Scott Boylston explains the difference between first-party, second-party, and third-party sustainability certifications. He uses Cradle to Cradle certificates as an example of how such certifications can inform consumers and generate trust in the marketplace.
- As we saw in the earlier video about stages of learning, the steadily increasing quantity and quality of base level tools, frameworks, and methods for sustainability is making it easier and easier for companies to improve their triple bottom line performance, or TBL. Remember that the TBL addresses social and environmental factors as well as economic ones. And along with a growing number of consulting organizations that provide guidance for companies interested in sustainability, there's an increasing number of certificates that confirm a company's TBL performance.
These certificate programs not only guide companies in achieving sustainability goals, they build consumer trust in the claims that companies make about that performance in the first place. The first thing to say about certifications is that they are not all cut from the same cloth. First-party certificates, for instance, are nothing more than a company 's way of certifying a level of quality that is internally regulated. Even second-party certificates need to be scrutinized closely, because they're claims provided by industry lobbying groups that are mostly focused on increasing the sales of that particular industry.
This isn't to say that there's anything inherently dishonest about first and second-party claims, only that their standards are defined by a company or an industry on their own terms, and they are primarily focused on marketing. Third-party certificates, on the other hand, are awarded by outside organizations whose primary interest is in the area of sustainability they certify rather than the success of any one industry. The Forest Stewardship Council, for example, is a forest stewardship organization, not a paper or wood products organization.
Likewise, the Marine Stewardship Council is a fisheries protection organization, not a fishing industry spokesgroup. Both of these organizations bestow their stamp of approval on products or companies only if they meet preset standards of performance. From fair trade to Nordic swan, from organic to Bluesign, third-party sustainability certificates are helping consumers make more educated decisions even as they applaud sustainability innovators, helping them stand out against their competitors.
Certification organizations can be focused on a narrow range of products, like the Forest Stewardship Council. Or they can encompass a much broader range of performance. For instance, the Green Restaurant Association helps restaurants improve everything from the efficiency of their ovens to the compostability of their takeout containers. Restaurants that perform well across these diverse areas are awarded with Green Restaurant certifications. Cradle to Cradle certification is offered by the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute and is a stellar example of a third-party certificate program for sustainability.
As mentioned in the last video on the circular economy, Cradle to Cradle is a phrase that denotes a closed loop material flow, so that materials at the end of one product life continuously cycle back into new products. For brevity's sake, we'll use the acronym C2C. The C2C certification process has broken down all of the complexities of sustainability into five easily understood sets of criteria. Material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
Each cateogory has clear, objective, and rigorous standards that must be met. C2C performance can be certified at one of five different levels. Basic, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. So how does this process work? First, independent C2C auditors assign a level of performance to each of the five categories, and this is based on rigorous empirical data.
Then they award a final C2C label based on the lowest score of those five categories In other words, a product or service can be assessed at a gold level for four of the five cateogies, but if only one category attains a bronze level, the final score is a bronze C2C certificate. This only as strong as the weakest link approach encourages companies to up their entire game. The C2C Product Innovation Institute features all of their certified products and services in a visually engaging online registry and includes commercial and consumer goods.
And as a way to encourage ongoing quality, companies must exhibit good faith efforts to improve the sustainability performance of the certified products over time in order to be eligible for an updated certificate after two years from the initial award. As you might imagine, there's a significant cost associated with allowing independent assessors to measure the performance of goods or services in material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
But once again, we're seeing more and more companies willing to make the effort to build trust with an increasingly demanding consumer market. The C2C certificate not only conveys a high level of performance, it conveys the commitment of the company to become more sustainable. To drive sustainable change in a holistic fashion, the C2C Product Innovation Institute also offers free online courses for anyone interested and holds an exciting annual competition.
- What is sustainability?
- Sustainable development goals
- Nature as a mentor
- Changing behavior through design
- Innovating technically
- Earning sustainability certifications
- Social innovation and change