Question Mark What were the objectives of FEMB when it was defining a new sustainability standard?

Our goal was to define the basis for a sustainability certification that covers all the relevant aspects of sustainability — the products themselves, all of the facilities where the products and their components are manufactured, and the management and production policies of the manufacturers. It was therefore necessary to formulate the requirements in the form of a standard. The reason why we decided to edit an association standard was our wish to provide total transparency for everyone.

Question Mark Do we really need another sustainability certification scheme?

We definitely do. It’s true that we already have many different environmental certifications for furniture, but most of them cover only a few aspects of sustainable behaviour. In addition, some certificates compete with one another, often on the basis of different test methods. As a consequence, even experts may find it difficult to tell which combination of existing certificates might be useful. That's why an accredited certification system with a wide scope and maximum transparency is necessary. Since no programme of this kind had been available in Europe, we decided to launch it on our own. Now it can be used wordwide due to its accreditation to ISO 17065.

Question Mark Which aspects of sustainability does the certification cover?

The new certification covers all of the relevant aspects of sustainability. The certification is structured according to the four impact areas Materials, Energy & Atmosphere, Human & Ecosystem Health, and Social Responsibility.

Question Mark To what extent does the certification scheme coincide with the BIFMA level certificate?

The general assessment process and many of the requirements are the same, but the structure is a bit different from the BIFMA version. There is some different content as well, for example in the FEMB material section. The LEVEL programme developed by FEMB has a global approach and takes European conditions into account. About 80% of the LEVEL credits can generally be used for BIFMA 2014, and about 70% of the BIFMA 2014 credits can be used for LEVEL. The BIFMA version 2018/2019 may reduce the interchangeability by about 10%.

Question Mark Could you have used other models than BIFMA level certificate as a basis?

No, there is no other sustainability standard or certification for furniture that takes a similar approach. Starting from scratch would have duplicated work that has already been done. In a time of globalization that did not seem appropriate, especially since BIFMA and FEMB are in close contact with each other. Actually, experts from BIFMA were members of the working group that developed the FEMB standard. Further communication between BIFMA and FEMB about a common approach toward ISO standardization has already been planned.

Question Mark Do you expect to replace other certificates in the long term?

Partly, but the European version of LEVEL will be a more overarching certification. For example, if a company has already had its products tested for noxious substances, the existing certificate will be acknowledged within the LEVEL certification if it originates from accredited sources. This is the same way as we deal with EMAS or ISO 14001-certificates. For each credit, we name the directly acceptable certificates. Other certificates that have already been received may be honoured indirectly by evaluating their assessment data. Through the formal accreditation of the standard to ISO 17065 we have opened the door for worldwide use without having to manage this ourselves.

Question Mark What does the name LEVEL mean?

The name refers to the three conformance levels of the certification. Companies that are interested in receiving a certification for their products must fulfil all of the basic requirements defined in the standard. On top of these, they can also receive certification points. If they have gained enough certification points to pass the thresholds of each of the four impact areas, they can receive a LEVEL 1 certification. If they gain additional points, they can rise to LEVEL 2 or LEVEL 3. The aim behind this structure is to initiate a process of continual improvement.

Question Mark What does it cost to certify a product?

Certification always refers to a "worst case sampling" product. That means all products similar to the one assessed receive certification as well. The exact scope has to be agreed upon with the certification body.

That way, initial certification of a product/product line will cost about 2.000 € in average. Various factors influence the exact amount, beside others the number of production sites affected, the preparedness of the manufacturer and the total audit time. Every second year a surveillance audit is due with less time and effort. Every three years a re-certification is due similar to the initial audit.

Additional costs arise from the mandatory participation in the Level Certification Programm which costs 2.000 € per year per manufacturer. It does not depend on the number of products certified.

Each manufacturer should also consider the internal resources required to prepare for the audit and certification process.

Question Mark How long will it take to certify products?

This depends on the company’s level of preparation. Companies with a fully implemented sustainability management process will be able to get their first certificates within about three months. Companies that have all relevant processes in place but not yet prepared their data for evaluation might take about six months.

Question Mark Who is the owner of the LEVEL brand, and who will conduct the assessments?

The owner of the LEVEL brand is FEMB, but the certification process will be conducted completely independently of the association. LEVEL is a third-party certification programme. All of the certification bodies must be accredited by national accreditation bodies.