Tag Archives: green seal

Sustainability Certifications and Reporting Tools: an overview

What follows is a great article published a while ago by CarbonPig that we suggest to all of you who are searching for a detailed list of the most important sustainability Certification Programs and sustainability Reporting Tools.
Obviously these are not the only ones available worldwide, but as correctly stated by Carbon Pig “(the listed certifications programs ) have had considerable traction in a variety of sectors including, green buildings, general sustainability reporting, etc“.

The Global Reporting Initiative

The Global Reporting Initiative was created through the work of thousands of individual stakeholders internationally who seek to establish the number one sustainability certification program in the world. Their work has culminated in what is called the GRI Reporting Framework, which is currently released as Version 3.0, and is accordingly referred to as the G3 by those familiar with the framework used in sustainability reporting protocol.

The G3 Sustainability Reporting Framework focuses on key aspects of institutional sustainability and can be used by all types of organizations including private sector companies, governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and non-profits. The reporting framework is organized around three main areas and includes 79 individual sustainability performance indicators. The main topic areas covered by the sustainability certification program are economic, social, and environmental.

In addition to the framework that all organizations must used, there are a number of sector-specific supplements including:

  • Electric Utilities
  • Financial Services
  • Food Processing
  • Mining and Metals
  • NGO
  • Airport Operators
  • Construction and Real Estate
  • Event Organizers
  • Media
  • Oil and Gas
  • Automotive
  • Logistics and Transportation
  • Public Agency
  • Telecommunications
  • Apparel and Footwear

Overall, the GRI is a very robust and well run sustainability reporting protocol for organizations wishing to disclose their sustainability performance. In fact, more than 1,700 organizations reported on their sustainability using the G3 in 2010. You can download a comprehensive list here  for all years. The reporting organizations include some big names like 3M, Clorox, Hitachi, Nestle, Siemens, and Xerox and there are sustainability reports available for them all.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative

The World Resources Institute and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development  jointly released the Greenhouse Gas Protocols  in 1998, that have since become the standard protocol for greenhouse gas accounting internationally. This sustainability reporting protocol used to measure greenhouse gas emissions is often a prerequisite for other sustainability certification programs.

When large institutions, governments, and companies need to measure their “carbon footprint”, they turn to this widely used two-phase methodology. Most organizations measure their scope I and scope II greenhouse gas emissions using this protocol and then, in the second phase, have their “greenhouse gas inventory” verified by a third party organization who provides oversight that the protocols were followed correctly and that the overall estimate is within 5% of the true value.

Product Life Cyle Accounting and Reporting Standard for Sustainable Product Certification

This “standard” is a recent addition to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative and allows companies to measure the carbon footprint of individual products, thereby serving as a sustainable product certification. It is currently in a draft phase. Remember that you learned about this sustainability reporting protocol on CarbonPig because it finally creates a way for organizations to account for their scope III emissions.
 

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System

The LEED green building certification system is focused on third party sustainability certification of buildings based on the LEED protocols contained in various manuals. The sustainability certification program is a consensus-based program drawing on the work of many stakeholders, industry leaders, and a dedicated staff. The system is currently in version III and covers the following general development types:

  • New Construction
  • Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance
  • Commercial Interiors
  • Core & Shell
  • Schools
  • Retail
  • Healthcare
  • Homes
  • Neighborhood Development

For each of these categories there is a considerable amount of documentation that must be provided in order to meet the LEED Sustainability Certification Program requirements. Project managers typically turn to LEED consultants to help give input during a project and help meet the sustainability certification program requirments for the given new or existing building, hospital, school, and more.

This sustainability certification program is by far one of the most advanced and comprehensive, although, many Europeans, who consider their government run sustainability performance targets to be more stringent and yield higher performing buildings, would disagree.

Forest Stewardship Council Sustainable Forest Certification
You may recognize the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) label from everyday objects like reams of office paper and furniture boxes. The FSC sustainable forest certification indicates that the forests used to make the product are sustainably managed. This sustainability reporting protocol helps consumers to make better choices about what forests internationally will be harmed.

The FSC sustainable forest certification is one of the most well established sustainability certification systems internationally. They have a very useful database where users cansearch for FSC certified products and vendors.

The FSC mark on product is a very useful tool for consumers trying to decide between sustainable product certifications on their purchases.

Carbonfree® Product Certification
CarbonFund offers a sustainable product certification that allows manufacturers to offset the greenhouse gas emissions created during the manufacturing process by purchasing carbon offsets from CarbonFund.org’s portfolio of renewable energy projects.

For each product that is certified, CarbonFund calculates the carbon footprint of the product and/or the life-cycle of the product using a methodology similar to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative.

Green Seal Certified

Green Seal is a common household sustainable products certification program that started in the late 1980’s. The program supports 30 standards and covers more than 190 different product and service areas.

Green Seal bases their claims on life cycle assessment research and has a robust multi-stakeholder approach geared towards constant improvement. Green Seal has a sliding scale based on the revenue of organizations that determines the annual costs of maintaining the Green Seal.

The sustainable product certification provided by Grean Seal is a specific and targeted program. For example, categories like paints, household cleaners, occupancy sensors, and more are included within the sustainability standards.

Recently Grean Seal created a program for certifying organizations that could prove interesting. Especially their pilot program specifically targeting the sustainability of product manufacturers.

USDA National Organic Program

The USDA National Organic Program is essentially an agricultural sustainable product certification is one of hundreds of organic certifications globally.

The USDA program is a very heavily used framework used by agricultural producers to certify the products that they’re sending to market. In the U.S. market, this organic certification generally creates a hight price point for the item attached to it.

It is likely that this certification measure, although relatively easy to adhere to, will become more entrenched as the prominent organic logo found in supermarkets across the United States that are stocking sustainably certified food.

Green labels: are EU consumers confused about them?

It all started with an article about green packaging, where there was a sentence regarding the the Green Guides (US Federal Trade Commission): "65 percent of Americans would prefer just one seal for green products over the hundreds that are now causing confusion. They note that it is increasingly hard to determine if a product is "truly green" or not based on available information. They are presently overwhelmed with the 350 product certifications that currently exist".

In Europe, consumers for sure know about Ecolabel and EnergyStar and…what else? I have made a very quick search on the web about the online resources available to consumers willing to understand a little bit more about "green labels". I did not find anything that is both comprehensive and easy to understand – the best resource being this PDF which is only related to UK. I think that as long as there is so much confusion about labelling, product and process certification, together with a lack of communication, consumers will have a hard time in understanding the real value of sustainable/green products and greenwashing will still be consumers first word associated to sustainability. 

I think that it would be of great interest for retail companies too to contribute to a sort of global database of green seals /certifications/labels in order to better communicate with consumers. Would you, as a product manufacturer, contribute?