Issue: Mar 2007


Source of interior chemical emissions and selection of low- emitting materials and furnishings



Automotive Industries spoke to Carl Smith, CEO and executive director of the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute.

by Rob White

In October 2006, the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) certified micronAir filters(R), manufactured by Freudenberg Nonwovens, as the first automotive cabin air filters to be certified for low chemical emissions under the GREENGUARD Certification Program. These chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs, are often the culprit for many health-related issues, including asthma and allergies.

GREENGUARD is an industry independent, non-profit organization that oversees the GREENGUARD Certification Program. The certification program measures chemical "off-gassing" of products during recommended use and application, and then compares the measured emission levels against well-established and commonly used levels for exposure. "By targeting the source of interior chemical emissions and selecting low- emitting materials and furnishings, auto manufacturers have begun to address increasing government and public concerns about the air in cars, Freudenberg Nonwovens has responded to these concerns for cabin air quality. We applaud them for being the first to attain GREENGUARD Certification for air filtration products and for showing true environmental leadership in their industry,” said Carl Smith, CEO of GEI.

GEI says it strives to improve public health and quality of life through programs that improve indoor air. Products that are GREENGUARD Certified undergo rigorous testing on a regular basis and meet stringent, third party standards for low chemical emissions. The agency is increasingly concerned about the quality of the air inside of automobile passenger cabins. That ever-coveted new car smell is a result of chemicals being released from interior finishes. Many of these chemicals have been linked to serious health concerns. A few years back, GEI commissioned Air Quality Sciences, Inc. (AQS) to study the air of automobile cabins. As part of its examination, AQS detected a wide range of chemicals, some of which are potentially harmful, in the interiors of new automobiles. AQS also developed a test method to measure these emissions.

This was the first step taken by GEI in developing a possible development of a GREENGUARD indoor air quality standard for automobile interiors. This would serve as a mechanism to better inform the public on any indoor air issues for specific automobile manufacturers and brands. So when micronAir filters received its certification, it represented a big step for both the company a well as for GEI.

“The GREENGUARD Certification of these filters signals further movement within the automotive industry towards improving the air quality of a vehicle's cabin. As more time is spent in cars and more attention paid to indoor air quality, automotive suppliers and manufacturers have increasingly recognized the need to address the quality of the cabin air. Leading manufacturers Volvo, Mercedes, Toyota and BMW have recently taken steps to improve cabin air quality by reducing interior emissions and improving air filtration,” says a statement by GEI.

The GEI was set up over five years ago and its self-proclaimed mission is to improve public health and quality of life through programs that improve indoor air. The advisory board is made up of independent volunteers, who are renowned experts in the areas of indoor air quality, public and environmental health, building design and construction, and public policy, provides guidance and leadership to GEI.

Automotive Industries spoke to Carl Smith, CEO and executive director of the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute.


1. How have automotive companies responded to GEI's efforts?

Since we announced extending GREENGUARD Certification program to products used in automobiles, we have had literally dozens of conversations with parts manufacturers about this issue. Through these conversations, we have found that cabin air quality is still an emerging issue and that many manufacturers require much more information on the subject.

2. Have any other filter manufacturers come forward to discuss certification?

Yes, we have discussed certification with several filter manufacturers, some of which are pursuing it. At this time, none have achieved certification.

3. What are some of the challenges in getting automotive companies to pursue this?

A couple of challenges are particularly relevant. First, the issue of fossil fuel use (fuel efficiency) seems to overwhelm all other environmental issues associated with automobiles, even though cars affect the environment in many other ways. Second, many automotive companies are influenced by more fundamental business / financial issues, distracting them from environmental concerns, even though addressing some of their core environmental issues could help their business outlook. Finally, while most people understand the importance of indoor air quality in buildings, this awareness is much less with cabin air quality.

4. Apart from air filters, what other product areas have we certified?

While we have yet to certify other product areas, we are actively working with plastics, adhesives, and textiles manufacturers on a broad spectrum of products.

5. How does GEI raise awareness of these environmental issues?

GEI educates key opinion leaders and the general public through a range of activities including seminars, trade shows, articles and materials focusing on the importance of automotive cabin air quality and health. Through our efforts, the GREENGUARD Certification mark has become the most recognizable brand in the marketplace for indoor air.


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