Care to take a guess about the one common approach that I’ve seen used by the businesses most committed to sustainability?
It’s quite simple really.
They use a sustainability framework, often in the form of a third-party certification.
This isn’t the only approach, of course. There are two other approaches, but the truth is that neither is particularly effective. That’s why the companies that are truly trying to make changes and improvements to be more sustainable don’t follow those approaches – using a framework is simply better.
Avoid the Two Ineffective Approaches to Business Sustainability
A sustainability certification can help a business in many ways, but I would argue that the single best reason for getting certified is to use a framework for sustainability.
In the absence of a framework, most businesses will generally take one of the ineffective approaches:
- The “One and Done” Approach: This is when a business tackles one area of sustainability, often by setting up a recycling program, switching to LED lights, or installing solar panels – and then they consider themselves done. Their approach to sustainability is to do one or two things and then check this item off of their list.
- The Ad Hoc Approach: This is when a business relies only on their own ideas for sustainability projects. The business is eager to be sustainable, but they are often only working on projects in a few areas that they know about while ignoring other areas.
The problem with both of these approaches is that the business lacks a strategic and comprehensive approach. As a result, they can come up with a few initiatives, but they don’t even know what they don’t know.
For example, the company’s business model may be inherently unsustainable, or they may be neglecting to evaluate their social impact on employees, community members, and other stakeholders. However, because they are not taking a comprehensive approach to sustainability, they miss out on these and many more opportunities for improvement.
This can, of course, hurt them in the long run. In every industry, some businesses are moving forward with the times and embracing sustainability – and those are the businesses that will succeed in the future, while the others get left behind.
Experience the Benefits of a Sustainability Framework
Now, using a framework for sustainability sounds good, but how exactly does a certification provide such a framework?
In effect, what happens when you get certified is that you see a list of best practices across a wide range of areas.
To get certified, you need to meet a minimum number of requirements or points. In the course of meeting these minimums, you’ll clearly see the areas where you’re already doing well and identify the areas where you can improve.
As you work through the process, you’ll find that you have to make changes, whether it’s upgrading your lighting, switching cleaning products, considering your supply chain, engaging employees, examining your compensation and benefits structure, or providing more transparency in how your company operates.
Basically, you will have to evaluate your business holistically in several keys areas and put practices in place to meet the minimum certification requirements.
What I’ve found is that, no matter how much a company is already doing with sustainability, there is always something that they learn and can improve upon by going through one of the certification processes mentioned above.
By using a sustainability framework, you’ll:
- Save time – your most valuable resource – by not reinventing the wheel. You don’t have to figure out on your own what sustainability initiatives you should consider; you can look at the certifications and see what the best companies are already doing.
- Tap into the minds of experts in everything from energy efficiency and waste reduction to workers and community. The standards for the certifications I recommend below are not created in a vacuum; they are developed with input from a variety of professionals to identify best practices.
- Establish a solid foundation for sustainability in your company by ensuring that you haven’t overlooked any key areas. You avoid both the “One and Done” Approach (doing one thing, then crossing sustainability off the list) and the Ad Hoc Approach (working on projects in some areas while overlooking them in other areas) in favor of a holistic, comprehensive approach.
In addition, getting certified will also yield additional benefits such as:
- Getting access to technical assistance, sometimes at no cost.
- Learning a lot – I hear this from almost every business that I’ve worked with.
- Reducing costs by saving money on water, energy, or other resources.
- Reducing your environmental impact by conserving resources.
- Leveraging the marketing benefits associated with a sustainability certification.
- Having a reputable, third-party certification that vets your company’s sustainability efforts.
- Joining a broader community of like-minded businesses.
However, just as with the “One and Done” Approach mentioned above, you’ll want to avoid the trap of getting certified and then considering yourself done! A sustainability certification will help you to establish a solid foundation of best practices, which is a good place to start. As you proceed with your sustainability work, though, you’ll be able to uncover additional ideas and opportunities that extend beyond the requirements of the certifications.
In summary, getting certified will provide numerous benefits for you and your business. Yet not everyone will do it. Some will say they don’t have the time or the money, or it’s just not a priority for them. However, if your business is serious about sustainability, getting certified will provide you with a critical framework for sustainability. What will you choose?
Which Certifications Should You Use?
Once you’re ready to use a framework, you’ll need to decide which certification to pursue. Personally, I recommend the Green Business Certification and B Corp Certification. They’re both comprehensive, look at a wide range of areas where a business has an impact, and provide clear, consistent standards.
In addition, they also provide on-site inspections and audits (the Green Business Program) and are transparent about the results (B Corps; plus 20% of B Corps can be randomly audited each year as well).
Individually, each of these two certifications provides an excellent sustainability framework. However, taken together, they become even more robust, since they look at complementary areas and have different requirements – this explains why many companies, especially those that are most committed to sustainability in my experience, go for dual certification.
The next steps will depend upon whether your company is already certified. If you’re not yet certified, get started using either the Green Business Program or B Corp Certification as your sustainability framework. If you’re already certified with one, consider getting certified with the other. And, if you’re already certified in both, review your checklist or assessment and identify the practices that you have not yet implemented.
Does your business have a sustainability certification? What benefits did you find by getting certified?
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