Purchasing furniture for an office, restaurant or other business is more than just a style choice; it’s an investment. And naturally, people in the market for these items want to ensure their investments are durable and will meet their needs.
But, commercial furniture can be a bit tricky. With a wide variety of different manufacturers, materials and designs on the market, it can be near impossible for the average shopper to tell which pieces will stand the test of time and which ones won’t. That’s where commercial certifications come in. Commercial furniture certifications are designed to give you unbiased ratings and tell you if furniture can stand up to intense use in a commercial environment.
While there are a large number of different organizations that may chime in on the quality of commercial furniture, there are four main institutions involved in commercial certifications in the United States: GSA, ANSI, BIFMA and UL.
The General Services Administration (GSA) is a government organization that deals with a wide range of tasks, including furniture acquisition. They have specific design and performance requirements that furniture pieces must meet in order to be eligible for purchase by any government organizations.
GSA approved items meet a list of highly detailed requirements that are tailored for specific pieces of furniture. These can specify a range of factors including acceptable sizes, construction, materials and features, even stipulating other certifications that are necessary such as ANSI or BIFMA compliance.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a large privately owned organization that helps produce guidelines and standards for a range of different industries. They create these using data, discussion and agreement from a “diverse range of stakeholders” to produce technical requirements for everything from IT security to welding.
BIFMA stands for Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association. This organization is an industry leader in the U.S. that defines which commercial and industrial furniture standards should be used.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is a scientific organization that tests, inspects and certifies a wide range of products for consumer, commercial and industrial use. This organization doesn’t create the standards, but rigorously tests products to ensure they meet already determined national and international thresholds.
Knowing What’s Certified
These last three organizations (ANSI, BIFMA and UL) all work in conjunction with one another. North American commercial furniture receives these certifications when UL testing proves that a product meets the ANSI criteria that BIFMA has defined as industry standards.
ANSI creates standards for a range of products and applications
BIFMA defines which standards should be used for commercial and industrial furniture
UL tests products to ensure they meet different standards
So although there are many acronyms involved, and products may be labeled with any or all of them, these four organizations really represent two main sets of qualifications for commercial furniture: GSA approved, and ANSI / BIFMA / UL approved.
To find items that have ANSI, BIFMA or UL certifications, look for the listings displayed on their packaging or product listing page. Knowing which products are GSA approved is even simpler, as the General Services Administration keeps detailed lists of commercial furniture products that meet its criteria. So, anyone can refer to the furniture schedules on its site to find items that are GSA approved.