In an age where company reputation is increasingly held to higher standards and stakeholders are seeking businesses they can trust, third-party seals, badges and certifications are beacons of light on company websites and products. However, sustainability certification is much more than a stagnant mark of past achievements. Unlike a one-time purchase that often loses its usefulness over time, sustainability certification is a versatile tool that can be used continuously throughout a company’s growth. The commitment to being a green business is an ongoing, transformative process and therefore deserves a reliable, customizable framework that can guide and support businesses throughout this journey. According to Harvard Business Review, George Serafeim and colleagues at the Harvard Business School conducted a study that investigated the long-term effects of adopting sustainability policies into company operations. They found that over the course of 18 years, companies using an organized process to measure, manage, and report sustainability-related issues outperformed companies who adhered to little or no policies at all. The team expanded on their investigation in a second study that supports the link between high performance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues and greater financial return thus refuting the belief that “going green” requires a financial sacrifice.
Not only is sustainability certification a cost effective, long-term investment into a company’s success, but it is a reflection of genuine care and devotion to the stakeholders and the community it serves. Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, Inc., Larry Fink, stated in a letter to CEOs that “a strong sense of purpose and a commitment to stakeholders helps a company connect more deeply to its customers and adjust to the changing demands of society.” One of the driving forces shaping the global economy today is climate change. Sitting on the forefront of investment plans for companies across all sectors, climate risk is already dictating the economic viability of the future. While it is difficult to predict the extent that climate change will impact the world, evidence has shown that these changes are long lasting and therefore it is critical for companies to respond proactively.
Sustainability Certification: A Tool for Long-term Growth
Thankfully sustainability certification programs exist to aid businesses going green and ensure that they maximize the benefits of this transition. Companies that commit to sustainability certification are positively influenced internally at the heart of operations and externally in its role in the global community.
Staying Organized and Gaining Clarity
Sustainability certification as an online tool such as the Green Business Bureau’s EcoPlanner offers an easy-to-use, customizable framework for prioritizing and managing green initiatives. With the program’s “one task at a time” approach, sustainability becomes a digestible process and grants companies the clarity needed to execute goals with precision. These green goals can be sorted based on their level of difficulty, time required, and cost thus providing companies with options that are relevant to their needs. The recommended actions and additional resources included with green initiatives offer step-by-step guidance which is integral to companies wondering where to start or expand their sustainability journey.
The ability to access and evaluate the company’s progress on a single online platform maintains tidy goal management and eliminates the hassle of paperwork from outside sources. This organized framework also keeps the company’s “big picture” in view against a backdrop of short, medium, and long-term victories. A company whose overall goal is to reduce its annual energy costs can assess the real-time progress of the various energy-related initiatives it chose and make adjustments as needed.
Measuring Performance and Achieving Goals
The true value of progress can only be obtained if there are metrics by which to measure it. Certification programs encourage company-wide understanding of what goals are trying to be achieved and why they are important to the overall company mission. This is reflected in employees, teams, and different units operating in alignment with these established values and goals. Additionally, certification elicits effective time management and yields higher goal attainment. Companies can assess their productivity by looking at how many and at what rate goals are accomplished weekly, monthly, and yearly. Sustainability certification adapts and remains resourceful even as company goals and needs change over time. And it is this opportunity for continuous improvement that makes sustainability certification so valuable. With this tool, companies can routinely assess their performance, pinpoint areas of improvement, weigh options, and plan for continued success.
Communicating with Stakeholders
As companies continue to follow the guidance of sustainability certification and witness results, they strengthen their confidence and accountability as a green business. Expressed as an articulation of their mission and goals, green businesses have valuable expertise to contribute to the corporate realm and the global community. Many companies are adopting the method of integrative reporting (IR) to communicate their progress, future plans, and what this means for their stakeholders. IR is intrinsically linked to long-term value creation because it allows companies to outline their purpose and strategies, develop a better understanding of the company model, improve decision making, engage stakeholders and obtain their insight, and develop trust in the global community. Like IR, sustainability certification provides an opportunity for companies to communicate with their stakeholders and demonstrate their devotion to improvement.
As the world works to maintain economic growth while simultaneously confronting climate change, uncertainty often sits at the conference table of business affairs. However, the transition to becoming a green business does not need to be viewed as a financial burden or foreign territory. Rather, committing to sustainability serves as a launching point for long-term profitability for companies across all sectors. Indeed, sustainability certification programs are designed to meet the company wherever it is in its green journey and develop the next best steps to continue forward. Beyond the badge, sustainability certification builds lifelong improvement and growth so that companies can prosper in a changing world and serve their communities for generations to come.