Wednesday 22 February 2012

Signed, sealed, delivered?

You can call yourself a sustainable business, but if you don't have the paperwork to back it up, then no-one is going to take you seriously. However, as Chris Large makes clear in The Guardian, the certificate itself might not be the right fit for the business or its suppliers.

The problem is that the focus can be on the process of certification rather than the good practice that it's supposed to be confirming. Major certificates, like ISO14001, the environmental management standard, require huge amounts of work and may be not just overkill for small suppliers that are doing the best work, but completely inappropriate.

As Chris puts it:
"It's like asking someone to prove they're healthy by obtaining a Great North Run medal. They might be able to run it in two hours, but prefer swimming and clock up 100 lengths per week. And, if unfit, they could train for 2 months, stagger round the course, whilst being pretty unhealthy for the rest of the year."
Putting the focus on certification means less time spent on actually ensuring that the supplier is doing enough to remain sustainable. If the supplier is already green, then the whole thing can turn into a box-ticking exercise--one that needs an awful lot of boxes to be ticked, and a lot of time and effort spent on confirming practices that are already in place.

Now, I'm not saying that certification is a bad thing. At Pier32 we're proud to stock brands that are WRAP-certified, and of course we're happy to be able to prove that we're a carbon neutral company. But it's important for companies and their suppliers to talk, and allow suppliers to demonstrate their green credentials in their own way.

This is a much healthier approach, and could allow your supplier to show results above and beyond the expectations of the certification panel. After all, certification is a way of showing your customers that you have reached certain proven standards, but there is more than one way of communicating solid green credentials.

Blindly insisting on the production of a catch-all document that might only confirm the good work that's already being done could have the opposite effect. If a certificate becomes an obstacle to sustainability rather than a path towards it, then it might just be worth considering whether you and your suppliers need it in the first place.

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