How to Select the Right Sustainability Certification Program for Your Organization

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Sustainability Certification: How to Select the Right Sustainability Certification Program for Your Organization

By David Goodman, of Edenark Group


Edenark logo, a business focused on sustainability certification
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Whether it is because your company has decided to do the Right Thing and become certified sustainable to protect the environment, and current and future generations; or because you continue to read about the +$1 Trillion in consumer/corporate spending looking to move to certified sustainable organizations, and you want to get your share; or because you have seen the studies that show certified sustainable organizations are out-performing their non-certified peers in sales, profits and valuation; or you want to improve your brand image; or you want to increase productivity, health and happiness of your employees; or you want to lower your costs; you have decided to become a certified sustainable organization!

Now what?

It is reported there are over 400 sustainability certification programs around the world.

How do you evaluate and pick which will be right for your organization?

This article will, hopefully, help you understand the eight key things to consider, when evaluating the options.

First, we need to address the question of “Why do we need a ‘certification’ at all? Why can’t we just pursue a sustainability program internally?” The simple answer is, the market is skeptical of organizations that self-certify their sustainability. No matter if we are talking sustainability or other achievements, even if you do everything right internally, you seldom gain the brand recognition or revenue-side benefit if you self-certify.

Therefore, if you wish to maximize becoming sustainable, use a certification standard that meets the below criteria.

1 – Employee Performance/Health Enhancement – Sustainability is not just about energy savings or Greening Up.  It is about people, and how people grow and prosper in the environment, without destroying the environment.  If a program, claiming to be a sustainability certification, does not have a ‘people piece’ that can quantify improvement in the performance and health of the employees of the business, it is not a true sustainability program.  Every organization in the world suffers from the Big 5 – employee insomnia, stress, anxiety, physical pain, and mental acuity.  Studies show the cost of the Big 5 to US organizations is $7,000 – $12,000 in lost sales per year, per full time employee. Similar studies have been conducted, with similar results, in Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Japan and France. Net, if you have 100 employees, you are losing $700,000 – $1,200,000 per year, due to employee insomnia, stress, anxiety, physical pain and mental acuity. It takes a lot of LED light bulbs to recover that loss. Net, we start with this point, as it typically has the biggest economic impact on an organization.  

2 – Certify the business, not the box – People care about things that affect people. Building-centric certifications are seldom sustainability programs, as they only care about the energy reduction of the building (ie, box). They seldom concern themselves with what goes on inside the box, which is what people care more about. This includes things like people (mentioned above under #1), water, waste, safety, community, vendors, clients, et cetera. Further, and this is where the revenue-side benefits of a true sustainability program can start for you, building-centric programs are hard to promote and tie to sales/revenue. It is hard to grow sales by saying “Buy more of my product as I office in an energy efficient building.”  But, with a true sustainability (including people as discussed in #1) certification of your business, that statement becomes “Buy more of my product as it is made by a sustainable company”. This is what we are seeing people respond to – the direct connection between an organizational entity (the brand) and positive impact on people.

3 – 3rd party audit – Regardless of the industry, any certification or accreditation program must have a 3rd party audit process to maintain credibility.  Just like when you were in school and needed to pass the tests, which were reviewed/audited by your teachers, to get credit for the class, there needs to be an independent party that verifies if the organization pursuing/receiving the certification, truly did the things it claimed to have done. Without this, an organization can make exaggerated claims and the certification loses credibility and value to the marketplace.

4 – Use a global standard to maximize credibility – If you want to maximize the market’s positive response to your organization’s receipt of a sustainability certification, select a standard that is globally known and recognized in multiple countries. We recommend using a standard that has already been successfully used, and is respected in, more than ten countries. Or, at least, used and respected in the countries you expect to have exposure to. A local, regional, or even national, certification may meet all the other points made here, but if it is not recognized and respected globally, you will not maximize the brand-building or revenue-side benefit of having it. 

5 – Promotion of the certification – Many people in the sustainability industry follow the 3 Ps of sustainability – People, Planet and Profit. To that, we add ‘promotion’ (ie, People, Planet, Promotion and Profit); because if you don’t talk about it, the market will never know you did it and will not reward you for it. So, when you are selecting a sustainability certification program, and you want to benefit on the revenue-side of your P&L, pick one that recognizes the promotional value of being certified sustainable and is designed to help you maximize same.

6 – Continual improvement – Some programs establish a very high initial bar. These can be expensive, time-consuming, frustrating and, in many cases, unattainable. It is hard to get people to change.  It is even harder if you set the bar too high, as it will scare them.  So, find a program that lets you come as you are; and follows the concept of continual improvement. This will allow your organization to start from wherever it is, move at its own pace, achieve goals, enjoy the process and start believing in the benefit of always striving to be a little bit better. Like the tortoise and hare, it may take you a bit longer to see big changes, but you will have more stamina for the long-term goal of changing attitudes and behaviors.  

7 – Annual update – This gets back to the progressive improvement point.  Sustainability should not be a static process; it should be a continual process.  No matter where an organization starts, it can always seek to improve.  Every year, we want to find new areas to improve. So, every year, you need to get a little better and your certification needs to reflect that, inclusive of the audit to verify same.

8 – Cost – Yes, we could have started with this, as cost is always a factor. But, we end with it, as the above define the value you are seeking. Then, the components of your cost include a) the money you pay for the certification; b) the money you pay for the improvements to qualify for the certification; c) the cost of the audit (if it is a legitimate program); and d) the cost of your staff’s time. You need a certification program that delivers on the above seven points without crashing on any of the four components of cost.

The good news is there are sustainability certification programs that deliver on all eight of the above points. If you follow this guide, you will find a program that you should be happy with.


About the author:

David Goodman

David Goodman is the Chairman/CEO of Edenark Group (https://edenark.com/ ), which, since 1997, has been providing performance enhancement services to organizations throughout the world.

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