What to Look for in Certification

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<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; color: black; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;">Remember back in school when you liked someone and wanted them to like you in return? It wasn&rsquo;t enough to tell them what a great person you were to get them to go out with you (in fact, that often backfired). Instead, you were better off if you found someone whom they trusted, and had that person say good things about you.</span></em><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; color: black; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;">&nbsp;</span></em></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; color: black; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;">What does this have to do with corporate responsibility? The answer is simple &ndash; it is not enough to say that you are doing good things. It lacks credibility for two reasons. The first is that it is seen as self-serving, the second is because self-evaluating does not lend itself to comparisons (unless you're good enough to define the standards for our industry).. One of the biggest benefits to third party validation is that it provides a solution to both of these dilemmas and actually provides the public with sound information on which to base their purchasing decisions.</span></em></p>
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<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; color: black; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;">It is for this reason that auto manufacturers promote government and industry safety ratings rather than announcing &lsquo;the safest car we&rsquo;ve ever built*&rsquo; with the footnote explaining how and under which conditions that vehicle is considered the best. </span></em></p>
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<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; color: black; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;">In the area of corporate responsibility there are a number of different standards and certifications. It is no wonder that the public is confused. As people seek to understand what the different standards mean (to them and to the environment) there are a few things that they should look for:</span></em></p>
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<li class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt; color: black; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list .5in;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Independence</span></span></em><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;"> &ndash; It was a running joke for many years that certain Olympic judges rated their country&rsquo;s own athletes higher and downgraded those representing nations with whom they had political differences. This was countered by the use of a panel of judges.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes;">&nbsp; </span>The independence (honesty) of the process is also served by certifications that use independent auditors or evaluators. When auditors are not paid directly by those being audited but through an intermediary organization, the auditors are seen as being independent agents. The Environmental Protection Agency&rsquo;s EnergyStar rating has the same benefit; no one seriously thinks that the government has a vested interest in a specific manufacturer.</span></em></li>
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<li class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt; color: black; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list .5in;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Credibility</span> &ndash; For a standard to be trusted by people it must be a standard that people believe is a valid measurement of some dimension of environmental impact and performance. In the case of the environment standards can be defined around such measurable elements as reductions in the use of water, energy and raw materials. On the output side, standards can measure and track reductions in pollution and emissions including carbon, sulfur, dust, chemicals and garbage/waste created. In the rush to be seen as green some companies are rushing into the space and making claims that either cannot be backed up with hard scientific data or that only reflect a portion of the overall picture. In the social element things are a bit more complex, as local cultures can often limit or define what can be done. But certainly companies should be held accountable for protecting the health and safety of their employees. They can, and should move forward by measuring themselves in such things as living wages, child labor and protection, and equal opportunity based on ability. </span></em></li>
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<li class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt; color: black; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list .5in;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Meaningful</span> &ndash; Ultimately it is the public that decides what is important to them and therefore meaningful as a standard. At times I have been amused and astonished by the amount of effort some people put in to get and promote their professional credentials, based on what is important the them or their idea that the public understands and cares about the distinctions. We have all seen business cards with a string advanced degrees and professional associations following the individual&rsquo;s name which may have little or no meaning to the lay person. While those who understand the degrees may be suitably impressed, for the majority of the public it a wasted effort. In some cases it may be viewed as conceit.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes;">&nbsp; </span>The nadir is when it is downright deceptive &ndash; such as when a person deliberately cites completely unrelated professional credentials in order to establish their bona fides from one area of expertise to indicate expertise in another. A few years ago I was appalled&nbsp;when I discovered that&nbsp;a person with a Ph.D.&nbsp;was using&nbsp;their &lsquo;doctor&rsquo; appellation to help them sell health products, counting &ndash; and encouraging - the public to make the natural assumption.</span></em></li>
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<li class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt; color: black; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list .5in;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Understandable</span> &ndash; There is a reason why Good Housekeeping grants seals, why crash tests are reported in star rankings, why the LEED certifications contain differing levels based on different levels of performance. From our earliest childhood we are conditioned to understand that there are different grades based on varying levels of achievement. The most understandable ratings (or rankings) communicate effectively because people intrinsically understand that something that earns five stars is &lsquo;better&rsquo; than one that earns four; a rating of &lsquo;superior&rsquo; is preferable to one of &lsquo;good.&rsquo;<span style="mso-spacerun: yes;">&nbsp; </span>It is interesting to note, however, that with rankings (i.e. 1 &ndash; 10) there is a base assumption that the difference between ranks is the same; where this may not be the case at all. Going back to the Olympics, the time between the first, second and third place runners is often measured in fractions of a second, whereas the eighth and ninth place finishers may have a comparative gulf between them. This misperception on the part of the public may provide the highest ranking programs, products and services with an advantage that is out of proportion to the difference between them.</span></em></li>
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<li class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt; color: black; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list .5in;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Based on Science</span> &ndash; Ratings must be based on things people believe in. Even simple basic measurements that quantify time (speed, longevity), quantity (number, fraction, or percent) often serve as proxies for quality or value. In the environmental space the value of social math &ndash; relating savings to something people find more relatable &ndash; is often an effective strategy for communication, but it can cloud the issue. Expressing the amount of C02 reduced based on an equivalent number of cars that it theoretically has taken off the roads may be fueling the major misperception by a third of Americans that personal automobiles are the greatest source of CO2. Forty-one percent of CO2 emissions come from coal-fired electric power generation. The ultimate irony of this is that people may gravitate to plug-in electric vehicles may think that they are helping to solve the problem while they are substituting tail pipe emissions (that they can see) for those from a far more polluting source.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes;">&nbsp; </span>This example cries out for a standard measurement of carbon emissions across all vehicles (based on the same number passenger occupants) per mile; similar to the EPA mileage statistics.</span></em></li>
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<li class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt; color: black; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list .5in;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Public/open process</span> &ndash; Ever page through rankings by Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping or US News &amp; World Report? One of the things that these trusted rankings have in common is the fact that the measurement criteria are clearly stated and explained (such as reporting the annual operating costs for each appliance measured). This not only aids in making the ratings understandable it also lends credibility to the standards and the entire process. The evaluation process must also be open as standards and knowledge evolve. A terrific example of this the standards for accrediting health insurance plans; new and revised standards are developed through expanding medical consensus and then go through a public comment period before they can be made part of accreditation.</span></em></li>
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<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;"><em><span style="font-size: 10pt; color: black; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;">The creation, adoption and implementation of comprehensive environmental standards will create new opportunities for companies and organizations that wish to demonstrate their impact on the environment. It is a complex issue, however, based on the need to look at overall environmental impact. To date no one has mathematically or scientifically quantified the trade-off between reduced thr electricity use of compact fluorescent light bulbs and the mercury vapor that they contain. Will these bulbs provide a net &lsquo;gain&rsquo; for the environment or are they simply substituting one form of pollution for another?</span></em></p>
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<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;"><span style="font-size: 10pt; color: black; font-style: normal; font-family: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic;"><em>In the interests of transparency, the author is chair of the board of the Sustainable Business Network of Washington (SB NOW) which has developed and is in the process of rolling out an environmental certification program.</em></span></p>
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