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Sustainability Certifications 101 – Definition, Benefits and How To Obtain One

Leanne Strickler
Published October 14, 2021

Sustainability Certifications 101 - Definition, Benefits and How to Obtain One

You’re no longer surprised to hear “sustainability” everywhere you go.

As more consumers become conscious of the brands they buy and decide based on the brand’s values, including environmental and social issues, the business practice of sustainability has become a necessity and more than just the “right thing” to do. According to the Pew Research Center report in 2021, 71% of Millennials and 67% of Gen Z said climate should be a top priority to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations.

Due to the change of consumer perspective, many organizations have added sustainability as part of their branding strategies and taken this criterion seriously into their procurement decisions. Hence, it’s critical for suppliers to incorporate that practice into a business.

But how do prospective clients know if your company, product or service is operating sustainably? How do they ensure you meet the sustainability standard? This is where sustainability certification comes in to make it easier for your clients.

What Are Sustainability Certifications?

Sustainability certifications are issued by an independent or third-party organization to a company, product or service. To obtain a certificate, a company must meet specific standards and criteria to demonstrate a strong commitment to good economic, environmental and social business practice.

Though these certifications are not mandated, obtaining one indicates your business practice is socially responsible and is a point of differentiation. 

Sustainable Procurement Is Fundamental of Building Resilience In Supply Chain

The Sustainable Procurement Barometer 2021 report shows valuable insights into growing the recognition and awareness of sustainability in procurement with these key findings:

Sustainable procurement practices have been adopted and implemented at scale by many businesses of all sizes. Evaluation of sustainability criteria is becoming a new norm and is predicted to become a mandatory requirement in the future.

Where To Obtain Sustainability Certifications

Depending on the business and product type, a single entity can hold numerous certifications that target different aspects of its business. We have listed below some of the most popular and reputable third-party certifications you can consider.

Business Sustainability Certifications

  1. B Corporation is the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance. The B Impact Assessment evaluates how your company’s operations and business model impact your workers, community, environment, and customers.
  2. CarbonFree Certified determines the carbon footprint of the product and associated carbon emissions are offset with reduction projects.
  3. Green Seal-certified products have reduced climate and environmental impacts at one or more stages of their lifecycle.
  4. ENERGY STAR Most Efficient recognizes the best of ENERGY STAR certified products with the highest efficiency and maximum carbon reductions.
  5. Rainforest Alliance’s seal stands for more sustainable farming methods that help improve farmer livelihoods & mitigate climate change.
  6. SMaRT Consensus Sustainable Product Standards is the consensus sustainable products standard and label for building products, fabric, apparel, textile & flooring, covering over 80% of the world’s products with environmental, social, & economic criteria.
  7. Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) has a robust set of forest certification standards that enable forest managers in the United States and Canada. It demonstrates sustainability while measuring quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk, forest conservation value, forest fiber content, and forest product traceability.
  8. EcoVadis provides holistic sustainability rating services of companies, delivered via a global cloud-based SaaS platform. The EcoVadis Rating covers a broad range of non-financial management systems, including Environmental, Labor & Human Rights, Ethics and Sustainable Procurement impacts.
  9. ISO 26000:2010 provides guidance rather than requirements, so it cannot be certified, unlike some other well-known ISO standards. Instead, it helps clarify what social responsibility is, allows businesses and organizations to translate principles into practical actions, and shares best practices relating to social responsibility globally.
  10. ISO 14000 Family sets out the criteria for an environmental management system and can be certified. It maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective environmental management system.

Consumer Goods Green Business Certifications

  1. Leaping Bunny Certified Cruelty-Free is a certification for cruelty-free products by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). The CCIC comprises eight animal protection groups to develop and promote the use of a single, comprehensive standard for cruelty-free and animal-friendly products.
  2. NPA Standard and Certification dictate whether a product can be deemed truly “natural.” It encompasses all cosmetic personal care products regulated and defined by the FDA.
  3. Fairtrade International certification is awarded to producers, farmers, traders, and importers/exporters. The certification process is undertaken by FLOCERT, an independent body originally formed by Fairtrade International but became independent in 2008.

Food Company Green Business Certifications

  1. Certified Animal Welfare Approved: verifies animals are raised on independent, high-welfare, pasture-based, more sustainable farms.
  2. SIP Certified sustainable is a program providing third-party verification that a wine, winery, or vineyard has adopted and implemented stringent sustainable winemaking and wine growing standards. The sustainable certification is based on best practices and is committed to continuous improvement in those areas.
  3. Non-GMO means a product was produced without genetic engineering, and its ingredients are not derived from GMOs.
  4. Demeter’s “biodynamic” certification assures consumers that the product has been certified to a uniform standard. Therefore, Demeter holds these marks and is solely responsible for ensuring their adherence to protecting the integrity of Biodynamic agriculture and the products that result, both for consumers and farmers.
  5. USDA-certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.