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Circular Economy

All for show? Here’s why sustainability awards and certifications matter.

Global Initiatives | Jun 30, 2020

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Image by Giorgio Trovato from Unsplash

This is an original article by Dora Hoong from Global Initiatives. 

By now, it’s been widely accepted that sustainability is good for business, as mentioned in our previous article. Evidently, there’s a need for companies to market their sustainability efforts to make their commitments apparent. This is also a form of transparency that’s important in allowing consumers to make informed choices about the products or brands they choose to support.

However, treading the line between greenwashing and marketing sustainability efforts is a tough task to accomplish, so how should companies go about this?

With more and more consumers becoming aware of greenwashing, it’s crucial that corporations find a way to present their sustainability efforts without the guilt of greenwashing.

One of the key ways to go about this is to have evidence to back up your claims. It’s easy for companies to talk about how sustainable they are, but without proof, people are bound to have doubts about the company’s commitment to sustainability.

This is where certifications and awards come in. Credible awards and certifications can help to boost the credibility of a company’s claims regarding sustainability, warding off skeptics. Here’s how they do that.

External validation

Having no proof to back up claims is one of the main causes of greenwashing claims – which makes perfect sense. Making claims regarding the sustainability of your business is one thing, but having something to prove it is a whole other feat.  

Awards and certifications serve as forms of external endorsements of a company’s sustainability efforts and having these forms of “proof” can help to substantiate claims, helping to circumvent this issue. 

Awards and certifications that actually assess the implementation of a company’s sustainability efforts act as credible third-party assessors that ensure that a company’s actions actually align with their claims. 

Furthermore, the assessors of these awards and certifications are often experts in the field of sustainability, and having experts that can attest to the effectiveness or credibility of a company’s sustainability efforts can definitely help to quell greenwashing claims.

A learning opportunity

Participating in internationally recognized awards and certifications allows companies to assess the adequacy of their own sustainability efforts as well. Such awards put companies up against other corporations that have efforts rooted in sustainability, allowing companies to get a sensing of where they stand in terms of sustainability. 

These awards present business leaders with networking opportunities as well, letting them learn from companies at the top of the game when it comes to sustainability. For companies that truly value and wish to improve on their sustainability, these award ceremonies are sure to offer them valuable insights from industry leaders.

All in all, awards and certifications are a great way of making sure that companies are on the right path towards sustainability and to learn from peers.

Choosing which awards to participate in

All this being said, it’s important to find the right awards and certifications to partake in. Sustainability is multi-dimensional and given how complex it is, it’s difficult for a single award or certification to cover every single aspect of sustainability. 

Very often, there are hidden trade-offs that come with claims of sustainability and this is one of the greatest traps of greenwashing that companies fall into. 

Awards and certifications that recognize the complexity of sustainability and reflect this in their assessments can, therefore, prove that a company’s sustainability efforts go beyond a superficial level, tackling the various dimensions of sustainability.

It’s easy to dismiss these schemes as greenwashing stunts, but at the core of it, credible awards and certifications are an indication of a company that is putting concrete efforts into sustainability, as opposed to one that bases its efforts off claims alone. 

There is a need to recognize the validity of awards and certifications that truly try to do good by being as comprehensive or transparent as possible. Given the complexities of sustainability, it’s difficult for one single award to cover every dimension of it. 

This is where the responsibility of the company comes into play. Portraying awards and certifications accurately is crucial. This means that companies have to be specific about the awards or certifications that they’ve obtained, such as making it clear that the award or certification applies to a particular category instead of claiming to be entirely sustainable based on a single award or certificate.

Ultimately, it is up to companies to display these awards and certifications in the most accurate and transparent manner possible to avoid misleading consumers.

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