That cute photo of the seal set as this posts’s featured image has absolutely nothing to do with third-party certification. I’ll connect its relevance later in this post.
This blog post could also have been entitled, Who Certifies The Certifiers?
As an advocate of the B Corporation movement and designation, I speak often about business certifications. Should a company apply for a certification? What’s the value in becoming certified? Is it worth the cost? Are some certifications more important than others?
In this post, I’ll try to answer some basic questions, framed in our company’s experience, and help you identify the kinds of designations you may want to avoid.
Why A Company Should Certify
A business can choose to certify for any number of reasons.
In an age of “fake news” (in which media companies publish unvetted and misleading content as “news”) and “greenwashing” (in which unproven or misleading claims are made about the ecological benefits of a product or service), third-party certification can validate a company’s brand for its proven merits.
Certifications exist to spotlight a company for its efforts, to set it apart from its competition, and to help build trust in its brand. The range of possible certifications is determined by a company’s industry, its philosophical and social values, and in some cases, geographic location.
Within Oregon, numerous ecological-based certifications exist: Salmon Safe, Certified LIVE, OEC Carbon Neutral, and Oregon Tilth Organic, to name a few. Each has its own set of costs, as well as unique application, certification, and renewal processes.
Outside Oregon, national and international certifications include 1% For The Planet (in which a business contributes at least 1% of its gross revenues towards environmental causes), Certified B Corporation (the highest level of third-party certification for socially conscious businesses, internationally recognized and administered by a nonprofit, B Lab), and Oregon Benefit Companies For Good (a local designation for triple-bottom-line businesses and which draws on at least one third-party certification, such as those mentioned above).
What To Consider When Choosing A Certification
Ultimately, the particular choice of certification is up to the business:
- Is it a match for the company’s values and service lines?
- Is it important to be recognized for the good that business is doing?
- Is it worth the cost and hassle to go through certification, and re-certify at each renewal period?
- Is the effort going to equate to increased respect and trust for the brand, and thereby enhance sales that will at least offset the associated costs?
When A “Certification” Is Just a “Seal”
Now we get to ogle over that adorable seal photo — SOO cute!
Over the years, Canvas Host has earned many certifications. At the time we applied for a given certification, we felt it matched our values, and that our brand would benefit by being associated with the certifying organization. Most importantly, we wanted others to understand why we do what we do, and to increase trust in our words and actions.
We’ve also dropped several certifications. We determined in some cases, that were not enforced — a business need, or lacked accountability due to being associated with greenwashing or similar abuse by unscrupulous businesses that broadcast the designation.
A prime example of a certification that has lost almost all credibility, is Green America Certified. One of the first organizations in North America to organize a business community for environmental and socially responsible causes, Green America was an association we were drawn to during our early years. The Green Business Network, a business community of thousands of like-minded companies, provided us many wonderful connections and relationships that, to this day, we are still proud to maintain. That said, the Green America Certified designation has little value to us any more. Here’s why:
To register as as Green America Certified business, a company fills out an online form. Within 20-30 minutes, the business is certified. Submitted information is not vetted. Though we pressed the organization many years ago to enforce accountability, a business close to us went through the online certification process, and nothing has changed. We have seen many examples over the years, of businesses that should not be certified, but are taken at face value.
Beyond vetting, the renewal process for Green America Certified couldn’t be easier: For as little as $150, a business can extend its certification for one more year. Again, there is no vetting or personal communication to ensure the business is in fact living up to its claims. Without accountability, we do not see the value in the certification, and so we have removed all mentions to the certification from our website, social media, and printed marketing materials.
Please don’t get me wrong. I believe there are many great people working at and supporting Green America. They are a good organization that has helped legislate and fight for worthy environmental causes. Where the organization falls short is in the vetting of its business community, and I would suggest they withdraw their certification program until such a time as they can truly enforce it to the extent that is needed.
Sometimes a “certification” is really just a “seal” — something cute or cool to place on your website. If you want to spend $150 each year for nice images to entice customers, I’d suggest spending that money on good photos, and drop the fake seals. Even if seals are absolutely adorable.
Overall, when it comes to vetting a certification, if the certification process was “easy” to obtain, or “easy” to renew, and ask yourself: Who might abuse this process, and do I want my business associated with companies that do not live up to the standards this certification claims to signify?
Celebrate The Right Certification
Thankfully, there are many great certifications available to a business. In Oregon, one of the newest certifications is Benefit Corporations For Good (BCFG). This is a standard began by two colleagues in our business circles, as an answer to the limited field of recognized for the Oregon Benefit Company designation.
Going through the certification process, we were reminded of what it took for us to become B Corporation Certified: A rigorous application process, providing vetted information about our business, and being personally interviewed by administrators of the program. Even better, future certifications will see us go through the same vetting process. As our business evolves, this will ensure we are able to maintain a current designation that truly reflects the state of our brands for which we seek renewed validation.
BCFG certifies businesses located outside of Oregon, as well. This came as a surprise to us, but it’s wonderful news, because more than 30 States recognize benefit company designation, but not all have a domestic certification process.
If you are interested in learning about certification for your business, or would like to learn more about our company’s journey down the certification path, please contact us, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be happy to chat.