What exactly is “environmental footprinting?” What is happening with water reuse? For answers, read on.

Intro By Kim Van Kirk
She is marketing manager - water systems for NSF Intl. Contact her at vankirk@nsf.org

Green. Sustainable. Environmentally friendly. We hear the terms in the media, see it on product packaging, and now, and in an ever-increasing way, we are feeling its impact on the plumbing industry.

Terms like LEED design, solar energy, water conservation and water re-use are becoming everyday words in the plumbing world. Builders are incorporating more sustainable technology in homes and businesses, retailers are boasting about their green products on store shelves, and consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious through their product purchases and actions.

NSF International is no stranger to the sustainability concept. For more than 65 years, NSF has had a mission of “protecting public health, safety and the environment.” Through the decades, NSF has worked collaboratively with respected organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Climate Registry, a nonprofit collaboration that sets standards to calculate, verify and publicly report greenhouse gas emissions.

At NSF, we believe that sustainable practices build a better world. For business, growing sustainability can improve total business results. Services offered through our Sustainable Business Solutions programs add credibility, cost savings, and long-term value to a company’s sustainability initiatives and bottom line.

NSF’s core competencies in the sustainability area can be categorized in three ways:
  • Product Assessment – Sustainability product testing and certification.
  • Process Verification – Methods for measuring sustainable processes.
  • Standards Development – Creation of new sustainability standards specific to a product type or industry.

    In this article, NSF highlights its sustainability work in four key areas:
  • Environmental Footprinting through NSF partner organization Trucost Plc
  • Water Reuse
  • Rainwater Catchment Systems Testing/Certification (digital version only here)
  • Compostability Testing (digital version only here)

    We hope you enjoy learning about these exciting efforts that NSF has made in the sustainability area. For more on NSF Sustainability programs and services, visit www.nsfsustainability.org or email sustainabilty@nsf.org.

  • Table 1. Impacts Categories To Include In Environmental Footprint Determination


    What do the following terms really mean, and what impact, if any, do they have on the financial performance of a company? The terms are “sustainability,” “environmental footprint” and “carbon footprint.” Let’s take a closer look at each one.

    The definition of “sustainability” was formalized 20 years ago in a 1989 report by the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission)[1] as meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” While this definition provides a general reference point, it does not provide much guidance to a company trying to determine how to respond to customer, shareholder, and public pressure to be “green.”

    Any sustainability program must consider the three key components of sustainability: the environment (e.g., resource use, reducing impacts), social equity (e.g., fair labor practices, community contributions), and financial performance. Apart from including these components, there is no one, single right way or accepted method for developing a sustainability program. NSF’s clients define sustainability in ways that are relevant to their industry and company.

    Environmental Footprint
    An environmental footprint is the amount of natural resources used and waste generated in the course of producing a product or delivering a service.Table 1presents these impacts in one of four categories: emissions to air, to land, to water, and resource use. A company’s environmental footprint is an important sustainability indicator and represents a fundamental part of any sustainability program.

    Determining which of the impacts listed in Table 1 may apply to your company is the easy part. Things get much more complex very quickly beyond that. For example, will the scope of your footprint include distribution of your product or service delivery? If so, how will you gather this data? Will the footprint include end use? Do you have mechanisms to gather data on all relevant impact categories? 

    Most companies have enough internal data to develop a partial idea of their environmental metrics. Companies usually measure the amount of hazardous waste they generate, stack air emissions, materials purchased, water used, and electricity or natural gas consumed. Other components of an environmental footprint such as solid waste generated, operational and fugitive emission, indirect impacts, and impacts outside of regulatory requirements are difficult to calculate if they are quantified at all.

    [1] United Nations General Assembly Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future; transmitted to the General Assembly as an Annex to document A/42/427 - Development and International Cooperation: Environment. 1987.

    Figure 1. Sample of Environmental Impacts and Associated Cost to SAMPLE Co.

    Teaming With Trucost
    In response to NSF’s clients’ need to find an accurate, cost-effective method for determining environmental footprints, NSF has partnered with Trucost Plc, a UK-based environmental data and research firm that has developed a patented econometric model to produce environmental footprints for companies using all the impact categories in Table 1. The Trucost approach has been validated and used by government agencies, leading companies, and Standard and Poor’s (S&P) investment funds.[2]

    The first part of Trucost’s value proposition is to calculate not only environmental impacts but thefinancialconsequences of those impacts as well. Your company’s environmental footprint becomes more than a set of metrics; it becomes input into your overall corporate strategy.Figure 1gives a simple example of the power of a Trucost analysis. In this example, the financial impact of direct environmental impacts is almost 3.5% of earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization).

    The other value that the Trucost approach provides is that it uses readily available information and can be performed for a fraction of the cost of more traditional approaches such as life cycle analysis (LCA), which is also known as life cycle assessment.

    Companies work with NSF and Trucost to:
  • Measure operational carbon and environmental impacts.
  • Identify the most efficient strategies to reduce environmental impacts.
  • Cut costs, increase efficiency and manage financial risk.
  • Meet existing and anticipated reporting requirements.
  • Benchmark environmental performance.
  • Demonstrate environmental credentials.    

    The resulting footprint can address carbon (GHGs), water, waste and several hundred other types of potential emissions. The footprint report also tells companies where they should focus their energies by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to their business.
    [2] Green Century Capital Management, Inc. based the first U.S mutual fund to report its carbon footprint.  

  • Supply Chain Footprints
    The supply chain has historically been a reliable source of cost savings, with selection based on the ability to provide a product that meets requirements at the lowest price. Today, however, the supply chain is no longer simply a system that delivers a final product, but an expression of a corporation’s brand value. It is the brand owner, not the remote supplier, that is held responsible for the quality of the product and even for the environmental, social, and ethical performance of their suppliers.

    In addition, the environmental performance of a supplier can have a bottom line effect on their customers. A recent Trucost study,Carbon Risks and Opportunities in the S&P 500, assessed GHG emissions, carbon intensity and exposure to carbon costs of Standard and Poor’s (S&P) companies internationally. The study found that more than 80% of GHG emissions originate from supply chains, representing a serious financial exposure as costs are passed on to manufacturers[3].

    What methodology simply and accurately gathers all the detailed information needed for a footprint from a global or even a local supply chain? Here again, NSF and Trucost have the cost-effective answer. Trucost can develop a detailed environmental/carbon footprint of a company’s supply chain with a minimal investment of time by the suppliers. This outlines the indirect impacts of a company by way of its suppliers.

    In four simple steps, Trucost measures the environmental impacts that result from a company’s purchase of goods and services. A confidential online portal is used to ask the suppliers for information on their environmental impacts. This is displayed in absolute quantitative and financial terms.

    The forward-thinking company will use its supply chain as a means to reduce risk and costs, achieve corporate sustainability objectives and expand their company footprint to include the footprint of each supplier. NSF and Trucost can help you to achieve these goals through cost-effective and credible impact analysis.
    [3] Carbon Risks and Opportunities in the S&P 500, Trucost (trucost.com), 2009.

    Petie Davis is business unit manager, sustainability services for NSF Intl. Contact her at davis@nsf.org. Also visit www.nsfsustainability.org.

    WATER REUSE: Setting Standards for Sustainable Water
    By Tom Bruursema

    Beginning in the 1960s, NSF developed standards for onsite, residential wastewater treatment systems. The treatment criteria of the NSF standards, now American National Standards, are based on the EPA requirements for centralized municipal treatment facilities. Many onsite systems, however, can exceed these minimum treatment levels.

    The result has been water of such quality as to allow for certain levels of reuse. Such reuse has been taking place for many years. As the water supply becomes a depleting resource, more attention is being given to how the treated effluent can be utilized in more extensive ways.

    Beginning in early 2008, the NSF Joint Committee on Wastewater Treatment Units formed a task group to develop standards for onsite reuse treatment technologies. The results to date have focused on defining source waters available for treatment, and suitable effluent qualities for specific reuse applications.

    Agreed-upon source water supplies include human and nature generated. In the human-generated category are blackwater and greywater, and in nature-generated rainwater and stormwater. Each of these has unique characteristics to be defined, including contaminants and ranges of expected concentrations.

    NSF has canvassed the marketplace to develop a comprehensive understanding of existing regulations and requirements for effluent criteria. Existing requirements in the U.S., Canada, Australia, China, Germany, Japan, Korea, along with guidelines published by EPA, NOWRA and WHO, were all researched. This information is being used to determine the proper criteria for reuse applications, based on the public health risk associated with various uses.

    The expected outcome is four NSF/ANSI standards that address each of the individual source waters. All are likely to have the same effluent criteria, as each source of water can be treated to similar reuse levels that do not vary by the source.

    Anyone interested in NSF’s progress in this area, or any of the NSF/ANSI Standards development activities, are encouraged to visit the NSF public standards Web site athttp://standards.nsf.org/kwspub/home.

    Tom Bruursema is general manager, wastewater programs, for NSF Intl. Contact him at bruursema@nsf.org.