By Thomas P. Palkon and Curtis A. Harnanan

The Water Quality Association (WQA) partnered with PE INTERNATIONAL and Five Winds Strategic Consulting to develop a sustainability program for the water treatment industry. WQA has taken a unique and holistic approach to advancing sustainability for its sector by simultaneously targeting product and organizational sustainability within its sustainability program. The overall goal of the program is to provide meaningful sustainability performance information about products and the companies that make them to consumers and other stakeholders, and to drive innovation and continual improvement in the sustainability performance of WQA member companies and their products. The WQA Sustainability Program (see Figure 1) will comprise prerequisite management system criteria for participating companies and an eco-labeling product certification scheme for sustainable water treatment products that these companies sell. These management system criteria are articulated within the WQA Sustainable Management Standard, which aims to advance sustainability at the organizational level and is complementary to the efforts of improving product sustainability via the WQA product sustainability standards within its eco-labeling product certification scheme. Meeting the requirements of the WQA Sustainable Management Standard is a prerequisite in each of the WQA’s product sustainability standards.

Figure 1. Structure of WQA Sustainability Program

Organizational sustainability
The WQA Sustainability Program seeks to broadly advance sustainability for this sector through product design, manufacture and production site management, product distribution, in-market support, product disposal, etc. The WQA Sustainable Management Standard translates these components into measurable criteria against which the internal strategy and external commitments of manufacturers and component suppliers may be assessed by accredited providers of the WQA-applicable WQA product sustainability performance standards (see Figure 2).

Manufacturers and component suppliers will be required to successfully meet these requirements as a prerequisite for obtaining certification to applicable WQA product sustainability performance standards. The standard also seeks to encourage more strategic participation among product manufacturers and component suppliers in improving the overall sustainability of their sector, beyond the sustainable performance of their products.

The WQA Sustainable Management Standard was developed following the basic principles of social responsibility contained in ISO 26000, and adapted to the WQA Sustainability Program’s scope and purpose to ensure:

  • Accountability
  • Transparency/ethical behavior
  • Respect for stakeholder interests
  • Respect for the rule of law
  • Respect for international norms of behavior
  • Respect for human rights

The core requirements of the WQA Sustainable Management Standard are focused on organizational, product and supplier sustainability. The attributes and criteria were built around guidance from several existing credible standards, guidelines and other documents that have been developed to guide specific policies and practices important to sustainability for manufacturers, including:

  • ISO 14001-2004—Environmental Management Systems
  • ISO 14006—Guidelines for Incorporating Eco-design
  • ISO 26000—Guidance on Social Responsibility
  • UL 880—Standard for Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations
  • GS-C1—Green Seal Sustainability Standard for Product Manufacturers
  • SA 8000—Standard on voluntary workplace requirements, including workers’ rights, workplace conditions and management systems
  • Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) Eco-Design Wheel

While the sustainable management standard does not require manufacturers and component suppliers to have a fully implemented and/or certified environmental management system (EMS), it does require some basic elements of a management system to be in place.

Product sustainability
The second aspect of the WQA Sustainability Program focuses on the sustainability performance of water treatment products. The eco-labeling product certification scheme is the vehicle for this activity and WQA is developing a series of voluntary product sustainability standards to identify and manage the significant sustainability impacts across the life cycles of these products. Products that are certified to meet the voluntary sustainability standards will be permitted to use a newly designed WQA eco-label that will be modeled against the ISO 14024 Type I standard for environmental labeling (i.e., multi-attribute, based on life-cycle thinking, includes selected criteria demonstrating environmental preferability, verifiable, etc.). The eco-labeling program will be rigorous in order to help advance sustainability within the sector. As such, the requirements for compliance will be set at a level that will challenge organizations seeking certification for their products and will continually increase in rigor with time.

The purpose of the eco-labeling product certification scheme is to:

  • create a set of credible metrics for measuring sustainability performance;1
  • provide meaningful sustainability performance information about products to enable customers/consumers to easily differentiate between products; and
  • provide the industry with an eco-labeling product certification program that will drive the development of water treatment products with improved environmental performance.

The first two product sustainability standards being developed are 1) activated carbon media and 2) POU water filtration products that utilize activated carbon; however, additional standards will be developed for other product categories and filtration technologies in the future (i.e., RO or other membrane systems that incorporate a waste line, UV light systems, ion exchange and distillation systems). To commence the development of the Sustainability Standard for Activated Carbon and the Sustainability Standard for Point of Use Water Filtration Products that Utilize Activated Carbon, WQA assembled two task forces: the Environmental Labeling Task Force and the Activated Carbon Task Force, comprising several POU product manufacturers, activated carbon producers, component suppliers, as well as PE INTERNATIONAL team members.2 WQA has also engaged numerous stakeholders to solicit additional input from organizations outside the water treatment industry.

1. Includes environmental attributes determined from scientific, life cycle-based information, as well as stakeholder concerns.
2. To provide sustainability standard development and life-cycle expertise, as well as project management.

Figure 2. Overview of the WQA Sustainability Program, illustrating the relationship among the WQA Sustainability Standards

To complement WQA’s existing Gold Seal Product Certification program that certifies products based on a number of industry performance standards, the water treatment industry recognizes the need for development of sustainability green standards and a credible eco-labeling certification program to evaluate products. This program will provide a credible means for companies to certify their products to rigorous sustainability standards.

Despite the presence of existing performance standards (i.e., WQA, NSF, CSA, etc.), no sustainability standards currently exist for residential water treatment products. WQA wants to be proactive in getting ahead of the regulatory community and market by positioning itself as a leading advocate of sustainability or aspects of sustainability (e.g., energy and resource management, recycling/waste diversion, innovation, etc.), while concurrently ‘shaping the future’ of this market space. There are also sustainability development efforts from accreditation bodies (i.e., ANSI) taking place at this time and WQA is actively participating in these activities.

Member companies are encouraging WQA to get more involved in sustainability standard development as several are committed to leadership and continuous improvement in sustainability. Currently, there are hundreds of environmental labels in the market and many more unqualified environmental product claims, which have contributed to consumer confusion and to a growing problem of ‘green-washing’. The introduction of WQA’s Eco-labeling Certification Program will help with product differentiation, foster greater market recognition, enhance reputations for both eco-labels and water treatment products, minimize deceptive and unqualified environmental claims and ensure continued product (and organizational) sustainability over time. As WQA interfaces with many of the parties involved, it is in the best position to tackle these sustainability issues via this program.

The development of the Eco-labeling Certification Program is taking a multi-attribute, life-cycle approach in order to provide the marketplace with a meaningful standard that will:

  • avoid unintended trade-offs of environmental burdens;
  • harmonize existing standards;
  • give consumer/residential water treatment product manufacturers the incentive and guidance to design environmentally preferable products; and
  • provide market clarity around the definition of a more sustainable product.

The Environmental Labeling and Activated Carbon Task Forces expect to learn much from the application of this certification scheme over the ensuing years. The use of the standards, self-assessments by manufacturers and external, third-party assessments will be used to improve standards over time and drive continuous improvement of what it means to be sustainable.

The task forces utilize a collaborative approach to develop the standard that optimizes the strengths of a traditional consensus-based approach, yet achieves results in a shorter time frame. The collaborative approach uses scientific rigor, transparency, credibility, expert judgment, stakeholder engagement and pilot-testing prior to accreditation.

The development of the Draft Standard Available for Use is anticipated to take approximately six months, and was completed by late August. It will be pilot-tested by manufacturers for approximately two to four months and, once feedback from the manufacturers has been incorporated, the draft standard will be finalized. The final draft standard will then commence the process for accreditation and will culminate with a published final standard.

Throughout this process, both task forces will collaborate with stakeholders and incorporate their input into the development of the standard. Stakeholder consultation will consist of the following three phases:

Phase 1: Preliminary input from select, external stakeholders on Scoping Document

  • Timeline: April 2012 (on-going)
  • The goal of this initial phase will be to ensure that stakeholder groups are aware of the task forces’ intent to develop the standard and are aligned with the objectives, process and direction. WQA anticipates that external stakeholders will include representatives from the following groups: consumer/residential water treatment product manufacturers and suppliers, bottled water manufacturers, government/regulatory bodies, standards development organizations, academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), retailers and industry associations. To facilitate this initial engagement, WQA has developed and is utilizing a set of briefing slides and a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document.

Phase 2: Stakeholder review of draft standard, prior to or concurrent with a pilot-testing period

  • Timeline: approximately June/July 2012
  • In this second phase, WQA initiated a more involved stakeholder engagement process after the first draft of the standard. This engagement will utilize a more formal consultation mechanism with the stakeholder groups identified in Phase 1.

Phase 3: Review of final standard

  • Timeline: winter 2012
  • In this third phase, a formal stakeholder engagement will occur following the finalization of the standard. The details of this effort are still currently being developed.

Principles of collaboration
WQA is committed to ensuring that the development of the standard follows a set of guiding principles for the development and use of environmental labels and declarations that is aligned with ISO 14020 and ISO 14024. As a result, the WQA and both task forces have developed and adopted the following principles of collaboration that will be used/referenced in the sustainability standards and throughout the process to develop the product certification schemes:

  • The product certification scheme shall be accurate, verifiable, relevant and not misleading.
  • Procedures and requirements for the product certification scheme shall not create unnecessary obstacles to domestic and international trade.
  • The product certification scheme shall be based on scientific methodology that is sufficiently thorough and comprehensive to support the claim, and that produces results that are accurate and reproducible.
  • Information concerning the procedure, methodology and any criteria used to support the product certification scheme shall be available and provided upon request to all interested parties.
  • The development of the product certification scheme shall take into consideration relevant aspects of the life cycle of the product.
  • The product certification scheme shall encourage innovation.
  • All organizations, regardless of size, should have equal opportunity to use the product certification scheme.
  • If needed and requested, references to the product sustainability standard, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) guidance, general information and training on the product certification scheme shall be provided.
  • The process of developing the product certification scheme should include an open, participatory consultation with interested parties.
  • Information on the environmental aspects of products and services relevant to the product certification scheme shall be available to purchasers and potential purchasers.
  • Environmental marketing materials shall not include deceptive or unqualified general environmental benefit claims, shall use plain language to ensure qualifications and disclosures are clear and understandable, and shall specify whether the claim refers to the product, the product’s packaging, a service or just a portion of the product, package or service.
  • Marketing claims shall not misrepresent, directly or by implication, a product’s environmental attributes and shall be in conformance with applicable national and/or international environmental labeling/marketing guidelines, examples of which would include the US Federal Trade Commission’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (green guides).

Life-cycle, hot-spot analysis

In order to define the scope and sustainability attributes for the standards, WQA and its task forces created a value-chain ‘heat map’ illustrating the sustainability profile of POU products. Key sustainability impacts and consumer concerns were identified by value chain segment, including: raw materials, manufacturing/assembly, packaging/transport, use and end-of-life. This information was generated from two different sources:

  1. a literature review of existing life cycle-based studies/reports in the public domain and insights from PE INTERNATIONAL’s LCA experts supported with information from the company’s GaBi database, and
  2. an examination of internal (confidential) LCAs and other reports/studies/data commissioned by the manufacturers and component suppliers on both task forces, as well as interviews with members of both task forces, including: 3M Purification, Amway, Brita Germany, Calgon Carbon, Clorox, Elkay, Jacobi Carbons, Nestlé Waters and Ricura Technologies.

A ranking and scoring algorithm (i.e., high=3; medium=2; low=1) was then applied to each of the sustainability issues discussed in the reports/studies/interviews, to assess the urgency, magnitude, materiality and breadth of the issue to the product’s value chain and stakeholders. The average scores from each source were used to produce three separate value-chain heat maps representing each of the different types of information sources listed above. Finally, a summary heat map including data from all sources was created to demonstrate the product’s overall life-cycle hot spots.

Attributes, criteria and metrics
Based on the results of the hot-spot analysis, the Environmental Labelling Task Force decided that there was sufficient life-cycle information available for the development of criteria for the sustainability standard for point-of-use water filtration products that utilize activated carbon. The Activated Carbon Task Force, however, required additional information on activated carbon and commissioned a screening-level, life-cycle assessment to validate and provide additional insights into life-cycle impacts in order to identify and prioritize attributes for this standard. Tables 2 and 3 outline the attributes for the POU and activated carbon standards.

In addition to the attributes determined from the hot-spot analysis, both task forces wanted to ensure that the product sustainability standards encourage innovation. As such, these standards will incorporate an additional attribute on innovation. The intent of the innovation attribute will be to reward activities that exhibit exceptional performance above and beyond requirements within these standards, as well as creative solutions to environmental problems. This attribute may allow the products to receive credit for innovative environmental efforts, actions, programs, policies, achievements, etc. the manufacturer undertakes.

WQA recognizes the lack of meaningful performance standards that can highlight sustainable products for the consumer and also the need to foster more sustainable manufacturing of these products. Through its sustainability program, eco-labeling product certification scheme and performance standards, WQA will concurrently support the advancement of sustainability at the organizational level, as well as at the product level. These efforts will shape product design and manufacture via an objective multi-attribute approach that is rooted in life-cycle thinking. This translates into a more responsible industry manufacturing more sustainable products. At the consumer level, it will mean the provision of clear and tangible guidance on the selection and purchase of more sustainable water treatment products. Regulatory agencies, retailers, industry members and outside stakeholders interested in learning more about this initiative should contact Thomas Palkon at [email protected].

About the authors
Thomas Palkon is Director of Product Certification for WQA’s Gold Seal Product Certification Program. He has worked for WQA’s testing laboratory and product certification program for 14 years and is considered to be an industry expert concerning product testing and certification of drinking water treatment products, drinking water system components, drinking water additives, plumbing products and pool and spa products. Palkon’s laboratory and standards development experience has allowed him to obtain a comprehensive understating of drinking water treatment techniques around the world. He is a voting member on several standards development committees, including ISO, NSF, IAPMO, UL and CSA. Palkon has a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Illinois, majoring in biology and an MBA from Keller University. He can be contacted at (630) 505-0160 ext. 523; fax (630) 505-9637 or email: [email protected].

Curtis A. Harnanan is a Consultant with PE INTERNATIONAL. He utilizes his extensive experience, knowledge and skill to provide practical solutions to clients with the development of product sustainability standards, corporate sustainability, management systems, corporate benchmarking, green procurement implementation, tool development and policy analysis. For several years, Harnanan actively worked with and managed Five Winds International’s Product Sustainability Roundtable (PSRT)—a group of corporate leaders that share an interest in improving the sustainability (for business, environmental and social performance) of their operations, services and product systems. He previously worked with the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago, where he assisted in the development of the company’s environmental management system. Harnanan holds an Honours Degree, BSc. (Env) in environmental sciences from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

About the company
PE INTERNATIONAL is the premier integrated sustainability solutions provider across the globe, providing consulting, software and content that delivers measurable business impacts to the corporate and product sustainability efforts of enterprises of all sizes. Their market-leading expertise is offered through a unique portfolio of products and services that includes Five Winds Strategic Consulting, Product Sustainability Solutions and Corporate Sustainability Solutions.

Founded in 1991, PE INTERNATIONAL operates from 20 offices globally to assist clients in measuring, understanding and managing their sustainability footprint to create sustainable and quantifiable business value, working with clients across all industry sectors and in all geographic regions to identify the specific challenges for optimizing sustainability performance. Their collaborative approach supports clients in elevating their sustainability performance by integrating environmental, social and broader-based cost information into core business processes from strategy development and business planning, to capital expenditure approvals, and product development.

Proven processes, technologies, tools and content have allowed clients to translate sustainability improvements into measurable business value by communicating sustainability improvements to all key stakeholders in easy-to-understand ways. The unique nature of the PE INTERNATIONAL solution portfolio allows them to deliver value across the enterprise value chain on a continuing basis. Five Winds Strategic Consulting services includes thought leaders and practitioners who have defined many of the key sustainability processes in general use today, while GaBi LCA software and GaBi database are the most widely used LCA tools in the world. Please visit:


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