The continual push for sustainability across all areas of construction and design is driving demand for third-party certification schemes, with manufacturers and suppliers seeking to prove the green credentials of their products.
As suppliers jostle for lucrative contracts and look for more ways to set themselves apart from the competition, more companies are finding that being able to demonstrate the environmental credentials of their products is key to winning business with property developers and procurers.
Evidence of certification from a trusted third-party scheme is one of the easiest ways to score approval from Green Star, the environmental rating scheme for building design and construction run by the Green Building Council of Australia.
Under Green Star, building projects can earn credits based on criteria for environmental preferability and human health. Points are awarded in different categories which address various aspects of the building’s design, maintenance and construction.
The system makes use of tools such as the Fitout or Materials calculators to help determine how many points can be awarded for a project, with third-party certified products often contributing 100 per cent towards these points, rather than requiring more in-depth assessment.
Property developer Lend Lease is one of the big influencers on the sustainable property scene. Lend Lease's construction of the Barangaroo South development and its sustainability goals have prompted more suppliers to make enquiries about getting third-party certification for their products.
According to the Barangaroo website, the aim is for the finished precinct to “be carbon neutral, water positive, generate zero waste and enhance the wellbeing of the community.”
Barangaroo South’s Tower 2 commercial building was recently awarded a 6 Star Green Star Office Design v3 rating, and all other buildings at the site are required to have a minimum 5 star Green Star rating, so sourcing products that will fit these requirements is vital. This is where third-party certification schemes come into play.
“The value of having a third party organisation as a certifying body is that the certification of sustainability credentials sits with that third party organisation,” said Matt Williams, sustainability manager (NSW and ACT) for Lend Lease. “We don’t then need to rely solely on manufacturers claims, we can look to the independent, third party certification bodies to certify for us. If a supplier has certification, it provides the independent evidence we need.”
The company doesn’t discriminate when it comes to third-party certification, sourcing products from Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) and Ecospecifier’s Green Tag accreditation schemes, although Williams does emphasise the importance of a robust and reputable organisation.
“Our position is we just support third party certification against the ISO 14024 standard regardless of the type,” he said.
According to Williams, certification schemes result in a three-way benefit for all involved. They benefit the company whose products are certified, since this gives them a competitive edge over their competitors, therefore increasing their chances of winning a contract. The certification organisation benefits from the feedback that the industry can provide and can incorporate new criteria into their standards.
And, of course, it’s good for Lend Lease.
“We get this independent verification which takes some of the risk and responsibility away from us, as a third party is vouching for that product rather than us trying to do it ourselves,” Williams said.
James Wewer, Lend Lease’s sustainability manager for Victoria and South Australia, agrees that third-party certification makes procurement decisions easier, including sourcing environmentally-preferable cleaning products for their own construction site accommodation.
“It’s the third party certification that we’re looking for,” he said. “Rather than us saying it’s a good product and we should use it, it’s using a reputable third party to certify that for us.”
It seems the market is responding to the importance of accreditation, with more suppliers proactively obtaining certification for their products, rather than needing a bit of persuasion from procurers. After a bit of supplier engagement, Williams said that at least nine out of twelve Lend Lease alliance partners – procured the most frequently by the company and representing their “biggest spend” items – were “either Green Tag or GECA certified.”
One of the biggest challenges in the market is the problem of product substitution, where a builder or contractor might try to use a different product than the one originally specified – and this alternative option usually doesn’t have certification. Naturally, this can cause certified suppliers to lose out on business, and means that a project might fall short of its desired sustainability objectives.
Williams claims that communication breakdowns are the main issue, where construction teams may approve uncertified products without realising, and says that although Lend Lease has the final sign off of products used in its projects, simple contractor education could be the answer.
Ultimately, as long as clients continue to demand sustainable products and Green Star rated buildings, there will be a constant demand for third-party certification schemes.
“It’s a client-driven issue a lot of the time,” said Williams. “If a client wants a Green Star rating, certification is a good way of achieving that.”