Selecting the right sustainability certification for your business can be a tedious process requiring thorough research and understanding which program will best suit your needs and budget. In this article, we have organized the world’s top sustainability certifications by purpose, procedure, and cost so that you know how to select a sustainability certification with confidence.
OVERVIEW OF SUSTAINABILITY CERTIFICATIONS
Sustainability certifications are becoming increasingly important for businesses as global leaders, industry experts and the public are taking climate action. As more consumers become conscious of the carbon footprint created by products and services, having a sustainability certification has become a competitive edge for companies.
The pool of sustainability certifications continues to expand to encompass all aspects around corporate sustainability ranging from manufacturing processes and product end-of-life (EOL) plans to workers’ rights and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Certifications can be issued by government agencies, non-profits or private companies. Certification procedures vary but generally include audits of facilities and processes to ensure compliance as well as mandatory training, testing and data reporting.
Below we have organized the world’s most popular sustainability certifications into these categories:
- Corporate sustainability reporting certifications
- General business sustainability certifications
- Green building certifications
- Product certifications and eco-labels
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CORPORATE SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING CERTIFICATIONS
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Professional Certification
Background: The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to sustainability reporting. It was founded in 1997 by a partnership between the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). GRI works to promote transparency and integrity in corporate reporting on environmental, social and economic performance.
GRI has developed a set of voluntary standards that help organizations identify and disclose relevant information related to their overall sustainability performance. This includes such topics as human rights, climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, labor practices, anti-corruption measures, diversity initiatives, financial services industry stability commitments and more. These standards are constantly revised to reflect changing global priorities and regulations. The GRI Standards define what should be reported and how it should be presented. The framework also provides guidance on data collection methods and assurance practices that ensure accuracy of information disclosed by organizations, allowing companies to report on their sustainability performance in an accurate manner that meets the expectations of their stakeholders. This helps investors, policymakers and other stakeholders make informed decisions based on reliable performance data.
What It Certifies: companies pursuing sustainability reporting, auditors, consultants and other reporting professionals
Certification Procedure: The program is comprised of four courses:
- Introduction to sustainability reporting and the GRI Standards 2021 update
- Reporting with GRI Standards 2021 update
- Reporting on Human Rights with GRI Standards 2021 update
- Integrating the SDGs into sustainability reporting
The final certification exam (requires a 75% passing score). The program can be taken via two different learning routes: online self-paced on the GRI Academy (Route A) or instructor-led blended (Route B). GRI certification is valid for two years and can be renewed by completing Continuing Education Units (CEUs).
Cost: Up to 300€ (~$317 USD) per course and 350€ for the certification exam. GRI offers discounts including:
- Participants of the GRI Standards Certified Training course, through the GRI Certified Training Partners, get 25% discount on the Certification exam fee.
- Students get a 10% discount on the courses and the Certification exam.
- Bulk discount for universities: (>50 online users) – 15% discount
- Companies who are GRI Community members get a 25% discount
- Bulk discount for companies (>100 online users) – 10% discount
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Fundamentals of Integrated Reporting <IR> Certification
Background: Integrated Reporting, or <IR>, is a revolutionary way of communicating an organization’s financial and non-financial performance to its stakeholders. This type of reporting promotes a more comprehensive understanding of an organization’s performance, as well as its sustainability, strategy and governance. The Integrated Reporting <IR> Framework (IRRF) is a set of guidelines, developed by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), that help companies create high quality integrated reports.
The IRRF includes six core principles which provide guidance on how to plan, prepare and present integrated reports for external stakeholders. These principles focus on providing clarity about the company’s strategy, their resources & capabilities and the value creation process. They also cover topics such as materiality assessment & disclosure choices and stakeholder relationships. Additionally, companies are encouraged to use visual communication techniques in order to help communicate complex concepts in a clear manner.
What It Certifies: companies adopting <IR> into their practices, auditors, consultants and other reporting professionals
Certification Procedure: The Fundamentals of Integrated Reporting <IR> Certification includes an 13.5 hour online course that covers an introduction to Integrated Reporting, the fundamental concepts of value creation, capitals and the value creation process, requirements of the International <IR> Framework and factors that contribute to successful implementation.
Cost: £349.00 (~416 USD)
Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting Credential
Background: The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) is an independent nonprofit organization that sets standards for corporate sustainability disclosures. SASB’s mission is to help businesses understand and report on their material sustainability risks and opportunities. By providing a consistent set of standards, investors can make informed decisions about the long-term value of companies.
SASB provides industry-specific guidance to more than 11,000 publicly listed companies in 79 industries across 11 countries, including the United States. SASB’s voluntary standards provide specific metrics for measuring how companies manage environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities. Additionally, SASB works with regulators around the world to ensure that its guidelines are incorporated into regulatory frameworks wherever possible.
What It Certifies: companies and professionals who benefit from understanding the link between financially material sustainability and corporate performance
Certification Procedure: The FSA Credential consists of two exams: Level I Exam – Principles and Level II Exam – Application. Once candidates register online, they have access to the study guide (candidates on average spend 30 – 50 hours studying for each exam). There are three testing periods throughout the year – January-February, May-June and September-October – with multiple time slots each day. Candidates can take the exams in-person or remotely. See the Candidate Handbook for more details.
- Level I Exam – $450 (Non-Members)
- Level II Exam – $650 (Non-Members)
- Group Discounts
- 5-29 candidates – 18% off Level I + Level II Exams per person
- 30-49 candidates – 22% off
- 50+ candidates – 27% off
GENERAL BUSINESS SUSTAINABILITY CERTIFICATIONS
B Corp Certification
Background: B Corporation is a type of business certification that recognizes companies for their commitment to social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. This designation is awarded by B Lab, an independent nonprofit organization that serves as a global movement of people using business as a force for good. Companies must meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to receive the certification.
The purpose of becoming a B Corp certified company is to show potential customers that they are committed to responsible practices while continuing to focus on profits. Becoming certified allows companies to stand out from competitors who may not be doing the same level of social good in their operations and policies. Additionally, certified companies benefit from access to new markets, networking opportunities with like-minded businesses, increased visibility among investors and customers alike.
What It Certifies: small, midsize and large for-profit companies that have been operating for at least 12 months. Start ups are eligible for Pending B Corp Certification.
Certification Procedure: The B Corp Certification process is rigorous and includes different certification approaches based on a company’s size and complexity. Small and midsize companies can typically certify via the standard approach.
In general, the B Corp Certification procedure involves completing the B Impact Assessment (BIA) which includes a series of questions covering five categories – governance, workers, community, the environment, and customers. Completing the BIA can take at least 12 months. Candidates must achieve a score of 80 or higher in order to submit their B Impact Assessment. Around 60% of companies that submit for review do not end up certifying.
After submitting the BIA, candidates move to the Evaluation phase in which an Evaluation Analyst confirms the company operations and their BIA points. Evaluation alone can take up to 8 months. Next, a Verification Analyst obtains additional information from candidates via documentation and engaging directly. Finally, if candidates are approved, they sign the B Corp Agreement and Declaration of Interdependence, and pay the first year of annual certification fees. B Lab collects the gross annual revenue (GAR) of certified B Corps to determine the pricing tier for their annual fees.
- A one-time nonrefundable $150 USD BIA submission fee
- $0 to less than $5 million GAR – $2,000 fee
- $5 million to less than $50 million GAR – $3,000-$16,000 fee
- More than $50 million GAR – $20,000-$50,000 fee
- $1 billion+ GAR – fees determined based on company size and complexity
Green Business Bureau (GBB) Certification
Background: The Green Business Bureau (GBB) certification program is designed for continual growth and improvement. The program includes a comprehensive library of environmental and social initiatives that members can tackle at their own pace. The GBB initiative library and EcoPlanner are designed to be user friendly and provide detailed step-by-step guidance per each initiative, allowing members to plan goals and track progress with confidence.
GBB Certification is based on a point system to generate an EcoScore. Members gain points with every initiative they complete and can earn higher EcoScores which correspond with higher certification levels: Member, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Members are also able to share their real-time progress with their public GBB profile, enhancing their transparency with stakeholders.
What It Certifies: small, midsize and large businesses across all industries
Certification Procedure: To earn Green Business Bureau Certification, you must first apply to become a GBB member. Membership grants you a unique GBB profile where you can input company information, your mission statement and past and ongoing sustainability accomplishments. To start earning points, you must determine your company’s current sustainability performance by completing the self-administered sustainability assessment. The assessment involves answering questions (varying from simple Yes/No questions to multiple choice and rating scales) around the completion of initiatives. GBB Certification is ongoing and your EcoScore can be updated in real time every time a new initiative is complete. The self-paced and self-administered aspect of GBB Certification is what gives GBB a competitive advantage.
- For small businesses of
- 1-10 employees – $350/year
- 11-25 employees – $450/year
- 26-50 employees – $650/year
- For midsize businesses of
- 51-100 employees – $800/year
- 101-250 employees – $1,100/year
- 251-500 employees – $1,500/year
- 501-1000 employees – $2,000/year
- For larger corporations of
- 1001-1500 employees – $3,000/year
- 1501-3000 employees – $4,000-$6,000/year
- >3000 employees – Contact GBB
Green America Green Business Certification
Background: Green America is an environmental organization dedicated to promoting economic justice and sustainability. Founded in 1982, it has since become a global leader in using marketplace strategies to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society. Green America uses the power of consumer choice and business practices to help build an economy that values people, planet, and peace over profit.
The organization’s mission is threefold: building an economy that works for all; protecting the environment; and advocating for corporate responsibility. To achieve its goals, Green America educates consumers about their purchasing choices, engages businesses to become more socially responsible and environmentally conscious, supports green entrepreneurs with resources such as financing alternatives and mentorship programs, and lobbies the government on climate change-related issues.
Green America developed a set of Green Business Standards to certify companies committed to environmental and social justice.
What It Certifies: small and midsize businesses across 40 industries
Certification Procedure: First, candidates must join the Green Business Network and sign up for membership in order to access their online certification platform. After candidates submit some initial background information, the Green America certification team confirms whether or not their company meets the preliminary qualifications for certification. Businesses must be fully operational for at least 4 months, have a functioning website, and include their environmental/social commitments on their website to be eligible. Products and services must also reflect the same commitments to customers.
The certification team will contact candidates within 2 weeks regarding which industry standard their business falls under and provide the appropriate link to the certification assessment. Candidates that are not approved will be guided on what to do to be ready for certification.
Candidates then complete their industry-specific assessment (20-40 minutes) and send a confirmation email to the certification team who will then review the assessment and follow up within 30 days with any additional questions. Once the assessment is approved, candidates receive confirmation with their Green America Seal and Green America Certificate that they can start using on their website and marketing materials. Green America also offers a Gold Certified seal for businesses who go beyond their Green Business Standards. Declined candidates have the opportunity to reapply.
Green Business Network Annual Membership Fees for Standard Members
- $150 (0-5 Employees)
- $300 (6-20 Employees)
- $500 (21-99 Employees)
- $1,000 (100-250 Employees)
- $2,500 (251+ Employees)
For businesses in the financial sector (i.e. financial advisor, mutual fund, community banking/investing entity) – click here to view membership fees.
GREEN BUILDING CERTIFICATIONS
U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
Background: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is a globally-recognized credential that signifies a building project has met certain environmental standards. LEED certification is an important tool for building owners, architects, engineers and business owners to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and green construction practices. Established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is a voluntary rating system with four levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. To achieve LEED certification for a commercial or residential project requires meeting the USGBC’s requirements in six key areas of sustainable design: energy efficiency; water savings; materials used; indoor air quality; innovation and design processes; as well as location and transportation options.
LEED offers a few different rating systems depending on the scope of the building project:
- LEED for Building Design and Construction (BD+C)
- LEED for Interior Design and Construction (ID+C)
- LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M)
- LEED for Residential Design and Construction
- LEED for Neighborhood Development (ND)
- LEED for Cities and Communities (this includes two options for existing cities/communities and those in the planning phase)
LEED also offers two credentials to affirm a professional’s understanding of green building principles and practices, LEED rating systems and the certification process:
What It Certifies: new construction and existing buildings, communities, cities
Certification Procedure: When pursuing LEED certification, first you’ll need to determine if your building project meets all the LEED minimum program requirements by using the LEED Credit Library. Next, you’ll select the appropriate rating system and register your project via the LEED Online platform. You’ll use this platform to access various resources and tools, assemble your project team, collect any required documentation, and submit payment and your application for certification.
Once you have submitted your application and the certification fee, the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) will conduct a Preliminary Review to determine awarded, denied and pending credits. The reviewer will typically ask for additional information from your team. During the Final Review, you can submit any revised and supplemental information to amend your application and gain additional attempted credits. For both the Preliminary and Finals Reviews, expect a response within 20-25 days. GBCI also offers an optional Supplemental (Appeal) Review to give applicants an additional round of review and the chance to submit more supplemental information.
Once you accept the GBCI’s final review report, your project is officially certified and you can no longer request an appeal. The number of points that your project earns determines the level of LEED certification that you will receive:
- LEED Certified™: 40-49 points earned
- LEED Silver®: 50-59 points earned
- LEED Gold®: 60-79 points earned
- LEED Platinum®: 80+ points earned
- LEED Certification
- Registration fee – flat fee calculated on a per-project basis
- Certification fee – based on project size and rating system used
- Additional design phase fees – Applied if your project increases in size between the design and construction phases of review
- Other fees – related to expedited reviews, supplemental (appeal) reviews, and other optional aspects of the LEED certification process
- See LEED Registration and Certification Fees for exact costs associated with different LEED rating systems and project sizes
- LEED Green Associate Credential – $369 Exam & Prep Bundle (includes exam prep and exam registration)
- LEED AP with Specialty Credential – $459 Exam & Prep Bundle (includes exam prep and exam registration for LEED AP exam only; $599 for both Green Associate and LEED AP exams)
Green Building Initiative (GBI) Green Globes Certification
Background: The Green Building Initiative (GBI) is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainability through the transformation of the built environment. Established in 2004, GBI has since become a leader in advancing green building practices and developing a range of resources for those interested in sustainable building. As an independent, third-party organization, GBI serves as an educational resource and certification provider for green construction projects around the world.
GBI’s mission is to promote improved environmental performance throughout all phases of the built environment lifecycle by encouraging market transformation and providing guidance on green building design, measurement, assessment and operation. The organization is committed to creating a future where buildings are designed and operated with resource efficiency and occupant health in mind.
Green Globes also offers two professional certifications:
What It Certifies: new construction and existing building projects
Green Globes certification and point structure varies based on the type of building project:
- Green Globes for New Construction (NC)
- Green Globes for Core and Shell (CS)
- Green Globes for Sustainable Interiors (SI)
- Green Globes for Existing Buildings (EB)
- Green Globes Multifamily for New Construction (NC)
- Green Globes Multifamily for Existing Buildings (EB)
The general steps for Green Globes certification are:
- Create a GBI account and request an assessment quote.
- Purchase assessment, complete Green Globes online evaluation.
- Work with a Green Globes Assessor who will complete third-party assessments.
- Receive a ﬁnal report containing your Green Globes rating and certiﬁcate.
- Green Globes Certification
- Registration fee – $1,500
- Certification fee – Varies based on project size
- See Green Globes Pricing Structure for exact costs
- Green Globes Emerging Professional (GGEP) – $50 – includes manual, online training, final exam, and up to 5 years of credentialing
- Green Globes Professional (GGP) – $75 application fee and $750 package that includes manual, online training course, final exam, and initial two-year credential
International Living Future Institute (ILFI) Certifications and Credentials
Background: The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) is an organization dedicated to advancing the vision of a world where all people have access to healthy and life-sustaining environments. Founded in 2006, ILFI works with individuals, organizations and institutions around the world to develop sustainable strategies for transforming the built environment.
ILFI’s mission is to inspire and champion the transformation toward communities that are socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative. Through its framework of Living Building Challenges, Petal Certification Programs and Declare Products, it has become a leader in creating a new standard of performance for buildings and materials that are required by local governments across North America. It also advocates for net zero energy use in buildings through its Zero Code Initiative as well as promoting regenerative agriculture practices through its LandSmart program.
The ILFI offers several certifications and credentials:
- Living Building Challenge
- Living Product Challenge
- Living Community Challenge
- Core Certification
- Zero Energy Certification
- Zero Carbon Certification
- Living Future Accreditation (LFA) – We will discuss LFA below.
ILFI Living Future Accreditation (LFA)
What It Certifies: green building professionals and building owners, practitioners and advocates of regenerative design
Certification Procedure: To achieve LFA, you’ll complete 16 General credits and the LFA Foundational Curriculum in an easy to manage, self-paced online format. ILFI will audit your transcript. There is no final exam.
First, you’ll need to enroll in the LFA Foundational Curriculum and create a Living Future Education account. Next, at your own pace, you will complete 36 LFA Continuing Education (CE) credits (20 Foundational + 16 General credits). You must complete all 36 credits within one year to earn LFA certification. Track and report your earned credits via Living Future Education platform (Note: credits can be earned from other sources but must be self-reported in order to appear on your transcript). After completing your courses, you will conduct a self-audit and be reviewed by ILFI who will then approve your LFA certification.
- Non-Members – $750 USD
- Living Future Members – $675 USD
- Group Discounts – see Corporate Membership Packages
International WELL Building Institute Certifications
Background: The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is a global organization dedicated to improving the health of people in buildings and communities around the world. Founded in 2013, IWBI has grown exponentially to become the leading global certifying body for buildings and spaces that prioritize human health and wellness. Through their multifaceted program, IWBI encourages organizations and businesses to pursue certification for their building projects with a special focus on air quality, water quality, light, exercise opportunities, comfort levels, nutrition and mental well-being. IWBI’s mission statement is simple: “To improve human health through design.” Their main goal is to create healthier workplaces that protect occupants from adverse environmental conditions.
The International WELL Building Institute also offers the International WELL Building Institute Accredited Professional Credential.
What It Certifies: buildings
Certification Procedure: Projects pursuing WELL Certification earn points based on performance outcomes related to policy, design and and operations and can achieve one of four certification levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. WELL certification procedure is similar to LEED certification and includes the following basic steps:
- Registration via WELL Online
- Submit required documentation
- Performance Verification by designated WELL Performance Testing Agent
- Generation of a WELL Report that indicates whether or not the project meets all the WELL Feature requirements; Applicants have the opportunity to revise and make improvements before final certification
- WELL Certification granted once project meets all requirements and passes Performance Verification
- WELL Certification (For projects looking to address the full scope of project design, construction and operations)
- Enrollment fee – $2,500
- Program fee – $0.16/sq ft (starting at $6,500 and capped at $98,000)
- WELL Core (For projects seeking to address fundamental features in the base building)
- Enrollment fee – $2,500
- Program fee – $0.08/sq ft (starting at $6,500 and capped at $98,000)
- International WELL Building Institute Accredited Professional Credential – $369 Exam & Study Material Bundle includes exam registration benefits, study guide, and practice exam questions
PRODUCT CERTIFICATIONS AND ECO-LABELS
Cradle to Cradle (C2C)
Background: Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification label is the world’s most advanced sustainability standard, created by MBDC. This innovative certification system helps manufacturers and consumers make smarter decisions about which products are most beneficial for their environment, wallet, and personal health. C2C evaluates different aspects of a product’s design, material health, renewable energy use and carbon management in order to assess its environmental impact throughout its life cycle. The C2C label is highly respected as it encourages companies to create products that are not only sustainable but also designed to be reused or recycled at the end of their useful life. The label has been awarded to over 1,000 products from more than 60 countries around the world since its inception in 2002.
What It Certifies: household products, home decor, clothing and accessories, textiles, personal care products, building materials
Certification Procedure: To get Cradle to Cradle Certified, you must check your product’s eligibility via the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard Version 4.0 User Guidance and the Cradle to Cradle Certified Version 4.0 Restricted Substances List. Next, select a C2C Certified Assessment Body for the testing, analysis, and evaluation of your product. Through this process, you will also develop a certification plan that includes cost, timeline and necessary resources.
You will work with your chosen assessor and supply chain to collect and evaluate data. The assessor will conduct site visits to determine conformance with standard requirements. Once the assessor has all the necessary documentation, you will need to submit your certification application and an assessment summary report to the C2C Products Innovation Institute, sign the Certification Agreement and pay your certification and annual community fee. You will receive your C2C Certification once the Institute reviews the assessment summary and ensures completeness and accuracy.
- Product certification fees
- Certification application – $3,600
- Re-certification (every 2 years) – $2,000
- Certification extension (90 days) – $500
- Interim assessment review – $650
- Certificate revision – $100
- Annual community fee (Based on annual revenue)
- Less than $10 million – $1,800
- $10 – $100 million – $4,200
- $100 – $500 million – $9,000
- Greater than $500 million – $15,000
Background: Green Seal certification is a comprehensive program that evaluates products and services for their environmental impacts. It is one of the most recognized certification programs in the world, and it is used by companies, organizations, and consumers to identify items that have a lower environmental impact than similar products. Green Seal certification provides an objective assessment of the environmental performance of products across a variety of industries.
The Green Seal Standard requires companies to adhere to strict criteria when evaluating their product or service’s overall environmental impact. This includes reducing energy consumption, using renewable resources whenever possible, minimizing waste production and pollution output, ensuring safe handling practices during product transportation, and providing clear labeling about any hazardous materials contained in the product or service. Companies must also follow through on their commitments to make sure that all standards are met throughout the entire lifecycle of the item being certified.
What It Certifies: cleaning and other household products, personal care products, sanitary paper products, printing and writing paper, paints and adhesives, food service and packaging materials
Certification Procedure: For formulated products only (not services), Green Seal Certification begins with submitting a pre-screen application along with the formula information of your product. Green Seal will send back a report highlighting any issues that could affect certification. Next, you must submit your certification application and your product or service information. Once Green Seal reviews your application and ensures your product/service meets their standards, you will need to coordinate a site visit with Green Seal to verify your practices and processes, and identify any issues. Once Green Seal approves your compliance, then you will receive your Green Seal Certification.
Cost: Certification costs vary depending on product and service type. Contact Green Seal to find out more.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Program
Background: The Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Program is a federal regulatory program created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that helps protect children and families from lead poisoning. The certification provides assurances to homeowners and renters that certified contractors will follow lead safety protocols when performing renovation, repair, and painting projects in homes built before 1978.
The program requires contractors, property managers and realtors to be trained in proper work practices and use lead-safe work practices and materials, and provide homeowners with educational materials on lead hazards. The goal is to help reduce the risk of exposure to dangerous levels of airborne lead dust from renovations or paint removal activities. Certified contractors who achieve the EPA Lead-Safe Seal must maintain compliance through annual training updates and recordkeeping.
What It Certifies: building interiors
Certification Procedure: Firms must locate an accredited RRP trainer, submit their certification application and complete a one-day course to certify for five years.
Cost: For more information, go to epa.gov/getleadsafe or call 800-424-LEAD
Non-GMO Project Standard
Background: The Non-GMO Project is an organization that strives to provide more transparency in the food industry. It was founded in 2007 with the mission of preserving and rebuilding our non-GMO food supply. The Non-GMO Project has established a standard for the certification and verification of products that are free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The Non-GMO Project Standard is a set of protocols, best practices, and procedures for determining if a product is qualified to be labeled as “Non-GMO”. This includes evaluating ingredients according to their risk level, testing high risk ingredients, verifying production processes, monitoring labels and claims on packaging, and periodic reevaluations over time. The Standard also requires ongoing traceability records from suppliers throughout the entire process to ensure accuracy.
What It Certifies: food and beverage, personal care products
Certification Procedure: The Non-GMO Project works with four independent technical administrators (TAs) to evaluate and verify products. Certification begins with filling out the Get Started form after which the Non-GMO Project team will contact you with further information and how to connect with the TAs. Upon selecting your TA, you will sign a contract with them and a license agreement with the Non-GMO Project. From there, your TA will guide you through the product evaluation process which requires various documentation such as invoices, proofs of purchase, standard facility procedures, and product ingredient analysis. Once your TA verifies your compliance with the Non-GMO Project Standard, they will issue you a Certificate of Verification (COV). This will allow you to use the Non-GMO Project Verified mark and take advantage of their additional educational and marketing support. Your TA will review your Verified product annually to ensure ongoing compliance and renew your COV. Renewal fees apply.
Cost: Cost varies based on the number of products you want certified, if your product contains high-risk ingredients such as corn or soy, and the fee structure of your chosen TA. Review the Meet the Technical Administrators page to find out exact fees.
Background: ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that works to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from products, homes, buildings and businesses across the nation. It was first established in 1992 as a voluntary labeling program for energy-efficient products, but has since grown to address many different aspects of energy use and conservation in homes, offices, retail stores, schools and more.
The ENERGY STAR label can be found on thousands of products ranging from appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers to home electronics like computers and televisions. This label indicates that these products meet certain criteria for increased energy efficiency set by EPA or DOE – usually 20% greater than required by federal standards – meaning they can help you save money on your utility bills while also reducing overall environmental impact.
What It Certifies: appliances, homes, apartments and other buildings
Certification Procedure: To certify products, brand owners must complete product testing via an EPA recognized laboratory and an EPA recognized certification body (CB) to certify the results and submit this information to EPA. Refer to the EPA’s list of recognized labs and CBs which is organized by product category. After CBs submit the certified product information to EPA, products appear on the ENERGY STAR certified list within 24 hours of CB submission.
To achieve ENERGY STAR Certification for your commercial or industrial building, you must first determine your building’s energy performance via the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, the most-used energy measurement and tracking tool for commercial buildings. Using the Portfolio Manager, you will earn an ENERGY STAR score based on a 1–100 scale which compares a property’s energy performance to other properties of that type, and accounts for differences in physical and operational details. A property must achieve a score of 75 or higher to qualify for ENERGY STAR certification.
Once you have generated benchmark data and earned a score of 75 or higher, you can apply for certification within the Portfolio Manager. Coordinate a site visit with a licensed professional (LP) to verify the information in your application, obtain all required signatures and submit the application electronically to EPA. If EPA has any questions or issues, the primary contact on your application will receive the questions by email. You can check the status of your application online and begin promoting your accomplishment as soon as you’re certified.
Note: EPA will randomly choose applications to undergo audits and may request the following:
- Copies of utility bills and invoices for fuel purchases
- Documentation and/or explanation of how the building attributes and indoor environment were verified by the LP
- Product Certification
- Cost and duration of product testing and certification varies by product category and CB. You should contact CBs directly for more specific information.
- Building Certification
- There is no fee to apply for ENERGY STAR certification for buildings. However, the certification process still requires you to be verified by a license professional (LP) such as a registered engineer or architect. Refer to the ENERGY STAR Licensed Professional Finder to locate an LP in your area.
Background: WaterSense is an EPA-sponsored program that helps consumers make smarter water choices for their homes and businesses. It provides information about products and practices that use less water, saving money and helping protect the environment. WaterSense creates certification labels to help people identify high-efficiency toilets, faucets, showerheads, sprinklers, irrigation controllers and other products.
With the growing global demand for freshwater resources, it’s important to conserve wherever possible. WaterSense offers practical solutions to conserve water while still maintaining performance in areas like landscape irrigation systems or bathroom fixtures. The program focuses on ways to save 20 percent more than a standard product would use without sacrificing performance or comfort. In addition, WaterSense certified products can save money by lowering water bills each month by up to 10 percent in some cases.
What It Certifies: toilets, urinals, sinks, shower heads, irrigation systems
Certification Procedure: The WaterSense Product Certification System utilizes third-party, independent entities to certify products. Manufacturers seeking WaterSense certification and the WaterSense label for their products must apply directly to an EPA licensed certifying body (CB). Refer to the WaterSense Accreditation and Licensed Certifying Bodies page. Working with the CB, you must submit all required product information and await an initial evaluation which includes product sampling and testing. The WaterSense program does not require a production inspection (i.e., audit of production process). This is left to the discretion of the CB if they feel it’s necessary. After conducting a thorough product evaluation, the CB will generate an evaluation report and highlight any issues that the manufacturer must resolve within a set timeframe.
Once all additional revisions have been made by the manufacturer and the CB approves of product compliance, the CB will provide a certification decision to the manufacturer and authorize the use of the WaterSense label via a signed contract.
Cost: Costs vary depending on the product or service, and the fee structure of your licensed certifying body.
Fair Trade USA
Background: Fair Trade Certification is an international standard for products produced in developing countries. It provides consumers with the assurance that their purchases have been ethically sourced and are benefiting the producers, workers and communities involved in their production. Fair Trade Certification ensures that those who produce these goods are provided with a fair price for their labor, as well as access to credit, improved working conditions and investment into local resources. Additionally, it promotes sustainable farming practices by protecting natural resources from over exploitation and encouraging support for small-scale farmers.
The Fair Trade label can be found on products ranging from coffee beans to jewelry to clothing, providing shoppers with the ability to make informed purchasing decisions when they enter a store or shop online. Certified companies must meet certain criteria related to pricing, wages and sustainability, among other aspects of business operations before they can include this logo on their products or packaging.
What It Certifies: food, beverages, clothing
Certification Procedure: For brands and retailers (Note: There is also Fair Trade Certification for producers and traders), fill out the Get Started form to connect with the Fair Trade team. After an initial assessment, you will coordinate with Fair Trade to develop a certification plan and begin the auditing process to ensure you meet the Fair Trade Standards.
Cost: Fair Trade Certification varies for brands, producers and traders. Please contact Fair Trade USA for more information.
Background: Fairtrade International is an organization that works to promote sustainable development and equitable global trade. By providing a fair price for goods, Fairtrade International helps farmers, workers, and artisans in developing countries gain access to international markets. This ensures they receive fair wages, safe working conditions and long-term economic stability. Through its certification system, Fairtrade International guarantees that the products purchased are of high quality while ensuring they were produced responsibly with respect for people and the environment.
The aim of Fairtrade International is to reduce poverty by empowering vulnerable communities who are often excluded from traditional trading systems or unable to meet market demands due to limited resources. The organization also works towards promoting social justice by advocating for greater transparency in global supply chains and raising awareness about human rights issues related to food production.
What It Certifies: food, coffee, tea, clothing and textiles
Certification Procedure: For brands and retailers (in the US), you must first contact the Fairtrade team to complete an initial business assessment. Next, submit an application to Fairtrade International’s chosen third-party auditing group, FLOCERT, to determine if your supply chain meets the Fairtrade Standards. Once approved, you will receive a Permission to Trade (PTT) which allows you to officially source Fairtrade products. However, your brand will not be able to use the Fairtrade Mark on packaging and marketing materials until you sign a licensing agreement with Fairtrade.
Cost: Costs are not readily available online. Please contact Fairtrade America to inquire about certification costs. Submit a request online or call 202-221-5231
Background: Leaping bunny certification is an internationally recognized standard for cruelty-free beauty and personal care products. The certification process is thorough and rigorous, ensuring that no animal testing is done at any stage of the production or development of a product. Companies whose products display the leaping bunny logo are certified by Cruelty Free International, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending animal testing in the beauty industry.
The leaping bunny program has been endorsed by over 400 companies worldwide and all of them have agreed to abide by its strict standards, which guarantee that no animals are harmed in any way during product production or research. Products verified as cruelty-free have their ingredients, formulations and final products tested on human volunteers rather than animals. This ensures both safety for consumers and ethical treatment of animals alike.
What It Certifies: cosmetics, household products
Certification Procedure: Brands seeking Leaping Bunny Certification must first register online. An account will then be created for you to fill out the official application and provide all required documentation for certification. Once your application is approved, you are officially Leaping Bunny Certified and can use the Leaping Bunny logo on packaging and marketing materials.
Cost: For companies in the US and Canada, there is no fee to become Leaping Bunny Certified.
Textile Exchange Responsible Down Standard (RDS)
Background: The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) is an assurance from the Textile Exchange, a global nonprofit organization, that down feathers used in products have been obtained responsibly. It was created to ensure that animals have not been subjected to any unnecessary harm in the production of down feathers and products. The RDS Certification provides traceability, control and assurance throughout the entire supply chain – from farm to finished product.
Down feathers are often harvested by plucking live birds or as a byproduct of meat industry practices, and it is important to be aware of where they come from before buying any type of product containing them. The RDS focuses on animal welfare and ensures responsible standards have been met during production. This includes ensuring humane treatment during transport, proper housing conditions for birds, prevention of feather loss due to cruel handling methods, and regular third-party inspections.
What It Certifies: clothing, bedding and any products containing down
Certification Procedure: For brands and retailers seeking RDS Certification (Note: There is certification for farms and supply chains specifically), contact an approved certifying body (CB) and request an application. Your CB will guide you through the entire certification process. After you submit your application to the CB, the CB will calculate their offer, costs and a timeframe. Once you come to an agreement, you will sign a contract of services with the CB. Next, the CB will send an auditor to review the necessary paperwork and production procedures, and generate an audit report.
Once the CB reviews the audit report and ensures your products meet the RDS Standard, a scope certificate (SC) is issued. If any non-conformities (NC) are identified, the CB will give you a corrective action plan. You must also contact your CB to obtain a transaction certificate (TC) following shipment of certified goods. Note: The CB may conduct unannounced audits at any time to ensure compliance.
Cost: Costs vary depending on several factors including the standard, time needed to audit, location, number and complexity of facilities, and more. Third-party certifying bodies also have varying fee structures. Contact CBs directly to obtain multiple price estimates.
Textile Exchange Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)
Background: The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) is a global standard for animal welfare, traceability and sustainability in the wool industry. It is a collaborative effort between non-profit organization Textile Exchange and leading brands dedicated to making sure wool products come from farms that meet stringent animal welfare, land management and social responsibility criteria.
This standard ensures that fiber producers are held accountable for their practices and are rewarded for responsible production. All sheep must have access to pasture and be sheared by trained professionals with minimal stress or discomfort caused to the animals. The standard also requires producers to practice environmental stewardship, monitor soil health, protect biodiversity, reduce water usage and manage chemical applications responsibly. Furthermore, it encourages engagement with local communities by respecting indigenous rights, providing fair wages and safe working conditions for employees.
What It Certifies: wool yarn and apparel
Certification Procedure: The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) shares the same certification procedure as the Responsible Down Standard (RDS)
Cost: Contact RWS certifying bodies directly to inquire about their fee structure.
Background: Certified Vegan certification is a verification given to products that meet certain standards set by the Vegan Awareness Foundation (VAF). These standards ensure that all ingredients and processes used during production of the product are completely free from animal-based sources, such as meat, eggs, dairy, honey and beeswax. The certification also requires that no animal testing was done on any part of the product or ingredient.
The VAF has been offering this certification since 1994, making it one of the longest established vegan certifications available. All certified vegan companies must adhere to VAF’s stringent criteria in order to receive their stamp of approval. The Certified Vegan Logo can be found on products ranging from food items and cosmetics to clothing and household goods – giving consumers an easy way to identify vegan-friendly brands.
What It Certifies: food and beverage, clothing and accessories, home textiles, personal care products
Certification Procedure: The process for Vegan Certification is simple. Fill out the online application, attach all required documents and submit the $100 application fee. Once your application has been approved and finalized by the Vegan Awareness Foundation, you will be able to use the Certified Vegan Logo. Refer to the Certification page to make sure your product meets all the Certified Vegan product requirements.
- One-time non refundable application fee – $100 (applied to first annual licensing fee payment if application approved and finalized)
- Annual licensing fee (based on annual revenue)
- Up to $15,000 – $150
- Up to $100,000 – $250
- Up to $250,000 – $400
- Up to $500,000 – $600
- Up to $999,000 – $1,000
- Over $1 Million – $2,000
- Up to $10 Million – $3,000
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Promotional License for Brands and Retailers
Background: The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests. It was established in 1993 to help ensure that forestry practices are socially and environmentally responsible, as well as economically viable. The FSC sets standards for forests around the world, and certifies companies that meet those standards so that consumers can make informed decisions about forest products they purchase.
The main goal of the FSC is to protect biodiversity and promote sustainable forest management by encouraging ecologically sound forestry practices. In order to become certified, companies must demonstrate compliance with a set of standards regarding social, environmental, and economic issues related to their activities in the forest. Certified operations are inspected regularly by independent third parties who evaluate whether or not they are meeting the necessary criteria set out in the FSC’s certification process.
FSC certification comes in a few different forms:
- Manufacturers can earn a chain-of-custody certification
- Architects, builders, artists and other project developers can earn a project certification
- Forest operators can earn a forest management certification
- Brands and retailers who are not FSC-certified but want to promote FSC-Certified goods and sustainable forestry practices can earn a promotional license (We will discuss the FSC Promotional License below)
What It Certifies: Non FSC-Certified brands, retailers and others that sell and/or use FSC-Certified products
Certification Procedure: To earn the FSC Promotional License, contact your local FSC team and request an application. Submit all necessary documentation ensuring the products you sell/use are FSC-Certified. Once your application is approved and finalized, you will then sign a Promotional Licensing agreement and pay a service fee that allows you to access FSC trademarks and a unique licensing code.
Cost: The service fee to obtain the FSC Promotional License depends on the size of your business, how many countries you plan to promote FSC-Certified products, and the type of support you require. Talk with your local FSC team to get more information.
Rainforest Alliance Certification Program
Background: The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit organization that works to conserve biodiversity and promote sustainable livelihoods. Founded in 1987, the organization has worked with communities, companies, and governments around the world to protect forests, safeguard rivers and streams, improve soil health, increase access to healthcare and education services for rural populations, as well as support Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
The Rainforest Alliance takes a comprehensive approach to conserving ecosystems by focusing on both environmental protection and social justice. The organization seeks to create a balance between human development needs and ecological conservation by encouraging better stewardship of natural resources through sustainable agriculture practices such as agroforestry systems which integrate trees into agricultural land management. They also focus on creating economic opportunities for local farmers that are engaged in sustainable production methods while preserving their cultural heritage.
The Rainforest Alliance offers certification for farmers (See: How to Get Rainforest Alliance Certified: A Guide for Farmers) and for companies who want to source from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms (See: How to Get Supply Chain Certification: A Guide for Companies).
What It Certifies: food and beverage, personal care products, forestry products, tourism companies, companies who want to source and sell Rainforest Alliance products
Certification Procedure: For companies seeking supply chain certification, the process begins by registering. Next, you’ll need to request and sign a license agreement with Rainforest Alliance stating you will abide by the rules of the program. Next, you will complete a Supply Chain Risk Assessment (SCRA) which looks at your activities, location, information on the certified product(s), compliance, social risks, etc. The risk assessment will generate a verification level that determines if an audit is necessary and if so, the frequency of the audits. SCRA review typically takes 3 weeks. After submitting the SCRA, the Supply Chain Certification Team will guide you on the next steps. If you require an audit, you can refer to these Rainforest Alliance licensed certified bodies (CBs). To be able to trade volumes of certified products, you must request a License to Trade from Rainforest Alliance and record all purchases and sales of certified products on the designated Rainforest Alliance platform to comply with rules around traceability and transparency.
Cost: There are four costs for companies pursuing Rainforest Alliance Certification:
- Supply chain audit fees – when SCRA determines an audit is required; CBs set their own fee structures so contact them directly
- The Sustainability Differential (SD) – the cash premium price paid (on top of market price of the commodity) to farmers by their buyers for following sustainable farming practices and achieving certification; amount is negotiable
- The Sustainability Investment (SI) – an investment made when sourcing Rainforest Alliance certified products so that farmers can maintain their Rainforest Alliance certification requirements; amount is negotiable
- A volume-based royalty to the Rainforest Alliance per supply chain
- See Rainforest Alliance License Agreement General Terms and Conditions for more information
Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
Background: The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting responsible forest management and conservation. Established in the United States in 1994, SFI works with landowners, forest industry professionals and others to create standards for sustainable forestry practices that benefit both the environment and communities. Through its network of partners, SFI sets science-based standards that promote responsible forestry while ensuring that forests remain healthy and productive for generations to come.
SFI’s mission is to advance a collaborative approach to ensure forests are managed responsibly by using scientifically sound principles from accredited sources. The program aims to improve the conservation of wildlife habitats, protect water quality, reduce air pollution and support sustainable economic growth through jobs generated by the forestry industry. These goals are achieved through a combination of certification programs for forest owners as well as educational initiatives for landowners and local communities about sustainable forestry practices.
SFI offers a few different certification standards including forest management, chain of custody, fiber sourcing, and general certified sourcing. Each Standard has its own certification procedure but we will go over how to earn the SFI Chain of Custody Certificate.
What It Certifies: wood, paper and other forestry products, forestry practices, sourcing and selling of forestry products
Certification Procedure: Companies wanting to process or trade FSI certified products are eligible to earn the SFI Chain of Custody (COC) Standard. This certification includes manufacturers of forest products, land brokers, wood yards and dealers, wholesalers, and printers. Companies must review and apply the COC Standard requirements and contact a SFI accredited certifying body (CB) to schedule an on-site audit. Once approved by the CB, companies are issued the SFI Chain of Custody certificate and are eligible to use the SFI chain of custody on-product labels. They must meet the Rules for Use of SFI On-Product Labels and Off-Product Marks and get approval from the SFI Office of Label Use and Licensing. An audit is required every 12 months to maintain the SFI Chain of Custody certification.
Cost: SFI Chain of Custody certification is typically $2,000-$3,000 each year per site but fees can vary depending on the certifying body you work with.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
Background: The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is an international certification system that sets strict standards for production and processing of organic fibers. It has become the most widely accepted standard for organic textiles in the world, with over 4,700 companies in more than 60 countries actively participating in its certification process. GOTS ensures that textiles have been produced from certified organic fibers, including both natural and synthetic ones, and have also been processed according to strict environmental and social criteria.
Organic textiles must meet GOTS criteria throughout the entire chain of production – from harvesting of raw materials to post-consumer waste disposal. This includes a set of requirements on hazardous substances, certain labor rights standards such as minimum wages and no child labor, as well as best practices related to water usage and wastewater treatment during processing.
GOTS has developed two types of certifications:
- Scope Certificates (SCs) which verify that a supplier meets all requirements to be allowed to process GOTS goods (See the criteria for GOTS Scopes 1, 2, 3 and 4)
- Transaction Certificates (TCs) which verify that the goods themselves meet all GOTS product requirements
What It Certifies: home textiles, clothing, fabrics, yarns, fiber products, food-contact textiles, personal care products, all stages of the textile supply chain
Certification Procedure: From initial processing of textile fibers to the making and selling of finished textile products, operators at every stage of the textile supply chain are eligible for Scope Certificates and must undergo an annual on-site inspection by a GOTS accredited certifying body. Documentation around wastage, chemical inputs, risk assessment, social criteria (i.e. working conditions), etc. must be submitted to the CB. A GOTS Consultant is also available to help guide organizations through the certification process.
Cost: Costs vary depending on the number of, location, size and type of textile entity and the range of products issued for certification.
Background: OEKO-TEX certification is an internationally recognized quality assurance system that evaluates and certifies the safety of textiles from harmful substances. It is a multi-step process that assesses the entire textile production chain, from raw material to finished product, with a focus on consumer safety. OEKO-TEX was founded in 1992 by two research institutes in Germany and Switzerland and has since grown to become one of the most widely used standards for ensuring safe, healthy textiles worldwide.
At each stage of production, materials are tested for over 100 known hazardous substances including chemicals like formaldehyde, pesticides, heavy metals, colorants and other toxins. Only when these tests are passed can products be certified as OEKO-TEX compliant. Certified products feature a unique logo indicating they have met all necessary safety requirements set forth by the organization.
There are several different OEKO-TEX certifications for leather and textile products:
- OEKO-TEX Made in Green – For textiles and leather goods tested for harmful substances and that have been produced sustainably and ethically
- OEKO-TEX Standard 100 – All types of textiles tested for harmful substances from yarn to finished garments
- OEKO-TEX Leather Standard – Specifically for leather goods including raw leather fiber, semi-finished and finished products
- OEKO-TEX STeP – Sustainable Textile & Leather Production looks at textile facilities to ensure sustainable production processes and socially responsible working conditions
- OEKO-TEX Eco Passport – Certifies textile chemicals, colorants and auxiliaries
- OEKO-TEX Responsible Business – Ensures responsible supply chain management in the textile and leather industry (We will discuss this certification below)
What It Certifies: textiles and leather goods, textile chemicals, textile supply chain management
Certification Procedure: Distributors, brands, and retailers are eligible to apply for the OEKO-TEX Responsible Business Certification. This certification acts as a management tool for companies to ensure their supply chain operations meet specific environmental and social criteria which are based on 7 defined modules:
- Business policy
- Risk analysis
- Integration of appropriate actions
- Continuous monitoring
- Transparent communication
- Complaint mechanism
Cost: Costs include a basic certification fee plus additional costs related to the auditor’s independent fee structure and the time needed to complete the audit.
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR SELECTING A SUSTAINABILITY CERTIFICATION
Seek Insight from Industry Peers
It’s important to seek insight from other experts in your industry who already have experience in sustainability certification. This allows you to tap into their extensive knowledge and experience, enabling you to make more informed decisions about which path you should take. Further, meaningful dialogue with your industry peers can lead to collaboration around finding solutions to similar challenges and perhaps even partnerships.
Gather Team Input
By allowing all involved stakeholders to voice their opinions and contribute their ideas, businesses can reach better conclusions and gain insight into how possible solutions might affect the larger organization. When teams are given the opportunity to provide input on decisions that impact them, they tend to feel more valued and involved in the process. This helps foster an overall culture of collaboration and encourages employees to take ownership of their role in achieving success for the business as a whole. Additionally, collecting input from various departments allows for collective examination of different perspectives, which leads to more comprehensive decision making.
Review Company Mission
Your company’s mission is an important factor in determining the right sustainability certification for your business. There are many different certifications available, so knowing how your company mission fits into the larger goals of a particular certification can help you choose the most beneficial choice for your business. The first step in making sure that you select the right sustainability certification is to understand what it is that your business stands for and how it relates to environmental and social responsibility. Consider how your mission and values align with a particular certification and if that certification will further support them.
Remember: Sustainability Certifications Are Tools for Growth
It’s important to remember that there’s no one universally accepted sustainability certification for businesses and that the pool of certifications is continually changing. Many companies are actually finding it beneficial to utilize multiple certifications because they each offer different perspectives, resources and guidelines. Sustainability certifications should be used as tools for growth rather than just a stagnant seal of legitimacy.