Interest in greener appliances is moving beyond measurements of energy efficiency, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM). Consumers want to know more about the overall environmental impact of their refrigerators, microwaves, air conditioners, clothes washers, and the like.

Responding to requests from its membership for a method to provide such information, AHAM recently entered into a collaboration with standards writers UL Environment and CSA Standards to jointly develop a set of voluntary, lifecycle-based sustainability guidelines for home appliances, both major and portable.

"This is something we feel the market is very interested in," rather than in response to any proposed government regulations, says Joe McGuire, AHAM's president. "Our industry feels that if a standard is going to be created to measure the sustainability of the products we make, we should be at the table to develop the metrics, and we want to do it in a credible, thoughtful way."

UL Environment, a subsidiary of Underwriters Laboratories, was created to develop certification standards for product sustainability and provide independent third-party verification of sustainability claims. Canadian-based CSA Standards creates a range of standards designed to enhance public safety and health and to protect the environment.

McGuire says the standards development team plans to begin with refrigeration products and then shift to smaller products, such as countertop kitchen appliances and portable space heaters or room air conditioners. Individual standards most likely will be created for each type of major appliance, while group standards may be developed for portable and countertop appliances. AHAM hopes to start rolling out sustainability standards for appliances quickly—a matter of months, rather than years—to enhance their usefulness to its members.

There currently are no hints regarding the type of scoring system that may be used to measure appliance sustainability, but UL Environment, CSA Standards, and AHAM all agree that the metrics will involve energy efficiency, materials sourcing, recycled material content, environmental impact of the manufacturing process, and end-of-life product disposal. Stakeholders from within the appliance industry—manufacturers and retailers—will be involved at all stages of the standards development process, and input from stakeholders outside the industry, such as government representatives and non-government organizations, also will be included.

Work on standards development began in September.

Stephani L. Miller is Associate Web Editor for Custom Home.