Global Standards & Certified Practices That Promote Sustainable Business

30 05 2007

As we have seen from earlier US studies from Pew and the National Consumers League and Fleishman-Hillard International Communications, the consumer appetite for buying from sustainable businesses is growing as a key factor in their purchasing decision.

But confusion reins when it comes to understanding what products or businesses represent “truly” sustainable products and services.

Just like the world’s version of the Baldrige Award, ISO 9000 reflects a standard of global scale recognized for quality. The next few years will witness many businesses and products seeking third party validation of their sustainable business practices to eliminate this confusion and create more separation among competitors who meet more rigorous standards and practices.

Previous posts have demonstrated how “social responsibility” is evolving mainstream business strategy and practice as executives realize the profit potential of redesigning business to become more sustainable economically, socially and environmentally.

Dramatic new business and product design management initiatives such as McDonough and Braungart’s “Cradle to Cradle” protocol or the European’s “Industrial Symbiosis” are some of the leading examples that I urge you to examine more fully (Visit the links under Social Responsibility off the right column to learn more).

Demand for more global standards and practices have driven a variety of exciting efforts by stakeholders in business, academia, nonprofits and government throughout the world.

The following is a list of some of these ongoing efforts leading the way to improve business efficiency and productivity. Please note that although some of these certifications often refer to themselves as “green,” they are in fact focused on economic and social sustainable management practices in addition to environmental ones.

ISO 26000

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is developing an International Standard providing guidelines for social responsibility (SR). The guidance standard will be published in 2008 as ISO 26000 and be voluntary to use. The intent is to “encourage voluntary commitment to social responsibility and will lead to common guidance on concepts, definitions and methods of evaluation.”

Stakeholders developing this guidance standard include: industry, government, labor, consumers, nongovernmental organizations and strives for a geographical and gender-based balance.

US-based American Society for Quality is the coordinating body of the US Technical Advisory Group that will help guide US contributions to ISO 26000. If you would like to participate as a US-based organization, contact ASQ directly.

ISO 14000 & 14001

ISO 14000 is a series of international standards on environmental management. It provides a framework for the development of an environmental management system and the supporting audit program for an enterprise.

ISO 14001 was first published in 1996 and specifies the actual requirements for an enterprise environmental management system focusing on “aspects which the organization has control and over which it can be expected to have an influence.”

ISO 14001 is the only ISO 14000 standard that can be certified against by an external certification authority although it does not itself state specific environmental performance criteria.

The purpose of this standard is to help all types of organizations to protect the environment, to prevent pollution, and to improve their environmental performance through creating environmental: management systems, policy, planning, resource and structures, monitoring and measurement, and management reviews.

Cradle to Cradle Certification

One of the leading business and product design certifications gaining traction globally, C2C provides a means to tangibly, credibly measure achievement in “eco-effective design” and helps customers purchase and specify products that are pursuing a broader definition of quality.

Business benefits include:

  • Liability and risk reduction
  • Regulatory cost reduction
  • Product and service innovation
  • Product and brand differentiation
  • Customer relationships extending beyond the sale
  • Increased competitive advantage
  • Tangible social responsibility

Leaders who have embraced C2C protocols include: Herman-Miller, Nike, Steelcase, Ford, and the Chinese government. The latter will build 6 new cities designed from the C2C protocol.

The Natural Step

Since 1988, The Natural Step has worked to accelerate global sustainability by guiding companies, communities and governments on an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable path. A nonprofit, the Natural Step was founded in Sweden in 1989 by Swedish scientist, Karl-Henrik Robèrt.

The science based TNS Framework helps solve problems in a way that avoids new problems, develops an organizational vision and core values within a framework for social and ecological sustainability, and refreshes a vision in a step-by-step way while doing good business.

You can read more about TNS here.

US Green Building Council

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the US benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance.

LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Forest Stewardship Council

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC sets high standards that ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way.

Landowners and companies that sell timber or forest products seek certification as a way to verify to consumers that they have practiced forestry consistent with FSC standards. Independent, certification organizations are accredited by FSC to carry out assessments of forest management to determine if standards have been met. These certifiers also verify that companies claiming to sell FSC certified products have tracked their supply back to FSC certified sources. This chain of custody certification assures that consumers can trust the FSC label.

Fair Trade Certified

The Fair Trade Certified label is a leading independent, third-party consumer guarantee that companies have complied with strict economic, social and environmental criteria for particular products, thereby creating a more equitable and sustainable trade system for producers.

The principal criteria of Fair Trade certification are:

  • Direct trade with farmer organizations, bypassing unnecessary middlemen
  • Fair prices for farmers, and decent working and living conditions for workers
  • Free association of workers and farmers, with structures for democratic decision-making
  • Access to pre-financing, and additional premiums for community and business development
  • Sustainable agricultural and farm management practices, including restricted use of agrochemicals and no GMOs

When consumers see a product with the Fair Trade Certified label, they are guaranteed that farmers received a fair price and all of the other benefits of the Fair Trade system. To date, sales of Fair Trade Certified products have supplied nearly $80 million in above-market revenue to millions of farmers, workers and their families in over 50 developing countries worldwide.

Green Guard Environmental Institute

The mission of GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) is to improve public health and quality of life through programs that improve indoor air. In accordance with that mission, GEI currently has three third-party certification programs.

  • GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified – Product certification program for low emitting interior building materials, furnishings, and finish systems.
  • GREENGUARD for Children & Schools – Product certification program for low emitting interior building materials, furnishings, and finish systems used in educational (daycare and K-12) environments.
  • GREENGUARD for Building Construction – Building certification program for newly constructed multifamily and commercial properties that follow best practice guidelines for preventing mold during the design, construction and ongoing operations.

Food Alliance

A nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable agriculture by recognizing and rewarding farmers who produce food in environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways, and educating consumers and others in the food system about the benefits of sustainable agriculture.

Food Alliance operates the most comprehensive third-party certification program in North America for sustainably produced food. Food Alliance Certified distinguishes foods produced by farmers, ranchers and food processors who use environmentally and socially responsible practices. FA runs the Farm and Ranch Certification Program and Handler Certification Program.

Green Globe

Green Globe is the worldwide benchmarking and certification program for the travel and tourism industry.

Green Globes environmental reports demonstrate responsible behavior across the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental management. Green Globe states that partnering with Green Globe will help a business increase and sustain its profits while meeting Corporate Social Responsibility obligations.

The Rainforest Alliance

Works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. Companies, cooperatives and landowners that participate in our programs meet rigorous standards that conserve biodiversity and provide sustainable livelihoods.

The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal of approval makes it easy for consumers to know they are buying a product that has been grown or made sustainably. The companies who sell these products also make sure their customers know they are good neighbors in their communities and that they take care of their workers and protect the environment.

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2 responses

30 05 2007
Seth Miller

You did not mention that there is an alternative to the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification program. It is the Green Globes certification from the Green Building Initiative. In use in Canada since 1996, the system was recently launched for full scale use in the United States. Green Globes is a fully interactive software based environmental assessment and rating system that is ddelivered over the internet. It gives users suggestions at each phase of development for ways that they can improve the sustainability of their projects, and gives real time ratings. This allows the user to go through an interative “what if” analysis on their various options.

In 2005, GBI became the first green building organization to be accredited as a standards developer by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and began the process of establishing Green Globes as an official ANSI standard. The GBI ANSI technical committee was formed in early 2006.

30 05 2007
Peter Turner

Although this post was not meant to be an exhaustive review, I am happy to add from readers who share other notable certifications.

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