Continuing with our Triple Bottom Line series, today we’re diving into the topic of TBL accreditation and certifications. As businesses attempt to demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility and making a positive impact, accreditation can be a powerful branding tool. But measuring and guaranteeing sustainability in businesses, processes, and products across different sectors and geographies is no easy task, and as such a number of different types of TBL accreditation have emerged over the years. Below, we’ll take a look at four broad categories of TBL certifications and discuss different examples within each.
Types of Certification and Accreditation
Numerous organizations are involved in the development of accreditations and certifications that demonstrate adherence to TBL and sustainability best practices. Companies typically have to pay for these certifications, but in turn, these serve as a powerful branding tool. Also, the exercise of passing the certification process helps companies to maintain standards internally, which brings its own obvious benefits, both short and long-term.
There are, broadly speaking, four categories of certification.
Let’s dive into each one in more detail below.
This type of certification is best embodied by the B Corp Certification from B Lab. The benefit corporation, or “B Corp,” has arisen to standardize the process of incorporating a triple bottom line and tracking social and environmental impact. Becoming a certified B Corp involves assessments, the completion of a disclosure questionnaire and background checks, as well as the possibility of an annual site audit to confirm the accuracy of the self-reported responses.
B Lab is a nonprofit that certifies potential B Corps after ensuring they meet performance standards in social and environmental areas, as well as maintaining accountability and transparency. Since B Lab was formed in 2006, around 2,000 businesses — including clothing giant Patagonia — have met the requirements to achieve B Corp certified status.
While B Lab and the concept of the B Corp originated in the U.S. circa 2007, B Lab serves what they call a ‘global community of people using business to do good’, including the United Kingdom, and since 2015, when the initiative launched in the U.K., 193 U.K. companies have achieved B Corp status, including household names such as Propercorn, JoJo Maman Bebe, Innocent drinks and Abel & Cole.
Financial Reporting Certifications
This approach is best exemplified by the Certified TBL Program which was jointly launched in 2019 by the non-profit Center for Sustainable Organizations and SustainAccounting LLC. Its main purpose is to promote sustainability in commerce by incentivizing and rewarding organizations that practice authentic Triple Bottom Line accounting.
The program defines a certified organization as follows: Organizations of any kind that systematically measure, manage and report their TBL performance using context-based accounting tools. Context-Based Sustainability (CBS) is a performance accounting method that measures and reports the impacts of organizations against norms, standards, or thresholds for what they would have to be in order to be sustainable.
Process Standards Certifications
Perhaps the best-known process standards certifications are issued by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). ISO standards are internationally agreed by experts and are like a formula that describes the best way of doing something, whether making a product, managing a process, delivering a service, or supplying materials. ISO standards cover a huge range of activities.
There are some specific ISO Standards that pertain to TBL / Sustainability / Stakeholder best practice.
The eldest and most well known of these is ISO 14000. Launched in 1996, ISO 14000 is a family of standards related to environmental management that exists to help organizations:
- Minimize the negative impact that their operations and processes have on the environment, and particularly, adverse changes to air, water, or land;
- Comply with applicable laws, regulations, and other environmentally oriented requirements;
- Continually improve in the above.
The ISO 14000 family includes most notably the ISO 14001 standard, which represents the core set of standards used by organizations for designing and implementing an effective environmental management system.
More recently, ISO has developed other standards that pertain in one way or another to sustainability. For example, ISO 26000, provides guidelines for social responsibility, ISO 50001 provides organizations with management strategies to increase energy efficiency, reduce costs and improve energy performance and ISO 45001:2018 is designed to help organizations reduce workplace injuries and illnesses.
In contrast to the categories above, this final category is more narrowly focused on individual products and services. Two of the most well known and respected are the SMaRT Certification and the Green Seal Certification.
Sustainable Materials Rating Technology (SMaRT) is a standard for sustainable product development and manufacturing. The certification doesn’t just mean that products aren’t harmful, but that they actually improve the health of the environment. To achieve SMaRT Sustainable Product Certification at any level, products must achieve 14 prerequisite points, and additionally score a minimum of 28 out of 162 points in categories that cover all stages of the product’s supply chain.
A non-profit organization, Green Seal awards its certification to a very large variety of products, from household cleaning products to compact fluorescent lamps to windows. They have developed 37 different quantitative and technical standards to judge this large variety of products. These standards are reviewed every three years to ensure that only the top-performing products in each category may earn certification. Green Seal works on a pass-fail basis; a product is either certified by Green Seal or denied.
The multiple levels and types of accreditation and certification available to businesses can serve as a powerful tool to communicate to both internal and external stakeholders that a company is dedicated to sustainable management. Which particular certifications that a company may choose to adopt will depend on the company’s industry, location and product range, and managers need to be judicious and coolly assess the likely incremental return on the investment in any given credential.
At HFX, we help train business managers to understand the strategic importance of sustainable management, including the specific impact and benefits of certifications through our simulations, Strategic Eco-Manager and Healthcare Hero. If you are interested in learning more, please contact us today.