sustainable business

How to Get Certified (Not in the Crazy Sense)

Carolyn McMaster | October 15, 2013

At our last check, the Ecolabel Index was tracking 437 eco-labels in 197 countries and 25 industry sectors. We’re going to go out on a limb and guess that many of these stamps of approval are little more than graphical greenwashing—or, at best, Greek to your customers.

It’s a bit of a morass—but third-party certification can be a highly effective way to say you’re the real thing. Credible eco-labels signify third-party verification based on well-defined guidelines and standards. Excellent examples include B Corporation for companywide sustainability (Thinkshift is certified), and William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and Scientific Certification Systems for products. Others don’t pass the sniff test. The Marine Stewardship Council, for example, certifies fisheries as sustainable when they merely promise to improve.

If you invest in an eco-label (and they can be costly), checking them out at is a good place to start. You’ll want to make sure the certifying organization is well respected in your sector and clearly communicates what the standards are and how it verifies compliance. That information then needs to be passed on to purchasers in an easily understood, digestible form. This is where communication often breaks down, so be prepared to educate your customers about what the certification means for your business and products, even if the label is one your customers know.

Remember, harder is better in this arena. The best labels make you work to get them; a label that anyone can get proves only that you can fill out a form and write a check—and may tint your company with a greenwashed hue.

This is strategy No. 2 in our most recent report, 9 Ways to Promote Sustainability without Greenwashing. Download it now to see the other eight strategies and how to apply them.




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