Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How to Avoid Green Schemes When Getting Green Certified

by Thomas Hinton

Last week, during a speech to business executives, I was asked about the proliferation of Green schemes and how a company could evaluate the credibility of a Green Certification Program. Given the number of misleading web sites and schemers who are trying to make a fast buck from the Green Movement, here are five questions your company should ask before applying for a Green Certification program.

1. Is the Green certification program sponsored by a credible non-profit organization?

I strongly encourage companies to avoid for-profit ventures that claim to offer certification programs but, in fact, are fronts for some money-making scheme. The leading Green Certification programs are administered by viable non-profit organizations or associations that are legal entities and led by volunteers and a professional staff. Most non-profit organizations have been established for the public good and have bylaws and members. While non-profit organizations will charge a fee for their certification program, they do so to sustain their programs and pay their professional staff. Among the leading non-profit organizations that offer outstanding Green certification programs are the U.S. Green Building Industry Council, the American Consumer Council, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Green Steam, and Green-e, which is operated by the Center for Resource Solutions. They are many more credible non-profit organizations, but these non-profit organizations are leading the way in the area of Green Certification.

2. Does the Green Certification program have written criteria and standards that govern the application and certification process?

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to an online green certification program managed by a mom-and-pop website. The alleged certification consisted of 32 yes/no questions. If the applicant answered a majority of the questions correctly, they earned the right to affix the website’s green-certified logo on their company materials. This type of green certification is bogus and does a disservice to the many valid green certification programs that have formal criteria and rigorous standards. Any Green Certification program that does not require your company to complete a detailed application and respond in-depth to serious questions regarding environmental compliance and sustainability is suspect. I should note that Green Certification for a specific product is even more rigorous and often requires some type of ISO-related certification compliance.

3. Does the Green Certification Program have a verification and validation process as part of its certification?

Two common elements among all credible sponsors of a Green Certification program are the verification and validation of the information contained in a company’s application for certification. In order to verify and validate the contents of a company’s application, an independent team of assessors or auditors is trained and certified to review the contents of the application against the criteria and, in some cases, conduct a site visit to verify that certain claims by the applicant are, in fact, being performed.

The certification of assessors or auditors should be done by the sponsoring organization or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In the case of the American Consumer Council, our Consumer Green Council is responsible for recruiting, training, and certifying its Assessors. Only then are certified Assessors assigned to review an application. Also, an independent Board of Judges reviews all recommendations for certification prior to any certification being awarded. In this way, there can be no collusion or conflicts-of-interest. This process ensures that only qualified applicants receive ACC’s Green C Certification designation. Other non-profit organizations have a similar process in place to ensure the integrity of their certification program.

4. Once your company is Green Certified is there an accountability step and a process for continuous improvement?

The most progressive Green Certification programs not only have contemporary standards and a strong verification process, but they also have a way to hold certified companies accountable to those standards after certification has been earned. In other words, a company cannot earn its Green certification and then engage in practices that violate the spirit of the certification program. Organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the American Consumer Council have high standards in this regard and frequently review the practices of certified companies to ensure they are in compliance and striving to reach higher levels of certification.

5. Does the Green Certification Program have credibility in the marketplace?

Let’s face it, most companies are not altruistic. Very few businesses decide to go Green because they want to save the rain forests. Instead, their motives range from increasing their profits to boosting market share. Frankly, that’s fine. As long as there is integrity in the certification process, it doesn’t matter what motivates a company to get certified.

Based on my observations over the past few years, I can say that consumer acceptance of a brand or product that bears the Green C certification (or some other Green designation) is a strong reason for any company to go Green and get certified.

I’ve also witnessed an interesting transformation among executives as their companies go through a Green certification program. Typically, three things happen to executives. First, they begin to truly appreciate the growing number of Green Consumers and their purchasing power. Secondly, they begin to understand that their company is capable of doing many small, but significant things, to sustain our natural environment and planet. Thirdly, executives realize that their employees genuinely care about our planet and going Green is a smart way to engage employees in the workplace and stimulate innovative solutions to reducing costs and making their company more efficient.

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council and serves as the executive director of the Consumer Green Council, which administers ACC’s Green C Certification Program. He can be reached in San Diego, California at

No comments: