green businessThe single greatest barrier to successful business sustainability, 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.

by Nancy Schneider.

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 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:

– Transparency
– Standards development
– Measurable Improvements
– 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

Transparency

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?

Standards Development

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.

Measurable Improvements

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. For a comprehensive look at Green Business certification programs, see my green paper.

Photo Courtesy of weatherbox

© 2010, nschneider. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: nschneider (1 Articles)

Nancy Schneider is a sustainability consultant with over fifteen years developing solutions including sustainability initiatives for business and local government, account management, communications, marketing and public relations, as well as team building, knowledge brokering, creating connections, and business development. She has written several articles on sustainability for business and health impacts of climate Her services include research of best practices suitable to clients’ needs, assessment of sustainability practices, and creating green/sustainability programs. Nancy possesses strong creative problem solving, including research, evaluation, “on the ground” understanding of issues and application of solutions. Nancy’s diverse accomplishments include orchestrating an arrangement with Florida Atlantic University to conduct the City of Delray Beach’s Green House Gas (GHG) inventory saving the City over $200K, and serving as Chair of the City’s Green Task Force which created a recommendation report that saved the City over $250K and was then utilized to apply for and receive over $600K in federal funding).

  • http://ecofriendlychoices.com.au Julie Hodges

    It all has a starting point!

    It makes good business and moral sense that more businesses would want to be moving toward this greener concept. I assist businesses to convert to greener cleaning options that are for more cost effective that standard cleaners, better for our environment & promote a safer working environment for employees.

    Sadly change takes place slowly!
    But any change in a greener direction a beneficial one.

    I enjoyed this article and would be happy to share it. Julie Hodges

    • http://www.earthpeopleco.com Nancy Schneider

      Julie,
      Please do share the article! Glad you enjoyed it.
      Nancy

  • http://www.greenprofitsolutions.com Joseph Winn

    Thank you for including our company’s services in your writeup. It was very informative and enlightening to see an independent article on the benefits of sustainable improvements within a business, no matter its size, market, or industry. I appreciate the distinction of programs for specific fields: Pursuing FSC certification for a dog food maker wouldn’t make as much sense as, perhaps, an ISO 14001 system combined with Green Seal certification on their product.

    Hopefully articles such as yours will help to educate the many businesses currently confused on the benefits of CSR and sustainable improvements.

  • http://www.urban-suburban-ecoliteracy.com Wendy Talaro

    Thanks for writing this article! It is encouraging to all businesses on that pathway to greener operations to know that they don’t have to accept blandly feel-good or ambiguous recommendations. Specificity is what makes the pathway clearer and the goals reachable, especially where first steps are concerned. Change doesn’t always have to be hard or slow. Understanding and using the tools of the psychology of change makes transitions easier. I’ve been teaching applied systems thinking and sustainability skills to the general public for about a year now and I know that change is appealing when motivation is combined with clarity and tangibility.