Nov 07, 2018

Designation Drivers

Exploring trends in product certification

Certification trends in the water quality and drinking water industry

It is certainly no secret that business increases when the economy is booming. For those of us with the ability to recollect the past decade, we have seen the number of products obtaining certification severely decline as a result of the 2008 economy crash. Aside from dollars and cents alone, there are other factors that come into play with respect to trends in product certification. Let us explore some of those factors and dive into what drives certification.

Certification Qualifications

Before delving into why a company might choose to certify a product, let us quickly explore what product certification consists of. For the clear majority of certification programs, the path to obtaining certification is not easy. Products must adhere to the requirements of industry standards that will subject the product to tests envisioned to push it beyond its intended purpose. In most cases, there are three categories of tests to which the specimens are exposed. 

The first is materials safety, often referred to as extraction testing. This test will ensure that the materials of construction do not allow harmful chemicals to migrate into the product water. 

The second is structural integrity testing. These tests ensure that even under extreme conditions, the product will not crack and cause continuous leakage. 

The final set of testing is referred to as performance testing. Under this premise, the product undergoes testing to verify manufacturer claims with respect to contaminant reduction claims. 

For example, if a product advertises that it can reduce lead, it will be subjected to a test to verify that the product will, in fact, reduce lead. Depending on one’s perspective, it is either fortunate or unfortunate that the process does not stop there. In addition to the testing, each manufacturing facility must undergo inspections to verify that the location has a credible quality system in place, that the products are being manufactured in a consistent manner and that the materials of construction do not change. Finally, for each certified product, there is a series of specific literature requirements that must be adhered to. Each of these products is routinely reviewed to ensure continued compliance throughout the duration of the certification.

Now that we understand what certification is, we can explore the trends that push a company to either obtain or forego certification for its products. 

Money Matters

Economic stability is important because in the U.S., certification for products such as undercounter reverse osmosis (RO) systems, water pitchers or refrigerator filters is primarily optional. There are few state or federal regulations that force companies to entertain the idea of product certification. Therefore, when the economy is low, certification tends to be one of the first things to go because in most areas the product still can be sold legally without certification.

Despite economics, it is true that while there are few state or federal laws requiring certification, private businesses unquestionably have the ability to require products to have certification before they will allow them to be sold on their shelves. A recent and live example of this is Amazon’s requirement for refrigerator filters to obtain certification from an accredited certifier. Prior to this requirement, very few refrigerator filter companies chose to obtain certification. However, when Amazon decided to enforce this rule, the number of certified fridge filters increased exponentially. Further to this point, each retailer has its own set of requirements to verify product quality. In some cases, these requirements include product certification by an accredited third party.

Media & Innovation

However, trends are not only economic. We cannot deny the power of media, and, more specifically, the speed at which our current sources of social media travel. It seems that in almost an instant the mycrocystin algal bloom in Ohio was a top story across the U.S. In a similar experience, the disaster of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Mich., created an uproar in communities across the nation and was the topic of many discussions worldwide. 

Contaminants sometimes referred to as emerging or endocrine disrupting chemicals became the top news stories as mothers were scared into believing that their babies were consuming unhealthy amounts of chemicals such as DEET, ibuprofen and bisphenol A from the water provided to them via their local water source. Of course, the latest of chemical classes to hit the news are the perfluorinated chemicals or perfluorochemicals, which are most recognized as leaching from the manufacture of Teflon-coated pots and pans. 

In all of the cases above, if a standard did not exist for the chemicals of interest, the industry wrote one. The new standards, in combination with the media attention, forced many companies to seek certification so they could provide a solution.     

Trends do not stop there. Sometimes, the technology currently available is not suited for the times in which we live. For example, RO technology has been hampered by the fact that the traditional technology sends significant amounts of water to the drain as unusable water. More specifically, when 4 gal of water are sent through a RO system, typically at least 3 gal are deemed unusable and discarded to the drain, while only a single gallon or less of water is deemed potable. 

In a world where natural resources are becoming scarce, this may lead the technology itself to face the chopping block. Rather than waiting for authorities having jurisdiction and regulators to ban the technology as acceptable, the industry has developed new technology to complement the RO systems that will enable them to be significantly more efficient. However, the industry does not want to rely on its own touting of the new and improved technology, so it collaborated with ASSE Intl. and IAPMO R&T to develop a new standard focused on membrane life and efficiency requirements. This standard, which is nearing completion, is expected to provide companies with the ability to prove their products’ effectiveness via certification.  

Ultimately, certification allows product manufacturers to have a third party establish proof that the products they make meet industry standards and do what they say they are going to do. Reasoning behind obtaining certification certainly is far more complicated than simple marketing advantage alone. Economy, media and innovation play an integral role in creating trends for companies to seek certification on their products.

About the author

Tina Donda is vice president of IAPMO R&T’s Water Systems program. Donda can be reached at [email protected] or 708.995.3018.

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