Online tools are a good starting point to sustainable business practise. They include information resources, networks, registration schemes and self-assessment tools such as calculators for energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions. They are usually generic and so may not recognise your specific circumstances, so progress beyond the ‘easy wins’ usually requires a scheme that is more specific to your needs.
When choosing a scheme, it is important to appreciate the trade-off between cost and the level of support and assurance provided. Free and low-cost schemes may help you make some genuine improvements, but a self-assessment is not sufficient to make performance claims in promotional material or a tender. Schemes that involve professionals visiting your site (to check conditions, audit performance, give advice or deliver training) will provide much better guidance and may offer a formal credential (a certificate or eco-label) which can be used for promotional purposes.
THE CHOICE OF SCHEME IS LARGELY DEFINED BY YOUR NEEDS. If you want to improve performance or reduce risk but are not interested in making performance claims, then you are more likely to need expert input rather than a formal credential. Common options include staff training, site audit, risk assessment, process review and life cycle analysis. Few service providers are required to be registered professionals, so it is important to look into their experience and familiarity with your industry when choosing a provider.
IF YOU WANT TO TRADE ON YOUR SUSTAINABILTY CLAIMS, then you need a scheme that offers a robust credential. This means that it should be based on a recognised standard and that your performance is routinely checked by an independent auditor (and you will receive a certificate of conformance if you satisfy the scheme requirements).
THE MOST ROBUST AND WIDELY RECOGNISED SUSTAINABILTY CREDENTIALS are based upon national or international management system standards such as ISO 14001, with conformance audited by an independent accredited certification body such as Telarc. The Enviro-Mark® programme certifies each step with an independent audit against Enviro-Mark® audit criteria and once Diamond level certification is achieved, organisations find they can more easily meet the challenge of certification to the international ISO14001 standard. Some sectors and supply chains also have their own schemes based on more specific performance requirements, but the credential they offer (typically an ecolabel) typically has limited recognition outside the sector or supply chain.
As a rule of thumb, the harder it is to get and maintain a credential, the more robust it is likely to be. Conversely, you should be wary of scheme that provides a credential without verifying your claims.
Follow the links below to find out more about certification and sustainable business practices:
Telarc is New Zealand's largest certifier of quality, environmental, and OHS management systems. We provide businesses with assessment tools and certification schemes for performance improvement and market differentiation.