The business of sustainability

Choosing green or sustainable products and services can be a challenge, with a plethora of ecolabels, standards and certifications out there.  But what about the sustainability credentials of the supplier company itself? 

We’ve taken a look at some of the main (and emerging) standards, certifications and frameworks which can be a useful indicator that organisations are taking sustainability seriously. 

ISO 14001

ISO 14001 is one of the best known standards relevant to sustainability.   It is the global standard for Environmental Management Systems (EMS), and requires organisations to have systems and processes in place to manage their environmental impacts.  It should be noted that ISO 14001 applies to the organisation itself and not the products or services it provides; for example a company mining uranium may be certified to ISO 14001 but the product certainly wouldn’t be described as green.

Many purchasers are now specifying ISO 14001 as a minimum requirement for suppliers through the tender process.  Where this is not appropriate, for example small suppliers, an alternative is to request evidence that the supplier has policies and systems in place to manage their environmental impacts without being certified.  For more information on ISO 14001 click here.

 Social Accountability 8000 (SA8000)

Social Accountability 8000 is an independently audited global standard covering workplace conditions and workers’ rights.  Its aim is to ensure that workers are treated fairly, and it is based on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child and a number of International Labour Organisation (ILO) requirements.

SA8000 sets criteria for working hours, remuneration, OHS, child labour, forced labour, discrimination, freedom of association, collective bargaining, disciplinary practices and management systems.   The standard is particularly relevant to companies with overseas operations and/or supply chains which extend overseas as these may present higher risks in terms of workplace conditions.  For more information on SA8000 click here.

B Corporation

B Corporation (B Corp) is the latest addition to the business sustainability scene.  A Certified B Corporation is a business which uses its power to help solve environmental or social problems, and is independently certified as having met a range of criteria relating to its environmental and social impacts.

B Corporations are required to:

  1. Have a corporate purpose to create a material positive impact on society and the environment;
  2. Expand fiduciary duty to require consideration of the interests of workers, community and the environment; and
  3. Publicly report annually on overall social and environmental performance against a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third party standard.

One of the best known Certified B Corporations is Patagonia.  Currently, Australia has just one ‘home-grown’ B Corp; Melbourne-based Small Giants, which is an investment company specialising in social enterprise.   For more information on B Corporations click here.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

The Global Reporting Initiative is a global sustainability reporting framework which enables organisations to measure and publicly report on their financial, environmental, social and governance performance.  Tailored versions of the framework are available for certain sectors including events management, construction and financial services. 

From a purchaser’s perspective, reporting to GRI is a good indicator that a supplier takes sustainability seriously.  The framework is generally more applicable to larger organisations rather than SMEs.  For more information on GRI click here.

Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)

The Carbon Disclosure Project is a global framework for measuring, reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water use.  Member and signatory organisations, which include large corporations, institutional investors and governments, use the data provided through the CDP to guide decision making, mitigate risk and drive improvement s through supply chains.

Several ICT companies, financial, automotive and professional services providers are members of CDP, and as is the case with GRI, this is an indicator that they are taking sustainability seriously.  For more information on CDP click here.

Other resources

The Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) and FTSE4Good are stock market indices covering ethical investments.  Inclusion is based on independent assessment against a range of corporate social responsibility criteria compared to competitors in the same sector.  One issue with this ‘best in class’ approach, however, is the fact that the core activities of the company itself do not exclude it from being listed; for example both indices include tobacco companies. For procurement purposes, 'best in class' can still be valuable for comparing suppliers of similar products or services.

Article provided by Mary Dunne, ECO-Buy Business Development Manager