The Certification Conundrum
Certifications are a great way to ensure a company is taking best-in-class action, but it is essential that you know what you are buying and investing in. To help navigate this tricky path, we have put together some fast facts about the certifications and initiatives that we see coming up again and again in tenders to help you make an informed decision, whether you are seeking these as a Company or just want to be able to ask the right questions and confidently evaluate the performance of your key suppliers.
International Standards (ISO’s)
ISOs are internationally recognised management systems that can be certified against by a Certification Body. They provide a robust framework that can be adapted to work for any organisation and ensure that best practice is embedded in all areas of the business, from purpose to strategy and objectives, operational controls and data evaluation. There are ISOs for different management areas including environment (ISO 14001), quality (ISO 9001), occupational health and safety (ISO 45001), information security (ISO 27001) and specific sector ISO’s such as event sustainability (ISO 20121). They are designed to fit together into an Integrated Management System and involve an onsite certification audit every year.
- What do I have to do? Meet the requirements of the standard, which include leadership commitment, stakeholder engagement, materiality assessment, assignment of specific roles and responsibilities, the setting of meaningful objectives, training, the establishment of user-friendly practices and internal and external audits
- Who can get it? Any type of company/ organisation can use and certify to these management systems
- Why should I be certified? Certification offers independent and impartial verification of your continual performance improvement. Certification is recognised around the world as the benchmark of verifiable best practice and in our experience is the most frequently asked for certification at tender. As ISOs are management systems they also work well as a vehicle to achieve other certifications, such as the one’s below
- Watch outs – look for a Certification Body that is accredited. There are non-accredited certifications that may not be accepted by your clients. Ensure the standard is implemented in a way that is fully baked-into your business (you may need help here) and if you are seeking multiple certifications, it is worth talking to a consultant to develop an effective strategy. Many will offer a free chat.
B Corp spans across five pillars: governance, workers, community, environment and customers and therefore encompasses a fully comprehensive analysis of people, planet and profit. Certified B Corporations must legally commit to considering stakeholder as well as shareholder needs during every decision-making process. The certification ensures businesses meet a high standard for social and environmental performance and also requires a high level of transparency. There are currently over 460 certified B Corps in the UK alone.
- What do I have to do? In order to attain B Corp certification, the company must achieve a verified score of 80+ on the B Impact Assessment, amend their articles of association and sign the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence
- Who can get it? B Corp is intended for for-profit businesses of all sizes. The cost varies by organisation based on turnover and is therefore accessible for small companies as well as large corporations. It may be more suitable than ISOs for smaller companies as a stand-alone certification that covers all areas of sustainability and works well for larger companies particularly if they have an Integrated Management System already in place
- Why should I be certified? Being B Corp certified will help you stand out, attract new talent and help foster relationships with other businesses in the B Corp community. B Corp is seen as a brand value certification, is popular with staff and leadership, and is currently gaining huge traction in the creative industry
- Watch outs – B Corp can be expensive for larger companies with a higher turnover so check this via their website and ensure you harness leadership commitment over the longer term. You may also require external support (e.g. from a B Leader). B Corp also requires businesses to produce, and make public, an annual report so you must ensure you can commit to doing this before undertaking the certification
UN Global Compact
The UN Global compact is an initiative supporting businesses to align strategies and operations with ten universal principles pertaining to human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. The compact aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and which are also globally recognised and can be used in conjunction with other certifications. There are two engagement levels available: signatory and participant. There are currently over 12,000 signatories globally.
- What do I have to do? Provide a letter of commitment and annual progress report to provide evidence of your commitment to the principles
- Who can get it? Any company can sign up to the UN Global compact. The cost is tiered based on annual gross sales or revenue and there is a different cost dependent on which engagement level is chosen
- Why should I join? It has greater meaning for staff (e.g. as compared to an ISO), is broad in scope and you will be a part of a global movement alongside other leaders in sustainability. You will also have access to extensive materials to help meet sustainability goals and gain trust from investors, consumers, etc.
- Watch outs – Initially this can seem relatively easy quick-win. However, you must be able to ensure you can provide a robust annual progress report each year as those that can’t are publicly de-listed!
Supplier assurance initiatives e.g. EcoVadis/ Sedex
These are not certifications but supplier assurance initiatives that help to ensure high performance in the value chain. For example, EcoVadis offers a business sustainability rating (bronze, silver, gold or platinum) that enables a company to be more transparent with stakeholders and set improvement targets. Sedex is a global membership organisation, leading in responsible sourcing practices. They empower companies with technology and insights to implement practices and policies to build a responsible business and supply chain.
- What do I have to do? It is different for each initiative but tends to include answering a set of questions designed to be able to evaluate your performance. There is usually a requirement to provide evidence to ensure validity, transparency and promote continual improvement in responsible business practices. In our experience, audits are often undertaken remotely however some initiatives require an in-person assessment
- Who can get it? Any company can apply, but please check with the specific initiative for any instructions that may pertain to your Company
- Why should I join? Supplier assurances are a must-have for some clients and are often required as part of tenders and RFI’s. They offer assurances that suppliers meet certain standards as part of the procurement process. They are a cost-effective route to demonstrating performance to stakeholders
- Watch outs – different clients can ask for different supplier assurance initiatives so make sure you have undertaken a review of what your clients are asking for before you commit to one. You must also be able to ensure you can provide evidence for all of the answers given as you will need to upload this in most cases. You are likely to score higher if you already have a certified management system in place
We have focused on the key certifications and initiatives we see come up again and again in client tenders, RFI’s, RFP’s, etc. but there are others you might come across such as SBTi (Science Based Targets initiative), which verifies that a company has set emissions targets to stay well below 2C and ideally not above 1.5C, and BREEAM, which is a sustainable buildings certification. Ultimately, all these certifications and initiatives help you to align your values with meaningful outputs, however what route you take to get there will vary and will depend on a number of factors, including core business model, size, turnover, culture, what your peers are doing and what your clients are asking for. A final watch-out is that that these routes are not mutually exclusive, they can work together to embed a robust system of action throughout your business and ensure you are geared up to meet rapidly increasing stakeholder requirements and lead the way in a highly competitive marketplace.
About Syntiro Associates
Founded by Sam Wilson in 2007 Syntiro Associates is a specialist sustainability consultancy. We work with creative agencies including M&C Saatchi, Havas, Hearst Magazines and DRPG to deliver an integrated approach to sustainability, which is good for people, the planet and profitability. We understand the structures, business drivers, people and culture of creative businesses and so can help implement the most suitable international standards (ISO’s) and certifications (such as B Corp) with a light touch. Our purpose is simple: to help creative agencies, their people and clients deliver a more sustainable world. www.syntiroassociates.com