As Lumber Liquidators continues its fight with lawmakers, “60 Minutes” and the public in general, it brings to light a number of key factors that can help specialty retailers earn more business: Make sure you know who and where the products you are selling are coming from.

More to the point, in today’s world of regulations for just about anything and everything, make sure the products you are selling carry the various independent, third-party seals and certifications that prove they meet all local and federal health and safety rules.

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There is a reason why these labels exist—to let the purchaser know a product has passed certain tests and meets, among other things, certain health, safety and performance levels. Designations and certifications make the end user feel confident in their purchase, or in the person/company with which they have chosen to do business.

Standards and regulations may seem burdensome, but at times like this when the “60 Minutes” story has companies scrambling to issue press releases and statements about how they follow and adhere to the rules these certifications are important in helping to classify a product and/or manufacturing process. They are overseen by independent third party organizations that specialize in evaluating a claim against such standards and determining if they meet the thresholds set to achieve certification.

These independent, third party labels also give consumers a level of trust in a product. The public is being inundated every second with ads and marketing messages and things start to blur. This is where the specialty flooring dealer who offers quality products that not only meet her design and performance needs can be trusted by ensuring the products also will be healthy and safe for her family or, in the case of a commercial job, their customers.

The good news is the flooring industry in general has been far ahead of the curve when it comes to letting the public know how safe its products are for humans, pets and the environment.

Formaldehyde Free

With formaldehyde being at the center of attention from the “60 Minutes” story, reputable manufacturers such as Mannington were taking out ads back in the 1980s about their wood products being “formaldehyde free.”

As for standards and certifications, the flooring industry has some that have been in existence before there were any such organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating systems or Green Globes, Cradle 2 Cradle, etc. Even before local, state and federal agencies enacted rules, laws and regulations regarding different health factors, and prior to the need for various environmental and health product declarations, the flooring industry was taking measures into its own hands to combat misperceptions  about its products.

For example, the Carpet & Rug Institute’s (CRI) Green Label program for carpet, cushion and adhesives was first introduced in 1992 to test a product’s emissions, or lack thereof, of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Now called Green Label Plus the criteria for achieving certification has been revised and expanded numerous times with each one being more stringent by incorporating more chemicals that are tested as well as raising the threshold on the amount of emissions allowed.

CRI’s Green Label program has become not just a model for other testing programs across various industries its requirements for passing are so thorough it has been recognized and cited by numerous government and non-government entities as being a true indicator of a product’s health and safety claims.

The association also created the Seal of Approval label to certify such things as vacuums, extractors and cleaning solutions to make sure they meet not only what they say they do but to ensure carpets are cleaner, healthier and last longer. This too has become a standard many look to meet as they recognize the weight of having that seal on their products, packaging and marketing materials.

On the hard surface side, which is where the Lumber Liquidators story falls into there are even more ways to ensure a company’s claims it is doing the right thing and that its products meet health and safety requirements.

For example, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) in conjunction with Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) developed the FloorScore certification program in 2005.

Products bearing the FloorScore label meet the indoor air quality (IAQ) emissions criteria of California, which are considered to be the toughest in the nation, and qualify under a myriad of healthy rating systems including LEED, Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), The Environmental Protection Agency’s Tools for Schools program, and a host of others.

FloorScore tests numerous hard surface products and adhesives including vinyl sheet flooring, vinyl composition tile (VCT), solid vinyl tile (SVT), luxury vinyl tile (LVT), linoleum, rubber, hardwood (including bamboo and cork), laminate, polymeric, tile (ceramic and porcelain), underlayments, raised flooring, cementitious flooring, and wall base, stair treads and accessories.

The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) has established a number of programs as well, such as the Responsible Procurement Program (RPP). This initiative, which has seen a number of the industry’s top wood companies go through, such as Shaw—and its Anderson division—and Mullican, just to name two, acknowledges wood flooring companies that go the extra mile to sustain our forests. What makes this program unique is that it is supported by the Forest Stewardship Council-US and the FSC Family Forest Alliance, which recognize RPP as a valid, incremental approach toward socially and environmentally responsible forestry. In addition, groups including the World Wildlife Fund, Rainforest Alliance and the Nature Conservancy have all voiced their support of RPP.

Speaking of the Forest Stewardship Council, having its stamp of approval is recognized by both government and non-government entities such as the USGBC as one of, if not the best assurance a company’s wood products were obtained and sourced through the most environmental and socially conscious matters.

When it comes to this area, they are mostly saying a wood product falls under the guidelines of the U.S. Lacey Act. While this is something most consumers never heard of it is still very important as a retailer to know about because fines and punishments can be brought upon you for selling a product that is not Lacey compliant. And for a small mom-and-pop shop these fines could break a business if you are not doing your due diligence in checking the products you sell to the public.

Back to the NWFA, in addition to RPP, it created the Accepted Product Seal. This program was developed to help show products meet or exceed industry standards.

Product categories include factory finished engineered, factory finished solid, finishes, stains, sealers, abrasives and even moisture inhibitors for wood sub floors.

In each of these cases, even though the program was created and is administered by an industry association the only way to get their certification seals on a product is by going through independent third-party testing labs these organizations have approved as being not only legitimate but capable of accurately assessing a product based on the standard’s criteria.

In laminate, one just needs to turn to the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), which has included environmental standards as part of its certification process.

NALFA production certification meets requirements set forth by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the same body that sets the formaldehyde standards causing all the ruckus with Lumber Liquidators.

In other words, offering products bearing the NALFA Certification Seal can give your customers peace of mind knowing they are purchasing a healthy product for their family.

Beyond the Industry

Since many people are skeptical about an industry association claiming one of its members’ products meet a certain set of standards the flooring industry in general has gone over and beyond to ensure the public of the safety and health of its products.

Most notable are the standards developed by working with the 97-year-old American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The organization oversees the creation, promulgation and use of thousands of norms and guidelines that directly impact businesses in nearly every sector of society. It is also actively engaged in accrediting programs that assess conformance to international standards.

In 2007, NSF, a for profit, non-governmental organization, with the help of numerous public and private parties developed the Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard for environmentally preferable building materials, or ANSI/NSF 140 (NSF 140 for short).

Intended for commercial goods it technically can be used to evaluate any type of carpet by providing a methodology to evaluate a product’s environmental and health impacts. And because it is an ANSI standard, both government and non-government entities recognize it.

The three-tiered certification uses a simple rating system with established performance requirements and quantifiable metrics throughout the supply chain in the areas of Public Health and Environment (PHE); Recycled Content Materials (MATLS) or Environmentally Preferable Materials; Energy and Energy Efficiency (EN); Bio-Based, Manufacturing (MFG), and Reclamation and End of Life Management (EOL).

In 2012 the standard was revised to keep up with changes in scientific knowledge about different substances and their effect on the safety of people and the environment. Known as NSF 140-2012 it is more stringent than the original.

The resilient industry wasn’t far behind in having an ANSI standard of its own. Also developed with NSF taking the lead the Sustainability Assessment for Resilient Floor Coverings, or ANSI/NSF 332, it communicates thorough information that is verifiable, science-based and credible about environmental and social aspects associated with the product’s production.

It was mentioned earlier that tile can be certified under FloorScore but a few years ago the Green Squared certification was developed by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) to acknowledge products which have been verified by an independent third party to be in conformance with ANSI A138.1. While an industry association drafted it, the criteria for Green Squared is used by NSF, SCS and UL/GreenGuard.

ANSI A138.1 is five standards in one, covering tiles (ceramic and glass), powder goods (grouts, mortars, etc.), liquid/paste installation products (trowelable membranes, liquid polymer additives, etc.), panel installation products (backer boards, underlayments, etc.) and sheet installation products (crack isolation membranes, waterproof membranes, etc.).

The inclusion of multiple products allows the tile industry to offer installed “systems” of Green Squared Certified products—the first such offering by any building material industry—and once again showing the flooring industry taking the lead on public health and safety with its products.

Easily Verifiable

Skeptics might say it is easy to falsify and mislabel a product, thus making all these certifications and so forth meaningless. As true as this is, there is an easy way to make sure the products you carry are not fakes.

First is to do business with only reputable companies. Some would say to only use those in the U.S. or Canada and Europe as each has strict rules and regulations when it comes to a product’s health and safety standards. But there are truly reputable companies in China and other places around the word that have bad reputations.

Many of these companies are owned and run by Americans or Europeans and they make sure their factories adhere to Western rules and regulations knowing that is where the vast majority of their products are exported. The important thing as a retailer who wants to do business with a company in these countries is to verify their reputation—which nowadays is not so hard thanks to the Internet.

Beyond being able to do research about a company, all these third-party testing organizations and associations that offer certification labels have websites and these sites generally have a section on them listing the products and/or companies they have officially certified.

So, for example, if you have a product with a particular label, say CRI’s Green Label Plus, RFCI’s FloorScore, Green Squared, a NALFA Seal or FSC, NSF, etc., it is very easy to go to their respective websites to see if the company that makes the product or the product itself is listed as being certified. And, if you can’t find something on a website, a simple phone call to these companies or organizations will clear it up as they will be more than happy to let you know if a particular certification is true.

Due diligence is also a best practice in business but especially so when it comes to making sure you are offering products that are safe for your customers and family. Specialty retailers have always had a better opportunity than the boxes and national chains in this area because they generally sell the better made, mid to upper end goods.

Carrying these types of products is one thing, making sure your customers understand what the labels and certifications mean is another. Just as professional retailers espouse training, education and certifications for their salespeople and installers, part of that should be dedicated to understanding how to explain why a FloorScore certified hardwood or NALFA certified laminate for example is better for their family.

Armed with both the right products and the right knowledge can go a long way in separating you from the competition and making sure customers feel confident they are making the right purchase.