Certification Agencies Lend Credibility to Your Environmental Efforts

As I mentioned in a previous post, engaging independent certification agencies to vet the sustainable attributes of a product or process can boost a company’s credibility regarding its environmental claims. These third-party organizations are global in scope and often experts in product life cycle assessments (LCAs), supply-chain compliance and other elements critical to accurately determining environmental impacts and efficiencies.

Most of us are familiar with the world of standards and certifications in light of LEED and other green building initiatives. Many industries, from food service to apparel to office furniture, have adopted their own standards of environmental performance within their sectors. But even before LEED, there was the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and UL certification for household appliances and consumer products. Not coincidentally, both organizations now include some form of “green” certification among their offerings.

Today, a virtual alphabet soup of certifiers, from NSF and SCS to, again, UL with its Environment group, fill the product certification marketplace. The majority of these organizations are reputable, professionally run and staffed by experts in science, engineering and the industries they serve.

So what basics are essential to selecting and working with a certification agency?

First, it pays to do your homework. Web searches will help you to identify the organizations that certify products within your industry. It’s worth spending some time on each certifier’s website to see how they present themselves and explain their services. Are they clear in their offerings and product review process? How do they handle inquiries for more information? If they respond clearly, concisely and in a timely manner to initial inquiries, that’s often a good sign of what you can expect going forward. But don’t stop there. If you can reach out to your industry peers, suppliers and other stakeholders for their insight, this will provide added perspective beyond marketing “spin.” Keep in mind that third-party certifiers, like almost everyone else, operate within an increasingly competitive field, so it’s unwise to take every claim at face value alone.

Once you have selected your certification agency, be prepared to remain engaged throughout the process. There should be a regular, two-way communication stream as the review advances, whether it’s the certifier requesting more information or you, touching base on progress. Ideally, the certifier provides a clear timeline to completion, including specific milestones and—barring unexpected circumstances—delivers as promised. Part of this depends on you, of course, so it’s critical you respond to the agency’s requests as soon as possible. What you don’t want is a certifier that takes your product, disappears for days or weeks at a time, then certifies with little explanation or data to back it up. Transparency is key.

In the best of circumstances, your company develops an ongoing relationship with one certification agency, as you may have more products in the pipeline. The certifier may even help you market your product, as many prepare case studies and other marketing materials to showcase their services. That’s a win-win.

Clearly, it can be mutually beneficial to establish a level of trust and reliability with one certification agency, but don’t hesitate to look around if you aren’t satisfied with your experience.

About the Author

Chuck Otto
Chuck Otto is principal of Corporate Sustainability Communications.

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