A Guide to Globally Recognized Sustainable Certifications

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Author – Melanie Manard

In recent years, increased awareness of our impact on the environment has led to drastic changes in consumer behavior, so brands are now marketing their products as clean, natural, or green to attract customers. Sometimes, those claims are backed by scientific data, but sometimes it is false or misleading. This misleading practice known as ‘greenwashing’ creates confusion among consumers and harms the ethical brands that are really making a difference to the environment.

This is where sustainable certifications come to play an important role. Green certifications are voluntary standards that businesses use to measure and improve their environmental and ethical performance. These standards are guaranteed by independent third-party organizations or government bodies. A green certification stamp is a proof for customers that a business implements eco-conscious processes or significantly reduces its impact on the environment. You may have observed similar eco-labels on organic foods, eco-fashion clothing, cosmetics, etc.

In this article, we have gathered some of the globally recognized sustainable certifications and collected details about their relevance to a particular industry category:

Climate Neutral, Lessen Carbon Footprint

Founded in 2018 in the US, Climate Neutral mission’s to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a standard used by companies who want to show their commitment to reducing their environmental impact by reducing the carbon footprint of their business activities. In 2022, Climate Neutral had certified 294 companies and offset around 1 million tons of CO2 emissions with carbon credit or environmental projects.

This Climate Neutral certification guarantees that a company has a neutral greenhouse gas emission balance, which is achieved by reducing emissions or by joining offsetting programs. To be certified, a company must first calculate its emissions footprint and then it needs to offset those emissions through various methods such as investing in renewable energy or planting trees.

LEED Certification for Green Buildings

GBCI-Certification

Established in 1993 with the idea to create better buildings for people and the environment,  LEED certification is today the most widely used sustainable certifications for green buildings across the world. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design was developed by the US Green Building Council. It provides a framework for assessing the environmental performance of large buildings and it has been adopted by nearly 100,000 companies worldwide.

Some of the key requirements for LEED certification include reducing energy consumption and water usage, using sustainable or green building materials, and improving indoor air quality. Four different building categories can be certified: new construction, existing buildings, core and shell, and homes. Each category has its specific requirements that must be met to achieve LEED certification. Today, LEED-certified buildings are not only more sustainable and eco-friendly, but they also tend to have higher resale value due to their energy efficiency.

Forest Stewardship Council, Ethically Forest Produce

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC was founded in 1994 in response to concern over the rapid rate of deforestation and the negative environmental and social impacts of industrial forestry.

FSC sets standards for responsible forest management and certifies forest products that meet those standards. FSC-certified products are verified to come from well-managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits. The FSC logo is an assurance that producers are held to higher environmental standards, and assures consumers that the item they’re choosing is made from sustainable and ethically sourced materials.

Greenguard Certification for Indoor Air Pollution

Founded in 2001 by the Greenguard Environmental Institute, The Greenguard Certification guarantees a safe limitation for chemicals released in a product.  This sustainable certification is mainly used in the bedding and furnishing industries that use VOC-emitting materials in their production.

VOCs or volatile organic compounds are chemicals often found in paints, interior furnishings, cleaning products, etc. Inhaling VOCs can cause headaches, irritations, and even chronic diseases or cancer over time. The Greenguard certification guarantees that a product has a low level of hazardous toxic chemicals and today, more than 10,000 products are Greenguard certified. For the consumer, the label makes it easy to choose non-toxic products and create a safer indoor environment.

Made Safe for Non-Toxic Products

Made Safe is a program founded in 2014 by Nontoxic Certified, a sustainable non-profit organization in the US.  The Made Safe certification is a comprehensive safety certification for American products that have been independently verified to be free of harmful chemicals. This sustainable certification process includes a review of the product ingredients, manufacturing processes, and end-of-life disposal methods to ensure that the product is safe for human use.

The Made Safe certification restricts the use of over 5,000 hazardous chemicals such as  fire retardants, heavy metals, neurotoxins, high-risk pesticides, reproductive toxins, toxic solvents or harmful VOCs. This sustainable certification is used by companies to certify all kinds of items such as apparel, baby and child items, bedding, cosmetics, household, intimate and personal care, and pets.

Fair Trade for Ethical Working Conditions

The Fair Trade certification is an international label that guarantees ethical and environmental practices as well as sustainable projects to support local communities. The first Fair Trade shop was opened way back in 1958 in the US. Nowadays, Fair Trade products are sold in nearly 145 countries and involve 1.8 million farmers and workers around the world. Fair Trade’s most popular certified products are agro-commodities such as bananas, cocoa, coffee and sugar.

The Fair Trade label ensures that farm workers are paid a fair wage, and work in safe conditions. Farmers are empowered to grow and sell ethically and sustainably sourced products, while shoppers get top-quality and ethically produced goods.

Certified B Corporation, Social & Environmental Ratings

Started in 2006, B-Corp is a new international sustainable certification that ensures a business meets certain social and environmental standards such as employee benefit, transparency, and accountability. B corporations are driven by both profit and a social mission.

To become certified by B-Corp, a company must complete a rigorous assessment process and receive a passing score on the B Impact Assessment. This B Corp certification helps companies to attract motivated employees who want to make a positive social impact on society. B Corp’s standard of transparency and social responsibility appeal to Millenial consumers. There are currently around 5,300            B corporations in 83 countries, spanning 156 industries across the globe.

Author bio – Melanie Manard is the founder of The Conscious Insider, a digital platform for sustainable & ethical lifestyle. You can usually find her reading, cooking or riding her bike.

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