SMaRT Certification Explained: Why It’s Important

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In this evolving economy, one thing is certain: transparency is here to stay.

As consumers and partners have greater visibility to what you’re doing, it’s paramount that your methods and products align with their values. You want to make sure that, should the curtain get pulled back, nothing negative or surprising pops out.

This is why you see the growing amount of product declarations and building certifications – it’s a modern company’s effort to promote its credibility. Architects are specifying the products they use, suppliers are marketing their products globally, and occupants and building owners can feel safe knowing they’re in a healthy and sustainable building.

As such, manufacturers need to do their part

Thus, we’ve seen the rise and growing importance of obtaining your SMaRT certification (Sustainable Materials Rating Technology). Adopted under the LEED in 2007, SMaRT is one of the newer building certifications, which also brings one of the highest credibility.

One of the biggest differentiating factors from other certifications is that, unlike other standards, SMaRT is not just about the product; it also examines the process in which it was produced.

It begins with an environmental product declaration (EPD), which reports the impact of the manufacturing process. It takes various key factors into account, like production, packaging, raw material extraction, even transportation and disposal. This document, however, doesn’t address a product’s impact on humans directly; that document would be called health product declaration (HPD), which reports on chemicals that could be toxic or harmful to the public.

SMaRT is one of the few standards that accounts for both of these – impact on the environment as well as impact on the human. It’s different from most other EPD/HPDs in that it requires massive pollution reductions as well as identifying many more aspects of climate change and toxicity issues.

Does it actually signify something?

For one, SMaRT is known primarily for its stringent requirements (we will get into that soon). In that, there’s an issue in sustainability called ‘greenwashing’, which is a company’s unlawful violation in truth when advertising about their environmental impact. In layman’s terms, it’s when a company is dishonest—or maybe embellishes information—about how environmentally friendly their products are.

gavel from a judge

Environmental marketing law is very straightforward, greenwashing was just something hard to regulate. As a result, oversight got tighter. This picked up in the last few years, as organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission, the State Attorney and the EPA became more aggressive in pursuing companies that deceived consumers on how environmentally-friendly their products were.

In these types of cases, the government rarely–if ever–loses, as manufacturers always settle due to the blowback their brand could suffer from this allegation becoming public.

SMaRT requires its applicants to sign a legally-binding agreement, enforced by the FTC, to ensure all information is accurate. It’s a consensus based standard that’s the culmination of 15 years of approvals.

Difficulty in obtaining SMaRT

The difficulty in obtaining SMaRT certification almost, in itself, assures a company from being deceptive. The standards are so rigorous that it’s almost impossible to sidestep anything.

After all, the main purpose of SMaRT certification is to acknowledge and reward manufacturers who not only create products that aren’t harmful, but which actually enhance the public health and environment.

It’s scope of examination is far wider than that of other certifications, as it incorporates almost 50 individual standards. To qualify , a company must score a minimum of 28 points (out of a potential 157) in the following stages of production:

  • Safety for public health and environment
  • Renewable energy and energy reduction
  • Materials that are bio-based or recycled
  • Company/facility requirements (including social equity)
  • Reclamation or Sustainable reuse

To obtain certification, a manufacturer must go through the following steps:

  • Submit a fully completed application
  • Pass a data audit by the MTS (The Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability)
  • Sign a legally-binding agreement that all information and data are accurate and not embellished or misleading
  • Pass a third-party audit from Ernst & Young’s Global Sustainable Auditing Group or Redstone Global Auditing
  • Renew the SMaRT certification every three years

From there, if your facility passes, you will receive certification that has varying levels: sustainable, sustainable silver, sustainable gold, or sustainable platinum. The level you receive depends upon the amount of points you ‘earn’ during the certification process.

The encouraging thing in all this is, if you see a facility has been SMaRT certified and has undergone all of these tests and changes in process, it’s a clear indicator of their commitment to sustainability.

The benefits of becoming SMaRT certified

Like we said, the emphasis on transparency and sustainability is only growing. SMaRT certification is becoming a leading hallmark on sustainability, and is being recognized not just nationally, but through manufacturers and builders all over the world.

Just within the US, though, it’s been adopted and recognized by the American Institute of Architects, the US Green Building Council and Wall Street Capital Market Partnerships, to name a few. SMaRT and LEED had increased cash flow and value, and is thus preferred by investors in Wall Street.

Even Google has gotten into the game. They recently partnered with Healthy Business Network to produce Portico, an online database that helps select healthy building products and materials. It allows architects to find healthy products in order to obtain LEED certification or to work with organizations who’ve undergone SMaRT certification. It’s also a tool for architects and manufacturers to communicate and speak directly through the platform. Essentially, it’s a tool by Google to reward sustainable and environmentally-focused companies.

Not to mention, customers and consumers are being increasingly demanding of products and companies that employ sustainable building and manufacturing methods.

How do you become SMaRT certified?

The certification is issued through The Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS). You can visit their main website, or contact them at mts@sustainableproducts.com to start your certification process.

At Columbia Precast Products, becoming SMaRT certified has been one of our greatest achievements, especially considering we were the first precast concrete plant in the Buried Infrastructure industry to earn this. Our products are made with natural materials that do not emit any volatile organic compounds (VOC). They are designed with strength, durability and resilience in mind, all while using sustainable materials and practices.

In short, it’s our contribution to what we hope to be a global movement towards a safer and healthier environment.

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