A Closer Look at a New Sustainability Standard for Water Contact Products
By Mindy Costello, RS
What constitutes a sustainable water contact product? With the new standard developed by NSF International’s National Center for Sustainability Standards, NSF 375: Sustainability Assessment for Water Contact Products, companies now have the methodology to achieve certification for a sustainable water contact product. This draft standard will become an American National Standard using the consensus process for development and is anticipated to be available for certification in the fourth quarter of this year. Water contact products include those in the recreational water, wastewater and drinking water areas, such as treatment units, filters, storage devices and others. This may also include heating and cooling devices, boilers and hydrants, for example. Sustainability assessments provide manufacturers a gauge for their current status, as well as a pathway to future sustainability practices. These assessments are meant to be third-party certified and are expected to be recognized by municipalities, federal, state and local governmental agencies and consumers as defining sustainably produced products within the water contact products industry. The standard defines requirements for product design, manufacturing processes and corporate practices of more sustainable water contact products.
What is covered in the standard?
NSF 375 sustainability assessment criteria cover the entire product life cycle, from raw material extraction through manufacturing, use and end-of-life in these focus areas:
- Product design. Criteria in this section are intended to encourage the understanding of environmental impacts of products by the product designers and developers.
- Product manufacturing. Criteria encourage manufacturers to quantify the environmental impacts of their product manufacturing and then act to reduce or remove those impacts.
- Durability. This section encourages manufacturers to maximize product durability and minimize impacts during the use phase of the product. The durability of a product is dependent on its longevity and performance characteristics and can reduce the replacement cycle and the resulting impact on the environment. Reclamation at the end of a product’s life also reduces the environmental impact.
- Product end-of-life management. These criteria ensure that existing and new products can be collected, processed, recycled and/or composted within the existing materials recycling infrastructure. Consumables are also included in the end-of-life consideration.
- Corporate governance. Criteria encourage corporate social responsibility, such as providing a desirable workplace, being involved in the local community and demonstrating financial health. Also, criteria in this section demonstrate corporate/organizational leadership in public disclosure and transparency of key environmental and social accountability objectives and data.
- Innovation. This section rewards manufacturers that go above and beyond the criteria within the sustainability assessment or are outside the current credits of the standard. This optional credit can be earned for a total of six years toward certification.
Requirements for conformance
To ensure a base level of sustainability, the standard has prerequisite and requisite criteria:
- The manufacturer’s product must meet or exceed the applicable product performance and material standards for intended use.
- The manufacturer must demonstrate a corporate commitment to sustainability.
- Companies must designate a boundary for those facilities included within the certification to the standard and comply with applicable laws and regulations associated with the product undergoing assessment.
These requisite credits provide an additional baseline for all water contact products to define their sustainability profile. For instance, a company deciding to become more sustainable may try to reduce energy use and recycle office supplies. This is a great starting point; however, to understand how much less of something you are using, you need to create an inventory of use prior to implementing any changes. The requisite criteria in the standard address water, energy, greenhouse gas and waste inventories as entry-level criteria for this sustainability assessment. These requisites also utilize policy development as a starting point. A policy addresses specific issues, such as environmental management. A company must create a policy and then develop a plan with goals that address its key issues related to environmental management. Once these are completed, the final step is to develop and monitor a program to implement the goals set out in the plan. Organizations also must show progress on or adjustment to the goals. Progress reports are typically part of the program.
For example, company ABC has created a policy to support energy management. It created an inventory of its energy use which shows that by turning off lights and installing auto shutoff switches, the company has been saving energy and has realized lower costs over the prior year. ABC now develops a program to more fully manage its energy use throughout the company, which includes considering renewable energy options and strategic steps that assist with implementation and ongoing monitoring. One bigger step would be to publicly disclose the energy management plan and the annual results.
Optional criteria to expand the sustainability profile
Optional credits are provided throughout the standard. These credits highlight actions companies may already be taking and provide guidance on future opportunities to increase the company’s sustainability profile. One example of an optional credit is in the end-of-life management section. The criterion can be earned for collection of products that can be reprocessed, recycled and/or composted within the existing materials recycling infrastructure. Another optional criterion covers recycling and material efficiency. Many companies recycle as part of their office operations. This is a great first sustainability step. As companies delve deeper into sustainability, they may ponder: “How can a water contact product manufacturer optimize material resources both in the office and in its manufacturing?” To begin, the company needs an inventory of both its hazardous and non-hazardous waste to calculate its annual waste generation rate (requisite). The next step is to analyze the inventory and determine the most cost-effective place to begin to minimize or eliminate waste through more effective material use in production, reuse or recycling, or all three, in its manufacturing processes or product design. Manufacturers are awarded for their percentage reduction of total waste generation rate over a 10-year period. A third example of an optional criterion in the standard covers performance of the product. Water contact products should perform as intended in their proposed use and for a designated period of time to demonstrate durability. By reducing the amount of consumables or number of times the product needs to be replaced in a period of time, the environmental impacts may be lowered.
Finally, efficiency during product use emphasizes the importance of material efficiency in this stage and can be an earned criterion. If a product promotes low water use and energy efficiency, the overall negative impact to the environment has been reduced during the use phase. This lifecycle approach toward water contact products and their associated impacts is part of the standard’s focus.
Corporate social responsibility
Being a socially responsible corporation is an important aspect of sustainability. In the water contact product industry, there are several methods of tracking social accountability that include:
- ISO 14001 environmental management systems registration
- Global Reporting Initiative
- SA8000 social accountability standard
- ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility
All NSF sustainability standards include some of the same requirements. Child labor and forced labor are prohibited. Other shared requirements include prevention of discrimination and having a functioning health and safety program. Additionally, the corporate governance section for this standard covers stakeholder engagement and community investment.
Significance of certification
Upper-level managers in your company naturally request why they should pursue sustainability: “What’s in it for my company and how can we maintain or increase profit?” Companies can realize sustainability value by collecting data on energy, waste, water and air emissions, and then use that data to identify reduction opportunities (material efficiency). By using this lifecycle approach encouraged in NSF 375, companies can identify the areas of greatest negative impact and greatest opportunity for change. Focusing on these areas can lead to process improvements and cost savings once reduction initiatives are implemented.
Companies using the NSF sustainability assessment standard to guide their sustainability efforts may also mitigate corporate risk through a more comprehensive view of manufacturing processes, raw-material selection and corporate actions. A decision to implement sustainability measures is a journey where steps are taken along the sustainability pathway. It is not an all-or-nothing program. Small and medium enterprises are also encouraged to investigate the standard as there are pathways for them to also pursue sustainability. NSF’s sustainability assessment is a first step in corporate sustainability strategy toward a more sustainable water contact product manufacturing company.
About the author
Mindy Costello, Standards Development Liaison for NSF International’s National Center for Sustainability Standards, is the secretariat for the consensus body overseeing the development of NSF 375: Sustainability Assessment for Water Contact Products. Her other projects include resilient flooring, business furniture, dimension stone, carpet and water sustainability (products/chemicals, plastics, recreational water facilities, wastewater and greener chemicals) in the creation of standards, protocols and guidelines and in business development and meeting facilitation. Prior to joining NSF, Costello worked in environmental health as a sanitarian. She has a BS Degree in environmental science from the Lyman Briggs School at Michigan State University, is pursuing a Master of Science Degree in management with a focus in sustainability and is a registered sanitarian through the State of Michigan. To learn more about this project or certification, please contact Costello, Sustainability Standards Development Liaison, at firstname.lastname@example.org., Sustainability Standards Development Liaison, at email@example.com.