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Green Business Certifications: How to Choose the Best for Your Brand

green business certification

So, you’ve got some green business ideas and are interested in green certifications for business. Or, you’re looking to implement green practices within your business. Either way, you’ll need to make sure that you seek out green certifications.

Green business certification programs allow you and your customers to feel secure in your sustainable business strategies by bringing in a third party to approve your approaches. In a world where greenwashing accusations can be catastrophic, you need to make sure that your company’s policies are truly impactful for both the planet and your reputation. 

These types of certifications provide a way to confirm that your strategies follow current best practices while highlighting areas where you might improve. It offers an accredited third-party assurance to you and your customers that you care about your own environmental impact and footprint and are genuinely doing what you can. Let’s take a closer look at green certifications for businesses, how to procure one, and why they’re important.

(Speaking of environmental footprints, you can calculate your carbon footprint here.)

Understanding green business

First, we must clarify what it means to be a green business. The Library of Congress defines “green business” as businesses that “seek to balance profit with the health of the planet and its various populations.” While this does capture the spirit of green business, it allows a little too much room for interpretation.

Most people already understand the environmental benefits and imperativeness of green business. Globally, we emit 41 billion tons of CO2 per year, and in order to slow the warming of our planet, at least 17 billion tons of CO2 must be removed annually. The bulk of this responsibility lies on businesses, as they are the largest producers of carbon emissions. Green business practices will, quite literally, save the planet.

Unfortunately, many businesses have capitalized on consumers’ desire for eco-friendly products and practices, and they claim to be green without pursuing genuine sustainability efforts. Without global sustainability standards, it’s easy to mislead customers into believing that a company is more eco-friendly than it actually is. These unethical practices necessitate green certifications for businesses that sincerely want to make a difference.

The role of green business certification

Green business certifications are beneficial to businesses of all sizes. They not only help to alleviate skepticism from critical consumers, but they also ensure that your strategies are truly valuable. Some of the biggest benefits include:

  • Freedom from greenwashing accusations.
  • Clear paths for improvement.
  • Assurance that your approaches are valuable.
  • Building trust with your customers. 
  • Standing out from the competition.
  • Becoming a leader in your industry by setting the standard. 
  • Saving money through efficiency.
  • Reducing your carbon footprint through verified carbon offsetting and other similar programs

When a majority of consumers want to support sustainable businesses, green certifications are more than worth it. They establish your credibility and show consumers that you are serious about your sustainability claims.

green business certification

Green business certification process

To obtain a green business certification, a third party will ensure that your operations and products are environmentally friendly. The process will depend upon the certification that you choose, but it will typically entail a program that provides a list of green initiatives that must be achieved followed by an audit to verify that they have been accomplished.

How long it takes to get certified will depend upon how much your company is already compliant and whether things need to be changed to achieve compliance. You can expect a minimum of 2 – 3 months for certification review, but it can take longer. If think about it, this is a good thing. Green certifications for businesses exist in order to make sure that a business is truly environmentally friendly. If a certification program is easy and instantaneous, then it’s probably not comprehensive. 

Green business certifications aren’t cheap; costs will depend upon the certification that you choose, but they will likely require at least a few thousand dollars, including the costs to become compliant. In many cases, pricing is based on the size of the company seeking certification. It’s important to keep in mind that these costs only cover the certifications themselves. It’s wise to set aside funds to achieve compliance as well.

While small or mid-size businesses might waver at this budget, remember that gaining certification as a green business can improve your sales by building trust with your target customers. Furthermore, there are a number of tax breaks and credits available to green businesses, which can help offset the cost. 

In most cases, businesses find that the benefits of obtaining a green business certification far outweigh the costs.

Step-by-step guide to choosing a green business certification

Earning a green business certification depends upon the certification that you choose. However, there are some steps that are almost guaranteed, and no matter which certification you get, you will need to make sure that you maintain compliance in order to keep it.

  1. Research the certifications that you might benefit from. There are quite a few certifications out there, and you need to ensure that the certification you pursue is suited to your industry and accepted as a reliable choice. Their guidelines should be science-based and must include a comprehensive audit.
  2. Learn the rules for compliance, and work toward them. Each certification is unique and will have its own rules for compliance. Make sure that you understand them thoroughly, and design a strategy to reach compliance if you are not there already. In this step, it might be beneficial to hire a consultant to help you reach your goals and understand the process.
  3. Apply for certification. Once you’ve ensured that you’re compliant, you can apply for the green business sustainable certificate online and prepare for an audit. Typically, you will need to submit proof, and then an auditor will be sent to verify.
  4. Maintain compliance, and remember to renew. Green certifications for businesses are not eternal, and you will need to renew. The timeline depends on your certification. Therefore, it’s important that you maintain compliance so that the renewal process is smooth. 
  5. Track your progress, and work toward new levels of certification. Many green certification programs offer different levels. Don’t settle for the one you can manage. Consistently work toward higher levels of certification so that your company can attain top-tier sustainability. This will be impressive to your customers, and it will help you achieve lofty goals, such as net zero carbon emissions.

Want to know where your business stands? Get your sustainability scorecard with our quiz:

Best sustainability certifications

Businesses that are serious about their green certifications and environmental performance must choose programs that are reliable, trustworthy, and backed by science. The following certification programs are some of the most trusted and, therefore, most valued.

LEED Certification: Building sustainability

The green business certification, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), is for buildings that feature sustainable designs and/or features. It carries point-based levels, which provide opportunities for improvement. 

Green Seal: The mark of environmental responsibility

The Green Seal certifies eco-friendly products and services. Its certifications are industry-specific with unique considerations for each. When your products carry the Green Seal, it allows your customers to feel good about their purchasing decision.

ENERGY STAR: Promoting energy efficiency

Another certification for commercial buildings, ENERGY STAR, certifies buildings that are energy efficient and result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Not only will achieving this certification showcase your commitment to energy efficiency, but you’ll also save money with lower energy bills.

B Corporation Certification: Redefining success in business

A B-Corp Certification ensures that the entire company boasts sustainability as well as social responsibility. Achieving a certification like this is a big commitment but reaps great rewards.

ISO 14001: International standards for environmental management

In a world without sustainability standards, ISO 14001 sets an international framework for environmental management within any company. They offer more than 300,000 certifications and are world-renowned. 

Niche certifications

It may behoove certain industries to seek out industry-specific sustainability certifications, to prove adherence to sustainability within a particular field.

  • The Green Restaurant Certification offers various certification levels within multiple categories including energy, water, waste, disposables, and more. It also offers badges for net-zero waste, vegan food, sustainable seafood, and more.
  • A Fair Trade Certification ensures responsible sourcing and transparent supply chains. This guarantees that your products were sourced in both an environmental and ethical way as it includes fair labor in its considerations.
  • Cradle to Cradle Certified™ verifies that your products are safe for humans, ensures a circular economy approach, clean air and climate protection, water and soil stewardship, and equity. Its comprehensive checklist certifies that your products boast the highest levels of responsibility.

Keeping up with changes and renewals

Although renewal timelines and guidelines will depend upon the green certifications that you have, in most cases, failure to renew your certification will lead to your certification expiring. In order to obtain a new one, you will need to reapply as a new candidate.

Most of the time, renewing your certification is far less expensive than reapplying as a new candidate, so you should not let your certification expire. Some certifications need to be renewed annually while others last for two or three years, so keep a close eye on expiration dates, especially if you hold multiple certifications. Often, you will need to start the renewal process months before your certification expires, so it’s highly important that you note key dates.

Your sustainability certification or program should keep you apprised of changes and updates to the program. However, it’s always a good idea to measure and track your sustainability and set targets for improvement. Many certifications have tiered systems, and you should always strive to reach the highest certifications, whether this means becoming carbon neutral, achieving net zero waste, or other lofty aspirations.

Embrace a sustainable future

If you have eco-friendly business ideas or grand plans for your company to become more sustainable, then achieving a reputable and trusted green business certification is a must. But, it’s not easy, nor should it be. True, comprehensive sustainability approaches require a deep dive into internal structures, supply chain, waste management, and more. It’s a long process, but once achieved, it’s greatly beneficial to both your business and the environment.

Besides carbon offset services, we also help companies to become more sustainable in other ways. Our team has worked with thousands of businesses to help them painlessly build sustainability and green initiatives into their business. Download the eBook to learn more about getting started.

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