The single greatest barrier to going green for businesses, according to the Connecticut Business & Industry 2010 Sustainability and Connecticut Business Survey, is lack of knowledge regarding sustainable practices. This barrier also applies to businesses that have begun green initiatives and are now seeking recognition and certification.
Trust and credibility are vital for long-term business stability and growth. Third-party verification of ethical business practices validates claims made by a company on the basis of its integrity in financial and other types of reporting. Similarly, third-party verification of sustainability for business indicates that a company has achieved a certain level of quality and/or attained the standards outlined by an outside organization. Certification provides documentation of these standards with measurable verification.
In addition to verifying claims, green business certification provides a comprehensive set of standards with which to move forward, track progress, and document milestones. It distinguishes your company as one willing to make a public commitment to the environment, social good, and profitability in an ethical manner. It enhances your brand, attracts LOHAS consumers in the rapidly-growing green marketplace, reduces operating costs and waste, saves energy, helps you become a preferred vendor in green supply chains, builds credibility with stakeholders, attracts investors, enhances employee satisfaction, and attracts top job candidates.
When moving toward making your company more sustainable, you will find a wide variety of definitions, frameworks, standards, and certifications. In addition to being credible, sustainability claims must be specific, measurable, independently verified, frequently reviewed, and updated regularly.
When selecting a Green Business Certification, consider the following:
–Review, Audit and Verification; Tools and support offered by certifying organizations
–Regular re-qualification audits
–Relevancy of standards to your industry and/or business size
–Visibility and brand recognition opportunities
When choosing a certifying agent, verify the company and its claims: When was the program created? Who founded the organization? What is its experience? What is the basis for the organization’s principles and the experience of its principals? Is the organization based on national or international standards such as ANSI, GRI or ISO, or affiliated with other established programs such as ENERGY STAR or EPA Watersense? Inquire into the certification program’s actual standards, processes, and costs. Ask to see what is measured and recommended.
Anyone can say, “change your light bulbs,” but what does that accomplish and how can it be measured in terms of saving energy, reducing waste, improving social good and saving money?
The standards themselves are at the heart of any certification program. If the performance indicators are vague, open to interpretation, or without any measurable impact or improvement, they are meaningless.
For instance, “Adjust thermostat outside of normal business hours” is vague. Specific, appropriate temperatures and proper temperatures for different space usage (office vs. IT center vs. retail) should be stated, not left to the imagination of the reader. The guideline, “Turn off computers over weekends or extended periods out of the office” actually specifies how much and when (weekends and extended periods).
Standards based on government standards or well-regarded independent agencies tend to carry the most legitimacy and credibility. For example, the EPA offers one such program called SmartWay, an innovative brand that represents environmentally cleaner, more fuel-efficient transportation options.
Quantifiable standards will offer your company the most effective guidelines for improvement because managers can track cost savings as well as environmental benefits of saving resources.
For example, a large 3?office law firm was able to uncover over $45,000 in potential savings by utilizing some double?sided printing, reducing its paper consumption by 10 percent through greater reliance on electronic tools, and by adhering to ink? saving printing guidelines set forth in the ABA?EPA Law Office Climate Challenge. The cost?savings potential gave the managing partners the push they needed to begin implementing the changes across the organization. Measuring its results consistently in order to achieve the milestones gives this firm a greater chance of sustaining these changes over time.
Review, Audit and Verification
Once your company makes improvements, certification groups will conduct an audit to verify your accomplishments. This increases the value of your certification.
Green Seal provides on-line tools for companies to use in the certification process but does not offer any consultation to companies applying for certification. By comparison, B Lab reviews the standards with an applicant, offers assistance if needed, and conducts the certifying audit. Their standards are governed by an independent board and reviewed by an independent standards advisory committee.
Green Profit Solutions developed their standards, conducts the audit, and awards certification. It is important for you to evaluate such differences in order to determine the certification program that is the best fit for your organization.
Regular Re-qualification Audits
For the certification to retain its value, your company is required to conduct and/or participate in follow up audits to ensure that your efforts are sustained and yielding results. This process maintains the standards and provides an opportunity for businesses to progress to a higher tier, which will further bolster brand appeal.
Relevancy of Standards to Your Industry and/or Business Size
When evaluating certification programs, ask to see a list of existing members/clients. The actual certification should have meaning to your stakeholders, in industry, and for your business size. For instance, Green Seal’s certification program is specific to manufacturing. The FSC and SFI certifications, for example, make more sense for printing companies.
Visibility and Brand Recognition Opportunities
Certification provides additional visibility and brand recognition opportunities. Eeko Courier found that some customers switched to their service solely because of their environmental philosophy, which became visible to potential customers through the certification. After becoming certified, they were also featured in two newspaper articles due to their commitment to be green. Companies that leverage well-recognized logos in their marketing collateral and their website benefit from the public relations value of a third party endorsement. This is similar to ENERGY STAR qualified appliances, which represent a high degree of energy efficiency in the eyes of the consumer.
Nancy Schneider is a sustainability consultant with EarthPeople. She is a frequent contributor on topics of sustainability, leadership and resource management for the commercial and public sectors. For a comprehensive look at Green Business certification programs, see the green paper on this topic in the Toolkit on www.earthpeopleco.com.