chapter 1 measure: Carbon FootprintS

White PaPer

The Green Certification Process: Eliminating Greenwashing and Ensuring Credibility
Businesses should be awarded green certification based on verifiable performance against established standards, rather than entry fees and membership requirements
By R. Michael Richmond, Green Business League Inc.

products” were greenwashed in some manner. The lack of standards and controls had opened the door for rampant greenwashing. While no one approves of this practice, those involved in the deception strongly argue that they are noble in their efforts to control the environmental impact of their practices and products. Going green has a marketable value, and there is now sufficient evidence of a growing market for environmentally friendly and socially responsible products and services. This is actually more than a trend, because it shows no sign of decline and has good reasons for becoming a way of life for every person, family and business. Therefore, businesses will respond to this perceived trend with various forms of reluctant or enthusiastic compliance. The FTC began an investigation into greenwashing in 2008 and found ample evidence that the practice was rampant, purposeful and generally employed to deceive the buying public. The resulting green guidelines were not meant for enforcement, but rather for voluntary compliance. Therefore, the floodgates remain open except for advertisement that crosses over into other enforceable violations.

“ eeventualemergenceof Th independentauditsmeantthatthe movementwasfinallyreadytobe accountableforparticipationin meaningfulchange.”
to take this easy path, because the elite programs are unattainable for the majority of businesses not in the Fortune 500 category. It has been said that we cannot prove what we did not measure. Measurement is the common method of proving any fact. What is not measured can only be called speculation at best, and spurious at worst. In the case of an issue that is non-controversial, such as the choice of which gas station to frequent, measurement may seem superfluous. The environmental issues are extremely controversial, meaning that compliance cannot default to merely making an effort. While everyone looks upon greenwashing with disdain, there has been a lack of willpower to adopt the one unquestioned solution to this growing green hoax. An independent audit is the obvious process to keep any program honest. The oxymoronic concept of voluntary compliance or self-auditing only demonstrates a stubborn desire to avoid scrutiny, as well as a penchant toward corner-cutting.

The dilution of certification requirements

While the leading edge of the business community is ready to comply with LEED or ISO requirements, the rest of the business world is languishing behind, still mired in various levels of “greenwashing.” This statement is sure to raise eyebrows, because some businesses have found semi-respectable forms of greenwashing to be a source of pride and would not appreciate the questioning of their integrity. In the desire to press forward an environmental agenda, integrity and quality have been quietly set aside; and none dare point this fact out to the public. Questions of assessment, verification and certification are all too often compromised in order to gain greater participation. There is no question that low standards will increase participation, but this may not bring the solutions required to address the credibility of environmental improvements within the company. “Token green” is just what the name implies. It allows businesses to feign compliance without a serious commitment to needful changes. Instead of stepping up their efforts to operate as a truly sustainable company, there is a subtle invitation to pretend that minimal efforts are as meritorious as full compliance. Oddly enough, there is little objection to this form of greenwashing because it is widespread and provides excellent coverage for companies looking for a more cost-effective solution.

But diluting the requirements for green certification threatens the integrity of the whole environmental movement. While hearing clarion calls for companies to adopt new and necessary business practices, many programs offer only shallow qualifiers that do little more than require the completion of online questionnaires. The ability to quickly discern the difference between the fake and the genuine programs isn’t that difficult. Aside from the glowing rhetoric of environmental intent, the method of certification is a sure sign of whether the program is worthless or worthwhile. Low-level qualification is the giveaway for any of the various forms of greenwashing.

Verification competency

The compliance issue has been compounded by the fact that there has also been a veritable explosion of green certification programs. These offerings range from cities and communities promoting voluntary compliance to online services selling logos with no requirement other than completion of an unaudited form. Greenwashing has graduated from embellished self-promotion to flimsy certification programs that offer an official green status for companies that have never been audited or reviewed for accuracy of compliance. Expedience does rule when there is no standard and mixed value in the “greening process.” Perhaps the lowest common denominator for “Easy Green” programs is merely the display of interest rather than implementation of a serious green business program. The perception of green certification is often more important than the policies of the company being considered for certification. Expedience, therefore, is the default process of overstressed businesses that cannot endure the full-blown CSR remake of the corporate mission. There is an obvious gap of compliance between the audited and un-audited certification programs. The “Easy Green” programs have seen an opening to exploit; for their part, expedience-driven businesses have been all too willing

Certification standards

A short history of greenwashing

The history of greenwashing is relatively short. When the green trend was in its earliest stage, businesses turned to their marketing departments and developed a promotion that might have included an official-looking logo. This still happens, but there came a desire to have greater authority behind the certification. Self-promotion was followed by third-party certifications that ranged from totally worthless to mildly appreciable. The eventual emergence of independent audits meant that the movement was finally ready to be accountable for participation in meaningful change. Various investigative projects demonstrate that expedience has become far more popular than compliance. The TerraChoice project reported that 98 percent of self-proclaimed “green

Respected compliance and certification programs provide a clear path for green certifications to follow. We know there must be a standard of compliance and an independent review of compliance before a certification can be awarded. Anything less begs for the expedient-minded firm to cut corners, bypass systems and ultimately ignore all but mandatory requirements. Certification must include an established standard of performance rather than the transitional and disjointed programs that have filled the void until now. A nationally recognized standard that includes audit compliance is the sure solution to the “Easy Green” conundrum. As seen in the LEED and ISO programs, assessment and verification must precede a genuine certification. This is the logical and necessary progression that other programs endeavor to skirt in artful ways.

24

www.governmentbyexample.com

www.governmentbyexample.com

25

chapter 1 measure: Carbon FootprintS

White PaPer

chapter 1 measure: Carbon FootprintS

case study

The rise of a new green kind of professional service provides part of the solution. A Certified Green Consultant is a trained professional without a veiled product to sell. As a truly independent verifier, a Certified Green Consultant can accomplish several objectives: 1. Establish a baseline of present performance (assessment); 2. Verify compliance though a live audit; and 3. Certify the achievement of existing standards. These three elements are the key ingredients for certification of any type. Short of these critical pieces, any certification is essentially unproven and not credible. The sheer presence of a certification infers that a standard exists and that the company holding this certification has honestly earned the right to display the certification. The public trust is engendered because the overt implication is that a review has been done as part of the process. Without a baseline assessment and audited performance, any certification resembles more of a membership program. Turning a membership program into a certification, however, will not work because the criteria should not be about the entry fee or membership requirements. Certification is not merely an association, but an award based on verified performance against an industry standard. As we emerge from the infancy of corporate environmental standards, the next critical step is credibility at the public level. Years of ignorance, carelessness and pretense must be overcome by something more than just token efforts. The problems are pervasive

and immense, and require commitments that transcend what has previously passed as compliance. Programs offering seals and certifications must now require serious due diligence on the part of the certification provider. If the certification is functionally a membership program requiring a buy-in and sign-up process, it cannot be accepted as an endorsement of environmental assurance. A few years from now, many of these certifications will cease to exist because they cannot be accepted as a business standard. Therefore, any credible program must demonstrate the elements that are seen in other certifications, such as ISO, LEED or even HERS. This review serves as a warning to all regarding the merits of certification. Most green certifications cannot be accepted at face value. Neither should the presence of a slick website suffice as proof of value. Knowing that assessment, verification and certification are the mandatory elements of a green business certification means that nothing less should be accepted in the marketplace. Environmental degradation is a universal problem that requires universal participation to solve. That participation cannot be relegated to voluntary compliance, website shams or self-assessed reviews stemming from varying regional standards. There should not be a desire to remain in the infancy stages of compliance. It is time for maturity and responsibility on the part of those claiming to be participants in the creation of reputable environmental and sustainability solutions.
To view references and sources please visit www.governmentbyexample.com

ConEdison Case Study to come...
Through strategic alignment and employee engagement, the U.S. Postal Service has aligned its sustainability efforts with its strategic and operational priorities
Case Study presented by David Linich, Deloitte Consulting

About the Author
R. Michael Richmond is the Director of Development for the Green Business League and primary trainer for the Certified Sustainability Officer program that trains in-house Green or Sustainability officers. The Green Business League offers a national certification for green business that has been broadly received as a leading standard for environmental compliance. As an avid proponent of green and sustainable business programs, Mr. Richmond is also the co-founder of the Green Clean Institute, a training and certification organization that specializes in janitorial and cleaning professional certification.

26

www.governmentbyexample.com

www.governmentbyexample.com

27

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.