KCMA ESP: A benchmark for green stewardship
March 1, 2017 | 12:05 pm CST
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An important seal of sustainability, the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) label on cabinets assures consumers that the products they purchase meet stringent requirements for environmental responsibility.

Launched by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA) in 2006, the ESP voluntary certification program is the benchmark in green cabinet standards. From the manufacturing process to the finished product, ESP promotes the use of wood from recognized sustainable forestry programs and rewards manufacturers for using low formaldehyde-emitting wood products. The program also encourages ongoing education and outreach by awarding certification points to manufacturers that educate suppliers and promote community involvement.

A work in process, ESP continues to be revised to adapt to regulatory changes and best available technologies. The independent third-party auditing firm Architectural Testing also audits the program annually.

ESP is referenced in the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) ANSI/ ICC 700 National Green Standard and is also the only environmental certification program that specifically focuses on kitchen and bath cabinetry. The program is open to manufacturers of pre-finished, factory assembled cabinets and component parts; companies do not have to be a KCMA member in order to participate. To date, there are 67 companies and 121 brands certified under the program.

Certification is awarded annually to companies that meet the requirements in the following five categories: Air Quality, Product Resource Management, Process Resource Management, Environmental Stewardship and Community Relations. Eighty points out of a possible 110 are required for certification in the program. (See sidebar for information. A complete listing of criteria, along with an ESP application form, is at KCMA.org.)

The latest revision includes the ability by companies to obtain ESP credits and reduce their carbon footprint through the EPA’s SmartWay Freight Transport Sustainability Program. Designed to report, track and reduce supply chain carbon dioxide emissions, the SmartWay program was adopted by KCMA’s ESP in 2016.

KCMA’s Environmental Stewardship Program recognizes companies that manufacture using eco-friendly practices. Among the brands certified is MasterBrand’s Diamond cabinets.

Reinforcing sustainability

Participating in ESP provides cabinet and component manufacturers with third-party evidence of their commitment to environmental stewardship.

“Perhaps it’s because we’re located in an environmentally conscientious part of the country, but we’ve always had a strong commitment to being good environmental stewards,” said Robert Foote, president and CEO of Canyon Creek Cabinet Co.

Canyon Creek was the first cabinet company to be awarded an ESP certificate in November 2006, with then president and CEO Bill Weaver being instrumental in the development of the program.“The ESP program was really just a natural extension and formalization of many of our existing business practices,” Foote added.

Hagerstown Kitchens Inc. was also among the first to be ESP certified. Vice President of Sales David Lobley said his father Jim was involved in the development of KCMA’s environmental certification program, adding that “[my Dad] felt it was important to participate in the program for our company. He viewed the certification as a great way to increase recognition of our company’s environmental concerns.”

As public interest in green products has grown, so too has the value of the ESP certification. “The “green movement really became very strong in the minds of many of our dealers and end consumers. As that awareness increased, our participation in the program became critical to attracting those consumers,” Lobley said.

Participation in the program, many say, also provides their companies with a competitive edge.

 “Customers do understand the significance of the program and what it represents,” Lobley noted. “Many of our customers read our information pamphlet on the program and its requirements and are specifically looking for cabinet manufacturers like us to provide ESP certified cabinetry.“

Foote agreed. “More and more of our channel partners are coming to expect ESP certification among the manufacturers they deal with,” he said. “Increasingly, they are using ESP as part of their selling message to consumers to demonstrate the greater overall value certified cabinets represent – for example, a good selling point against many imported products. In recent months I’ve heard from a number of consumers directly that our ESP certification played a part in their decision to use [our] products.”

Wellborn Cabinet was among the first companies to be certified under the Environmental Stewardship Program. To date, there are 67 companies and 121 brands certified in the program.

Promotion efforts

KCMA promotes the ESP program through its Web site, KCMA.org, with new features to help direct visitors to information. KCMA is also spreading the word about the environmental program in consumer publications, at trade shows and industry-related events.

Companies too, are working to promote the value of the ESP to environmentally minded consumers.

“The ESP program is promoted in our literature, on our website and across our social media platform,” Lobley said. “It is also included in our information packages we send to new builders, developers and dealers.”

Foote also noted his company includes the ESP logo on its website, and links to PDFs with information about the ESP program. “In advertising copy we also regularly state that ‘ESP is the only nationally accredited environmental certification program that specifically focuses on kitchen and bath cabinets.’  Another statement we use is ‘KCMA’s ESP certification is referenced in the NAHB/ANSI Green Building Standard for cabinets.’”

He added, “KCMA’s ESP program takes a holistic approach by addressing all areas that a company makes an impact to the environment, including community involvement in worthy causes. Companies that are certified annually in this voluntary program are going above and beyond to develop environmentally preferable products and processes that contribute to the well-being of the environment.” 

KCMA introduced the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) in 2006 to encourage practices that benefit the environment and communities served by cabinet manufacturers. The ESP goes beyond other environmental programs by taking a holistic approach to certification, holding the cabinet industry to high standards for their products, forest sustainability and manufacturing processes. The voluntary certification program also provides a tangible way for manufacturers to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

The administration for the ESP is similar to the ANSI/KCMA A161.1 performance standard for cabinets. Any manufacturer of pre-finished, factory engineered cabinets or components may participate; companies do not have to be KCMA members.

Certification is based on compliance in five categories: Air Quality, Product Resource Management, Process Resource Management, Environmental Stewardship and Community Relations. There are 22 criteria, with a total of 110 possible points; 80 points are required for certification in the program.

The KCMA, the Environmental Stewardship Committee and the Board of Directors review the certification criteria annually. Architectural Testing, an independent third-party environmental auditing firm, also audits ESP annually.

How the environmental stewardship program works

Air Quality: 30 points maximum

• 100% of particleboard, medium density fiberboard, and plywood used in the cabinets must meet the formaldehyde emission level of the California Air Resources Compwood ATCM Phase II and must be third-party certified to meet low formaldehyde emission standards.

• 75% of the cabinets must be finished in the United States or Canada.  Finishes must emit no greater hazardous air pollutants than allowed by local plant operating permits.

Product Resource Management: 30 points maximum

• 80% of particleboard and MDF used in cabinets must contain 100% recycled or recovered fiber content.

• Manufacturers earn points if they have cabinets that are also Chain of Custody (COC) certified through a recognized sustainable forestry program.

• Hardwoods, softwoods and plywood purchased are COC certified through a recognized sustainable forestry program.

• Hardwood and softwood lumber are Certified Sourcing certified through a recognized sustainable forestry program.

• Manufacturers utilize an annual, written training plan to educate their hardwood suppliers of their preference for purchasing certified lumber.

Process Resource Management: 20 points maximum

• Manufacturer has a comprehensive recycling program for process wastes.

• Manufacturer has a program for tracking and reducing process wastes with documented goals and reports.

• Manufacturer uses process by-products to generate alternative energy.

• Manufacturer has a documented energy conservation program.

Environmental Stewardship: 20 points maximum

• Mandatory requirement: Manufacturer is required to have a written policy stating a firm commitment to environmental quality.

• Manufacturer has an Environmental Management System.

• Manufacturer reviews environmental practices and policies of its key vendors and contractors.

• Manufacturer has a documented program that promotes the use of renewable/recycled materials.

• Manufacturer is enrolled in the EPA SmartWay Transport Partnership as a registered partner.

Community Relations: 10 points maximum

• Manufacturer demonstrates community involvement and leadership through service or charitable organizations.

• Manufacturer observes federal, state, and local environmental requirements.

Additional Mandatory Requirement: ESP participant agrees to report to KCMA within 60 days of any local, state or federal citation in excess of $50,000 per violation, explaining the circumstances of the citation or violation.  Such citation or violation could lead to termination from the program.

For more information about the program or to find an ESP-certified cabinet manufacturer, go to the Certifications portal at KCMA.org.

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About the author
Karen Koenig | Editor

Karen M. Koenig has more than 30 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As editor of special publications under the Woodworking Network brand, including the Red Book Best Practices resource guide and website, Karen’s responsibilities include writing, editing and coordinating of editorial content. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media. She can be reached at karen.koenig@woodworkingnetwork.com