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January 27, 2009

Minimum Sustainability Requirements for Federal Government Office Furniture

Mandatory Environmental Checklist for Office Furniture


Environmental Sub-Committee

January 27, 2009
7A1, room 110
Gatineau, Québec

In Attendance

  • Jean Barbeau – Artopex-Plus Inc.
  • Doug Hietkamp – Teknion Furniture Systems
  • André Clément – Asokan
  • Eli Gilbert – CAF
  • David Rinard – Steelcase
  • Rob Fairs – Steelcase
  • Karen Worthy – The Global Group
  • Sharif Sadek – OGGO, PWGSC
  • Susan MacKenzie – OSME, PWGSC
  • Judi Murtough – RPB/PWGSC
  • Caroline Macintosh – OGGO, PWGSC (Chair Person)
  • Pauline Blanchard - PWGSC
  • Karen Asselin - PWGSC
  • Rui Ormonde - PWGSC
  • Sylvie Sabourin - PWGSC
  • Jill Biesenthal - PWGSC


Item 1 – Welcome and Introductions

Caroline welcomed the attendees to the meeting of the environmental sub-committee and proceeded with a round table introduction of all members.

Caroline explained that OGGO would no longer be taking a hands on approach to developing environmental specifications for office furniture; but would be interacting with the various stakeholders in an advisory capacity only.

Item 2 – Approval of Minutes August 28th, 2008

Eli Gilbert and Karen Worthy approved and seconded the minutes from the previous meeting.

Item 3 – Review of Comments

Using the comment summary provided to all committee members, the following paragraphs summarize the discussions related to each comment reviewed and the resultant decisions made.

Multiple Standards (Minimum Sustainability Requirements – general comment)
The number of standards cited in the document is a concern to committee members.

Action: Most of the standards cited in the document shall be deleted, except for ISO14001

LCA (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph 5.3)
Concern that the timeline, as well as the cost required, to undertake a life cycle assessment may be too prohibitive for Small and Medium Sized Entities (SME's).

It is essential that all companies large and small understand what they are putting into their product. If the SME's are assembling component parts, it is the responsibility of the component manufacturer to provide the applicable Life Cycle Analysis documentation to the SME, thus reducing the impact substantially.

Action: No change will be made to the document. This requirement will be reassessed in 2010

Sustainable Wood (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph 5.6)
The issues associated with sustainable wood mentioned were: a concern that this requirement could be expensive; that reference is made to Blue Angel and Nordic Eco-labeling; and that laminated wood has not been clearly defined.

This provision has been discussed with NRCAN, who are of the opinion that there is sufficient certified wood available in the market to meet the requirement. This is based on the knowledge that the vast majority of Canadian forests are certified according to SFI, CSA or FSC.

Action: References to Blue Angel and Nordic Eco-labeling shall be deleted

Recycled Content (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph 5.7)
Mandating a 50% recycled content (Advanced Level of paragraph 5.7.2, BIFMA E3-2008) by 2011 may not be feasible.

The overall intent of PWGSC is to move towards components/items that are separable and recyclable; and to move towards components/items which have more recycled content. It is imperative that any recycled content claim be accompanied with sufficient supporting documentation.

Action: Delete the mandatory 50% content from the mandatory requirements. Is this conflicting with the updated document and checklist?
Incorporate increased recycled content materials into the optional criteria section of the furniture component of e-purchasing. Clear requirements regarding documentation to support the claims will be established. Suggest adding optional selection criteria in the resulting agreements.

Packaging (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph 5.7.3)
Concern expressed that quality packaging materials meeting the recovered content requirements may not be readily available.

Reusable packaging is the optimal solution. Additional alternatives are recyclable packaging and packaging made of recycled materials. PWGSC would also like to consolidate shipments between various client departments, in order to encourage the use of full truckloads that allow for blanket wrapping and other reusable packaging materials. This would also reduce environmental effects associated with shipment.

Action: PWGSC will investigate the concept of consolidating shipments with client departments.
Reusable packaging, where feasible, will be incorporated into the criteria. Recyclability will be a mandatory requirement. Recycled content of packaging will be indicated through the e-Purchasing system, with appropriate validation of the suppliers' claim.

Design for Durability/Upgradeability (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph 5.9.1)
Fabrics used on seating products will not be warranted by the fabric mills for the 10 year period stated in the document. It was noted by one supplier that bio-based foams may not last for this period of time.

Action: Seating surfaces shall be excluded from the 10 year period.

Design for Disassembly (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph 5.9.1)
There was duplication in the document; the disassembly time frame was unrealistic and the current clause puts an expectation on how recycling currently works; versus a focus on material separation.

Action: Delete the duplicate clause; amend the clause to incorporate material separation and the disassembly time frame, as applicable. Disassembly to be defined as 'disassembly within a reasonable timeframe i.e. 5 to 10 minutes, using conventional tools in a typical office space environment'.

Legacy Product Lines (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph
Concern that companies could not determine materials used in their products 10 – 15 years ago.

Action: Amend the document to incorporate a manufacturing date of the product to which this clause will apply.

Buy Back/Take Back (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph
Concern that the current wording does not allow for third-party buy/take back programs.

Action: Amend the document to accept third party arrangements for buy/take back programs.

ISO 14001 or equivalent (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph 7.2)
There are other Environmental Management Programs that are equivalent to ISO 14001; yet the current document requires certification to ISO 14001.

It is the intent of Public Works to require companies to comply with an Environmental Management System. Public Works will require that companies have an environmental management system and follow a path of continuous improvement. It was agreed that the Environmental Standard for Office Furniture will introduce language of equivalency to ISO 14001. Companies who are not accredited to ISO 14001 will have to provide third party documentation to PWGSC to attest to equivalency for their environmental management system to ISO 14001. Minimum elements for equivalency will include key principles of ISO 14000, namely compliance with all applicable legislation, existence of an environmental management system, and a plan for continuous improvement.

Action: The document will be amended to add 'equivalency' to ISO 14001

Product Chemicals (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph,
The issues surrounding product chemicals mentioned were: the definitions of the terms chemicals of concern, chemical constituents; should be consistent with existing Canadian programs, in particular the Chemical Management Plan; and the variance between MSDS reporting (10,000 ppm) versus the BIFMA sustainability reporting of chemicals (100 ppm).

The Canadian federal Government Furniture Sustainability standard is based upon the BIFMA Sustainability Standard that was developed through consensus by office furniture manufacturers as well as others and is seen to provide the marketplace with a standard that harmonizes sustainability standards for the office furniture industry in North America. As the Chemical Management Plan progresses, the Furniture Team at PWGSC will continue to cross-reference the two documents – BIFMA and Chemical Management Plan.

Action: No action at this time. Entry level requirement for BIFMA (item will be applicable to the Furniture RFSO; inclusion of intermediate and advanced levels to be assessed with future RFSOs).

Low Emitting Furniture (Minimum Sustainability Requirements - paragraph 7.6)
The document does not require compliance with the emission levels defined in ANSI/BIFMA X7.1. The document should include certification to Greenguard or alternatively state the test protocol and requirements to meet low emitting certification.

It is the intent to require all suppliers of office furniture to the federal government to meet Emission Standards and more specifically BIFMA emission standards. This requirement is considered to have been met if a supplier's product is listed on Greenguard, SCS, other third party listing programs, or alternatively provide test results from an independent laboratory.

Action: Amend the document to include other acceptable alternatives.

Design for Ease of Maintenance
By stating that no solvents or other chemicals are required, the use of all lubricants, cleaners and touch-up materials may preclude the removal of stains and prevent touch–ups.

The intent of the clause is to ensure that repairs can be completed on-site without the use of solvents and that cleaning is limited to the use of organic solvents.

Action: Amend the document to incorporate the requirements for repairs on-site and cleaning.

Wood Based Panels (Nordic Eco Labeling)
There is a standard recognized throughout North America (CARB), which limits the emissions of formaldehyde in wood based panels.

Suppliers shall be required to provide substantiating documentation that they are purchasing board from a mill certified to CARB and that the board is certified as compliant.

Action: Amend the document to delete the Nordic Eco Labeling and replace with compliance to CARB (California Air Resources Board).

Recycled Content – Aluminum
This requirement is acceptable for cast aluminum; however the recycled content for extruded aluminum cannot be met at this time due to concerns related to structural integrity.

As most of the aluminum used in the production of office furniture is extruded; this clause will have little or no impact upon the sustainability of office furniture.

Action: Amend the document to exclude extruded aluminum.

Plastic Parts Labeling
Some members felt that due to the size and shape of some plastic components, the requirement for labeling was not feasible. The option of offering a schematic or other readily accessible venue (i.e. Internet) for identifying the material was put forth as a suggestion.

This requirement is essential so that end users of office furniture know where to send components to the recycling stream.

Action: Amend the document to incorporate alternate means of material identification.

Plastic Materials – 50% recycled content
Raw materials used for some plastics in injection molding do not contain significant recycled content.

Action: Delete this requirement and continue to use the recycled content in Table One of BIFMA E3-2008

Item 4 – Green Chair

At the last Government Office Furniture Committee (GOFAC) meeting, the procurement strategy for office seating was discussed, at which time the concept of a 'green chair' was introduced and accepted. The intent of the 'green chair' is to offer suppliers an opportunity to showcase a particularly 'green' chair. It was decided that the 'green chair' should not include a set of additional mandatory criteria, as this methodology would take away from a systemic/holistic approach and merely focus on specific criteria. It was agreed in principle that this chair should be defined as meeting Gold or Platinum BIFMA standards.

Item 5 – Next Steps

The final version of the 'Minimum Sustainability Requirements for Federal Government Office Furniture' and the Environmental Checklist will be sent to sub-committee members and GOFAC members.

The documents will also be sent to all current National Master Standing Offer holders and posted on the BIFMA web site for further comments. This is to ensure broader SME engagement in the process.

It is the intent of PWGSC to utilize this set of environmental specifications for all future government wide National Master Standing Offer Programs for Office Furniture. Environmental criteria will become increasingly stringent over time, in accordance with the timeline outlined in the checklist.

Item 6 - Closing Remarks

Caroline indicated that the work of the sub-committee had been completed and thanked all committee members for their participation.