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If you’re a business leader who believes social and environmental responsibility are just as important as profit, then you should consider formalizing your commitment via a 3rd party sustainability framework and certification.  An official certification can demonstrate your commitment to social and environmental causes in a credible and genuine way and help you stand out from the greenwashing that some companies unfortunately partake in. More importantly, a formal sustainability and social responsibility program will shift your corporate priorities from pure profit and help create a corporate culture that values all stakeholders – employees, customers, partners, the local community and the environment.

Why Certify

Companies are pursuing certifications to formalize their commitment to sustainability and social responsibility and put “good” ahead of profits in a programmatic way that changes the fabric of a company’s culture. Certified sustainable companies are redefining what success means in business and measuring their performance against goals that include protecting the environment and taking care of employees and the local community.

Rather than simply making money at all costs, regardless of whether natural resources are harmed or people are exploited, these certified companies believe that business should be a force for good and that all their stakeholders should know that the company is committed to using their business as a platform for good.  An official 3rd party certification demonstrates that commitment and is also good for business as it elevates a company’s brand in the eyes of most consumers. According to a Cone Communications CSR report, 92% of consumers have a more positive image of a sustainable and socially responsible company and 87% would be more likely to trust that company.

Sustainability Certifications

When it comes to sustainability certification for your business, there are two excellent frameworks that you can use to validate your current corporate social responsibility (CSR) and green practices: the B Corp Certification program and the Green Business Bureau (GBB) Certification program. These programs can also be used to assess your current situation, uncover opportunities to improve, define a sustainability roadmap and establish goals aligned with your values.

Program Comparisons

The B Corp and GBB programs are similar in that they both establish social responsibility, i.e. doing good, as a priority for your company.  They are different in scope and focus and understanding the differences will help you select the right program to start with. B Corp is broader in scope, evaluating the overall impact of your business to the environment, customers, employees, shareholders, and local community, while GBB is more focused on sustainability and environmental initiatives.  They are comparable in that both programs will provide you with a blueprint and solid foundation to track and manage your social and environmental performance. That said, a detailed review of the programs also makes it clear that the B Corp program is designed for companies that have already fully invested in being clear leaders in the CSR arena, while the GBB program provides a blueprint for the green and greening alike with a growth and improvement mindset at the core of its ethos.

The B Corp Impact Score assesses five key areas of CSR performance

B Corp Certification Overview

B Corp Certification is an international certification that verifies companies meet the highest standards of overall social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. The scope includes 5 major areas: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment, and Customers.  Adherence to the requirements are assessed and verified by B Lab, a non-profit corporation that certifies B Corporations.

B Corp Certification Challenges

B Corporation certification establishes very high standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability that may be difficult for some businesses to meet. Companies applying must undergo a rigorous certification process and meet a long list of significant conditions.  The B Corp certification looks at operations, which covers a company’s day-to-day activities, and business models, which must be designed to create additional positive impact. Unfortunately, not every company has the resources and budget to meet the standards, verify compliance and complete the audits required.  Companies considering B Corp certification can complete the assessment as a first step to see if they qualify and to better understand their compliance gap. They may discover their governance procedures, customer processes, and sustainability practices fall short. But the assessment would not be wasted as it would enable a company to set future goals and establish a roadmap to compliance.

Green Business Bureau Certification Overview

The Green Business Bureau program is a robust program for helping companies become more sustainable and includes an online EcoAssessment tool, EcoPlanner tool and green business certification.  It includes over 400 green initiatives and EcoPlans to consider and choose from. GBB’s certification process is entirely initiative based, so a company will receive points for each and every activity it completes. Initiatives are organized by the business area they impact, such as building, cafeteria, transportation or office materials, and further marked by the effort, cost and greening impact of the initiative. This simple but flexible structure ensures a company can easily target and implement the efforts that best suit the company’s needs and opportunities.

The GBB seal is well-recognized so member businesses get the positive recognition of their commitment to sustainability and the environment.  GBB provides a collection of tools and opportunities for member companies to share, differentiate and be recognized for their greening achievements with customers, prospects, partners, regulators and communities alike.  A ‘clickable’ web seal takes customers and employees to a personal sustainability webpage that shows a business’s green level, points and accomplishments.

Benefits of Dual Certification

The two frameworks work in combination to help companies identify improvements they can make to everything they do. Both programs cover corporate offices, warehouses, stores and all facilities.  The B-Corp program covers all business processes from manufacturing, purchasing, operations, employee and community engagement and involvement while the GBB program focuses on green initiatives in a very in-depth way and provides a more pragmatic approach to implementing very specific green initiatives.  B Corp certification includes some high-level reviews of sustainability achievements but does not go as deep as the GBB certification which considers a much longer list of very specific green initiatives.

Once certified, most companies market and promote their certifications. Both seals can be used on websites and marketing materials and are great ways to demonstrate commitment to green and good.  Both seals are trusted, reputable symbols that people know and trust.

When to Start with GBB Certification

If your company does not have the budget or resources or cannot meet all the high standards of a B Corp, starting with a GBB certification may make more sense.  GBB certification is online and completed at a company’s own pace. The program is less expensive and offers simpler entry-level prerequisites, but also offers gold and platinum levels for companies that are further along.

It’s the Journey That Matters

Regardless of the path you take, the true value of certifications is going through the process and starting the journey.  By doing so, you’ll find ways to set the right business goals and ensure they are focused on the well-being of your workers, customers and the environment.  The certification process will improve operational efficiency and save money while at the same time retain employees that care and attract new customers who prefer to do business with sustainable, socially-responsible companies.  Your company will have a positive impact in your community, take better care of the environment, and establish a culture that will help you do more good and run a better business.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Derek Clontz says:

    Would it be possible for you to publish general and simple guidelines to help business get on track with sustainability a step at a time? I hope so. My company already takes steps to do the right thing with recycling and choosing eco-friendly packaging and taking other measures to get on board with B Corp. Let me be specific. We ship glass bottles filled with liquid via USPS and are good at what we do with very few instances of breakage. But that requires bubble wrap that we have used successfully since 1994. We, frankly, see no reasonable alternative to bubble wrap. Perhaps you can help.

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