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Inside the Green Squared Standard

A new standard developed by the Tile Council of North America aims to help specifiers evaluate the green claims made by tile manufacturers.

By Dan Marvin

A new standard developed by the Tile Council of North America aims to help specifiers evaluate the green claims made by tile manufacturers.

I know a dirty little secret about you: you don’t know which tile is best for the earth. You probably know that tile in general is a good bet—it lasts virtually forever, doesn’t emit VOCs and can contain recycled content—but if I put three pretty tiles in front of you and asked you to pick the “best” one, would you be able to do it? Until now, probably not. Of course, that’s not your fault—up until recently, there hasn’t been a good way to differentiate the best tiles from the rest.

I’ll just come out and say it: product literature doesn’t help much. Brochures these days are filled with lists of environmental benefits and leafy trees in the background. Everyone suggests that Al Gore would approve of their tiles. Building certifications don’t help much either, as they are for buildings, not products; while you can pick which points you want to shoot for, in the end, it is up to you to decide which attributes are most important. Rapidly renewable materials or low VOCs? High Solar Reflective Index value or use of regional materials? You figure it out.

For years, other market sectors such as flooring have had “single attribute” certifications, which are a bit like gold stars in kindergarten. Is your product low in VOCs? Gold star! Does it contain recycled content? Gold star! Unfortunately, there are no gold stars given for responsible manufacturing or progressive corporate governance, which is exactly what the tile industry needs—a certification that tells architects and designers at a glance that a particular tile is produced by a responsible manufacturer using responsible methods.

In 2009, the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) started the long process of putting together just such a certification program. The selected committee had its work cut out for it; the members had to define “environmentally friendly” in such a way that the green community, manufacturers, architects, designers and end-users all agreed. They also had to make sure that the certification covers the “other stuff” needed to install tile, including backer board, grout, mortar and membranes.

What emerged after two years of collaboration is “Green Squared,” which is both a standard and a certification that a product meets the standard. Green Squared starts with an ANSI standard that defines an environmentally preferable tile or installation product. The committee spent countless hours drafting A138.1, the American Standard Specifications for Sustainable Ceramic Tiles, Glass Tiles and Tile Installation Materials, and because it is an ANSI standard, it has been reviewed and voted on by representatives of every stakeholder. Manufacturers, builders, installers, architects, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) APs, and the green community at large have all weighed in, refined and approved the standard.

The second step is certifying to that standard. A variety of reputable third-party certifiers are now certifying to the Green Squared standard, including Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), UL Environment and NSF. Certification starts with a review of records but also includes site visits and process audits to make sure that claims are verifiable. Only after an exhaustive review can a product make the claim as being Green Squared certified.

The committee wanted to make sure the standard wasn’t just a rubber stamp for every product submitted. In fact, they were adamant that Green Squared certified products should be truly preferable to other products. To do this, the standard is set up a bit like getting a college degree; there are mandatory requirements that each product must meet, as well as a certain number of “electives” pertaining to everything from managing waste streams to corporate governance.

As with most certifications, there are several product-specific requirements. Products must contain recycled content, should use indigenous raw materials, and can’t contain leachable lead or cadmium. Products must be manufactured with energy conservation in mind; they receive extra credit if renewable energy is included in the equation. Process waste should either be put back into the product or used in other products, with a plan in place to reach that goal. Packaging is also addressed—not just in the sense that it must be recyclable, but also in terms of the total amount of packaging used versus the product it contains.

Just as importantly, manufacturers are encouraged to understand how their manufacturing facilities relate to the environment. At a minimum, all environmental rules and regulations must be followed, with extra credit given for exceeding the minimum requirements.

Facilities must develop an environmental management plan which identifies waste streams and plans for reducing all wastes from the factory, and process water should be captured and treated for re-use instead of discharged. Facilities must disclose hazards to their workers as well as comply with health and safety regulations; extra credit is given for facilities that go the extra mile in making sure their processes are safe, and their employees and neighbors protected.

Unique to the Green Squared standard are requirements not only for the manufacturer, but also the manufacturer’s supply chain. It is required to have a procurement policy that addresses environmental and social issues. Better yet, it should be written right into purchasing contracts that outside vendors must comply with these requirements.

Additional sections address progressive corporate governance. Worried that child labor or forced labor is utilized in the manufacture of a product? If it is Green Squared certified, you can rest assured that the question has been asked and the answer was verified to be no. Electives are even available for companies that show they are good corporate citizens in their communities by sponsoring youth sports teams or participating in charity events.

This list just scratches the surface of what is included in the standard. If the green community has been talking about it, it’s in there. Life Cycle Analysis? It’s in the standard. Environmental Product Declarations? They’re in there too. The committee also continues to monitor trends in the green community to make sure that future revisions of Green Squared address new questions about tile and installation products.

Thanks to years of hard work from many dedicated professionals, you finally have an objective way to evaluate tile systems. By looking for “Green Squared certified” you will know with a glance that the products you are selecting are the best of the best. Your dirty little secret is now a thing of the past.


Dan Marvin is the director of technical services for Florida Tile, and has over 20 years of experience in tile manufacturing. Along with Bill Griese of Tile Council, Dan chairs the Green Initiative Committee for the TCNA, the committee that drafted Green Squared. Look for Dan and Bill’s presentation on Green Squared at this year’s Coverings show in Orlando, Fla. For more information about Green Squared, go to or