Eco-label builds Trust around Sustainable Consumption
With increasing awareness of the importance of reducing demand on our natural resources, many manufacturers are adapting their processes to make environmentally preferable products.
For building developers, architects or consumers who’d prefer to buy green, the GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia) eco-label indicates a product or service meets recognised environmental performance standards. GECA currently incorporates 38 different standards for 2,500 products, from cleaning products and floor coverings to furniture and construction materials and currently has about 190 licensees.
NCS International (NCSI) is currently the only certifying body for GECA in Australia.
What is the GECA Ecolabel?
GECA is an independent, not for profit environmental standards setting body that manages Australia’s only national multi-sector eco-label. Over the past 11 years it has developed credibility as the original Australian eco-labelling program, and it’s in high demand – especially in the construction sectors.
It applies ISO 14024 guidelines to the local Australian environment, aligning standards to federal and state legislative requirements.
“The principles are global best practice, but the specific application is local,” explains Judy Hollingworth, CEO at GECA.
GECA’s unique approach specifically designs the standard around a product’s environmental performance, rather than an entire management system as ISO 14001 does.
“It’s an assessment specific to the product that is certified,” says Sam Guindi, Division Manager Construction & Manufacturing at NCS International. “A company may have just one product or range that is GECA certified, rather than a whole site or system. If you have a GECA standard you probably do have good environmental policies in place, but it’s not a given.”
Working towards sustainable construction
GECA has been well-received by the construction sector, and until 2010 it was the only recognized scheme for the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA).
“The GBCA has made our built environment the most progressive sector in sustainability, principally through its Green Star rating system,” says Judy. When architects, specifiers and procurement professionals use interior products that are eco-labelled, the GBCA offers points towards the Green Star rating of the building project. Building materials that satisfy other Green Star criteria can also earn credits under the program.
In Australia, approximately 30 percent of landfill waste is construction and demolition waste, and a significant proportion of this includes panel boards.
Boral developed a GECA-certified plasterboard range in 2009, and has found the standard streamlines environmental documentation for each project.
“All substantial commercial projects now aim to have a Green Star accreditation,” says Roger Crowley, National Manager for Product and Systems Development at Boral. “Likewise, domestic builders aim to build homes with a lower environmental impact and more energy efficiencies.”
“It’s simpler for our customers to get a Green Star rating if they use a GECA certified product during construction. It also cuts down on paperwork - we don’t need to supply extensive documentation with each job to meet environmental requirements. So it smoothes the process at both ends.”
Roger says his customers are also more comfortable because it’s a third party audit, providing an independent assessment.
Boral had its first audit through NCSI last year, assessing one site in Sydney and one in Brisbane.
“Most processes were already in place, as we already ran an established quality management system,” says Roger. “When we first certified this range of plasterboard we increased the recycled content to meet the standard’s requirement for a higher level. We also needed to get some Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) testing done.”
“In general it is a two step process. The first step involves review of evidence submitted by the applicant, such as Bill of Material (BOM), Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), Detail of Chemicals with CAS Numbers, Test Reports and Declarations,” says Sam.
The second step involves an on-site assessment, where the auditor further verifies and validates the adequacy of the information supplied. This may involve (but is not limited to) verifying the source of supply and manufacturing process, interview with site personnel
, sampling the delivery dockets and batch reports as well as conforming the products and the material used in the products.
“Licencees undergo a renewal or a surveillance audit initially within 12 months from the certification date and every two years thereafter,” says Sam. “Modification of certified products and addition of new products to the licence can be carried out at any time.”
Benefiting the environment, and fuelling business growth.
||Many organisations, including Boral, have seen the benefits of meeting the GECA standard. It gives them access to customers looking for eco-friendly products, and a credible point of difference in the marketplace. And as well as streamlining the supply chain process, it ensures they’re working towards more sustainable manufacturing processes.
“Companies are looking for ways to show they’re doing the right thing by the environment. GECA is an independent verification that shows that,” says Sam. “We also need to make sure the product is fit for purpose during the audit, so it’s a third party quality benchmark as well.”
Manufacturers are also looking to source certified materials as part of their supply chain process, which again makes it simpler to prove compliance for the end product.
“We publish multi-criteria standards, so products need to meet eight performance areas covering the entire lifecycle, from materials and component sourcing to end of life disposal,” says Judy. “That means people can be assured the environmental impact has been verified from end to end, against a widely recognised and robust environmental standard.”
She says GECA are now focusing or raising awareness of sustainable procurement practice to expand the preference for eco label products, so demand continues to meet increasing supply.
“The standards are definitive and clear, and they clearly identify the best-practice environmental performance in the market. This encourages people to buy products with lower impact and recognises the efforts businesses are making to reduce their eco-footprint.”
A practical approach to sustainability
Above all, an eco-label builds market trust. “You know that if you buy a product with an eco-label it has been independently assessed,” Judy emphasises. “Ours is a well-known and established program, so the label has recognition and this gives assurance for businesses and their customers about the standards of their goods and services.”
That assurance also has a positive long term impact on our environment, encouraging manufacturers to continually improve their sourcing and processes to reduce the demand on natural resources, and lower the risks to the community and the environment.”
“Like many other businesses in this sector, Boral aims to be a good corporate citizen and do the right thing by the environment,” says Roger. “This is one way we can demonstrate this commitment.”