Baggs and co-director Mary-Lou Kelly together with a team from Ecospecifier and Global GreenTag.

Major challenges were developing a standard and communications that would overcome the “green gap” between purchasing intentions and actions, finding the right partners to support and fund the development of the project, developing processes and training and filling the need for experienced staff.

There is an overall lack in the education of life cycle assessment at the level at which it is required for GreenTag assessment.

The two most important factors in sustainability are trust and transparency, both being key aspects of ISO 14024.

It has achieved this by:

  • ISO 14024-compliant Ecolabel stakeholder, transparency, independence and certification processes
  • ISO 14040-44-compliant peer-reviewed LCA
  • ISO 14067 Greenhouse Gas Product Declaration compliance
  • ISO 9001 quality certified process and company
  • ISO 17011 Guide 65-compliant Conformance Assessment Body
  • ISO 14025 Environmental Product Declarations
  • Only formal AAAC-approved certification mark in sector

Lend Lease and Barangaroo

The Barangaroo project is a $6 billion transformation of Sydney’s port areas, the southern 7.5 hectares of the 22 ha former container port on the western rim of the city. The project seeks to create the greenest global residential, shopping and business centre in the world, delivering climate positive and carbon neutral outcomes for the whole of Barangaroo.

Lend Lease, who won the tender in 2009, is requiring all products used on the site to provide LCA based information and EPDs to supply the data to feed into their whole-of-site LCA model.

Global GreenTag provides this embodied carbon and water information with its certification for all certified products that as a result can be used in this major development.

Green Building Council of Australia and Green Star Accreditation

Global GreenTag is formally recognised by the Green Building Council of Australia and New Zealand as a third party certification scheme and is able to issue Green Star credits for all materials calculators, VOCs, formaldehyde reduction, best practice PVC and post-consumer recycled content.

Global GreenTag partners include:

  • Green For Retail: sustainable retail consulting
  • EC3 Global Earth Check: world’s largest certifier of sustainable travel and tourism operators
  • Architectural Information Services Archipedia: comprehensive library of products
  • Architectural Information Services Equinox: boutique trade expo
  • Autospec: database and search engine for product specification
  • BIMstop: developer of building information modeling
  • The Builder App: industry directory of tradespeople, products, suppliers, and others
  • Queensland Leaders: alliance of leading companies to support ratings of green products
  • Griffith University Eco Center: centre for environmental education, exhibitions, conferences
  • Australian Green Development Forum: committee to accelerate sustainability in Australian building industry

Certified manufacturers in Australia include:

Décor Blinds, Armstrong, Konfurb, Buro Seating, Knauf, Herman Miller, Alpha Office Furniture, Aura Sports, Dunlop Flooring, Cedar Sales, Bradford, Furniture Concepts, The Gibbon Group, Laminex, QBuild, MGO Corp, A1 Rubber, BASF, Interface, Armstrong and Xanita.