Many consumers who are preparing to purchase kitchen cabinets frequently ask “what’s the difference between LEED and ESP certified cabinets?” Or “why aren’t ESP certified cabinets LEED certified?” The answer is apples and oranges. The real question consumers should be asking is “how eco-friendly do I want my cabinets to be?”
LEED awards points for individual criteria. For example, if cabinets are made entirely of recycled material(s), points are awarded for that. And ONLY that. What if the manufacturer of those cabinets dumped all the waste from the production of those cabinets into a lake or stream? Now how eco-friendly do those cabinets look to you? While LEED does address important ecological aspects of a manufactured product, it ignores the manufacturing carbon footprint – the ecological elements of the manufacturing process.
ESP certification, on the other hand, addresses BOTH the cabinet and the entire manufacturing process to make the cabinet, starting with the sourcing of cabinet materials. While LEED awards points for FSC certified wood only, FSC is just one of several equivalent forest certification programs that earn points under ESP. FSC is not the only credible and proven sustainable forest management system. In addition to sustainable forestry, ESP also supports selective harvesting, the practice of periodically removing mature trees in order to allow young trees to grow. Selective harvesting leads to healthier forests, thus preserving the environmental and social benefits forests provide.
LEED is also very narrow as regards its wood emissions requirement. A point is awarded for cabinets made with no added formaldehyde. ESP references the broader California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulation, which becomes a federal mandate next year. CARB has established the lowest formaldehyde limits in the world for composite wood products. The CARB regulation is balanced and allows for very low formaldehyde emitting materials. No-added formaldehyde products have limited availability and are often more costly.
LEED awards points for the use of recycled material and so does ESP. But KCMA’s ESP program goes further. For example, it requires that manufacturers have a process resource management plan in place. One or more of the following items must be implemented: a comprehensive recycling program for process wastes; a program for tracking and reducing process wastes with documented goals and reports; the use of internal or external process by-products to generate alternative energy; and/or they must have a documented energy conservation program.
The ESP program goes further than LEED in that it requires a verifiable commitment to environmental stewardship. All participants must demonstrate this commitment with a written policy statement. It’s mandatory. They can further demonstrate it by having a third-party certified (or non-certified) Environmental Management System (EMS) in place, by reviewing the environmental practices and policies of their key vendors and contractors, and/or documenting a program that promotes the use of renewable or recycled materials or products.
ESP also benefits the communities in which a participant is located. ESP certified companies give back through community service or charitable contributions and they must comply with all local, state, and federal environmental regulations to be certified.
Unlike LEED, ESP doesn’t just award points for individual items. KCMA’s ESP program requires holistic environmental stewardship, as a management priority and in the entire manufacturing process. That’s what it takes to be an ESP certified cabinet.