By: Tiffany Richmond
I came across a recent article discussing the question: is the current system of certifications, standards and labels evolving in ways that improve product design, help companies and consumers make more sustainable purchasing decisions and lead to better overall policy?
Many believe that the needle is moving in a big way, but it is not always easy to see this progress amongst the ongoing proliferation of ‘green’ standards, eco-labels and outright greenwashing in the marketplace. The article outlined three key points about green certifications, standards and labels.
- We need to stop looking to regulation to ensure a sustainable future. Voluntary action must be encouraged. But companies considering voluntary action want reasonable assurance that they are on a level playing field in relation to their competition and that they will be rewarded in the marketplace for taking positive steps. Standards, labels and certifications can help companies by both providing understanding of what they must do to achieve a certain level of desired performance, and providing tools to help them communicate those achievements in a way that will generate business value.
- Let the good ones evolve. Good eco-labels are underpinned by good standards which develop over time. Typically, proprietary and consortia standards are the first to emerge when a new market requirement emerges; such as the desire to rate the sustainable attributes of a building (LEED), or to define carbon neutrality (The CarbonNeutral Protocol). These standards are typically created by small groups with deep knowledge of the technical details of the new market requirement. Proprietary and consortia standards that withstand the test of time evolve and, eventually, are either underpinned by, or become, voluntary consensus standards developed using a formal multi-stakeholder process.
- Don’t expect perfection. No standard is born perfect or ever attains perfection. The best standards, be they proprietary, consortia or voluntary consensus, are open, transparent (no black box!) and have a governance system that requires constant review and updating. The eco-labels and certifications that survive and thrive during the current proliferation will be those that are underpinned by rigorous processes and are designed in a way that clearly communicates what has been accomplished.
Evidence does exist that standards are beginning to make progress, and one need only look to the ongoing evolution and extraordinary success of the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Green Building Rating System to demonstrate that.
With over 40,000 certified and registered projects all over the world in under ten years, the USGBC has achieved one of its primary stated goals – “to transform the built environment marketplace”. Today, thanks to LEED, environmental attribute based competition is fierce throughout the built environment value chain and some architectural firms have essentially ‘forgotten’ how to design non-LEED buildings. Furthermore, the US government and many municipalities in the US now require that all public buildings be built to the LEED standard. To be sure, greenwashing does occur in this sector, but with much less frequency now that green building specifiers are more knowledgeable and are asking better, more informed, questions. The power of influence has also spurred the development of several LEED- compatible product sector specific standards for carpet, furniture, textiles and other products. Solid evidence that the needle is moving!
In the end, the importance of a well informed populous cannot be overstated. Sustainability, in all its dimensions, is an incredibly complex topic that defies measurement by one standard set of criteria. Done well, standards, labels and certifications are tools that can help consumers and businesses make better, more sustainable, decisions. Continued ‘movement of the needle’ will be dependent on both being well informed and engaged.
Tiffany Richmond is an enthusiastic marketing guru and is responsible for online marketing strategies at Energy Advantage Inc. To read the original article click here.