Furniture made according to environmental and social responsibility standards? It's on the level™.

That's the certification process for a new standard announced Monday, aimed at giving furniture buyers a glimpse into just how energy efficient, ecologically friendly and socially responsible an office chair or desk may be – and perhaps grab some green building brownie points as well.

The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) trade group worked with third-party certification bodies NSF International and Scientific Certification Systems to come up with ways to compare the energy and "atmosphere" – i.e., greenhouse-gas emissions – impacts of different pieces of furniture, as well as the materials that went into them and the social and ecological impacts associated with their manufacture.

"Many times when people use the term sustainability, it's referring to just one attribute of a product," said Petie Davis, general manager for sustainability for NSF International. "We take a multi-attribute approach."

So far, office furniture makers Allsteel, Gunlocke, HON Company, Herman Miller, Kimball Office, National Office Furniture and Steelcase have products that meet the standard, which comes in three progressively more stringent levels.

NSF has already helped develop a standard for carpeting, the NSF 140 standard, for the Carpet and Rug Institute, another trade group. Carpets and rugs that meet the standard can qualify for points under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification system.

While BIFMA's new furniture standard is too young to have achieved that yet, it could be in its future, Davis said. NSF is working on sustainability standards for textiles, roofing membranes, resilient flooring and wall covering, she added, though no timeline for their completion has been set.

LEED-certified buildings are a growing piece of many builders' portfolios, where the benefits they provide in energy efficiency, increased valuations and rents and workplace satisfaction are seen as worth the additional costs (see Green Building: Cheaper Than You Thought and Do Green Buildings Really Lower Sick Days?)

Some furniture makers are branching out into other green technology pursuits. Herman Miller has created a company called Convia that has software to measure and manage building energy use, for example (see The Wand: Chair King Herman Miller Gets Into Greentech).

Herman Miller recently announced a partnership to embed Convia technology in building wire and cable management systems from Legrand North America.

Convia and furniture maker Steelcase are also members of the EMerge Alliance, a group of companies developing standards for incorporating low-voltage direct current in office building ceilings as a lower-cost way to power lights, sensors and other devices (see A Current in Every Ceiling). 

Join industry leaders and influencers at Greentech Media's Green Building Summit in Menlo Park, Calif., June 11.