Zeroing in on Language, Part 3, Compliant vs. Certified

Ok, here’s the last post on language for a bit. Let’s consider the difference between “compliant” and “certified.”

Certification is a process in which a third party is confirming whatever statements are being made—that the product is going to perform in a way stated (be that meeting an emissions level or a strength level or something else) or was produced in the way stated (using specified materials and under agreed upon conditions.) Most certifications have some form of documentary burden—FSC requires every company in the chain to be certified, while CARB requires record-keeping by all who handle the product.

Compliant products are products that meet specified conditions, but do not automatically have a third party confirming that fact. Being “compliant” can be a function of following rules or using required material or meeting standards. Of course being compliant can also include using a certified production or a certification system. Further, if someone in authority (the government; an auditor; a customer who’s demands you need to satisfy) calls your statement of compliance into question, you may need to prove your statement, but unless providing evidence is a specified part of the compliance program, it’s not a requirement.

This can come into play in a lot of different areas. In LEED language, as previously noted, there is no such thing as a LEED certified product, rather there are compliant products can contribute towards LEED. Of course the requirement for LEED compliance might be a form certification—they are moving further and further away from allowing self-certification with every version. But LEED does not certify products themselves, so if someone offers you a “LEED Certified” product, they are confused.

In CARB, products can be both certified and/or compliant. This leads to a lot of confusion in the engineered flooring market place.

CARB regulates a certain number of products and while they have very technical definitions, we’re just going to call them plywood, particleboard and MDF (which includes what we in the industry call HDF, even though that doesn’t technically exist). These are products that must be certified.

Products using those materials in their construction, like engineered flooring with plywood or MDF cores, must use certified cores to be considered compliant. They themselves however, are not certified.

Companies who make engineered flooring using certified cores do not have to be certified at this time. (Things may change with the new EPA regulations—we’re waiting to see on that.) Manufacturers are required to use certified cores for their products to be compliant, but those floors themselves are not usually certified. So customers should not ask for CARB certifications for floors—for the most part, they don’t exist. That doesn’t mean the floor is bad or that the seller is hiding something—it’s how the regulation is written: for the most part, floors are to be compliant, not certified.

Some integrated factories that produce their own plywood or their own HDF may have their own certificates. Some might even test their floors rather than the cores and give them a product certification (which is something of a gray area since floors aren’t actually products covered by CARB.) However for the most part, engineered flooring does not come CARB Certified. It should be CARB Compliant.

And here’s another one to remember—lumber core flooring (also called sandwich or three layer core) is not regulated by CARB at this time. Which could, from another way of looking at it, make it automatically CARB compliant—it’s not required to be certified or to use a certified core (no such thing since it’s just lumber), so it exists in a form of permanent compliance!

So when you buy engineered flooring, no matter what the core, seek compliant material. Don’t try to find CARB certified floors or ask for certifications from your suppliers. Ask them instead for compliant flooring.

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