ULE 880: The World Weighs In

We've just reached the halfway point in the public comment period for ULE 880 -- Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations -- the company-level sustainability standard my colleagues and I helped develop -- so it's a good time to take stock.

First, some background. Three weeks ago, GreenBiz.com and UL Environment (ULE), part of the venerable standards organization Underwriters Laboratories, publicly released a draft of the above-named standard, which rates large and midsized manufacturers across more than 100 indicators covering environment, workforce, community, governance, and supply chain. ULE 880 is intended for use by companies, public agencies, and institutional buyers to assess themselves and their suppliers and trading partners.

As I've previously written, this is a project on which a small group of us have been toiling for as long as eight years. When we joined forces with UL Environment last year, it elevated the project to a new level, leveraging UL's long history of credibility and integrity. UL is a household brand that's historically been synonymous with "safety," its logo appearing on 20 billion products a year. In 2009, it entered the sustainability realm with the creation of UL Environment.

July 29, when the standard was released, was a rather anxious moment for the ULE-GreenBiz team. For the first time, this standard -- the first-ever comprehensive company-level sustainability standard from an independent, global certification agency -- would be available for review and detailed comment. Friends, colleagues, and outright strangers could have at it.

The commenting process, as previously described, takes place online (via a ULE Web-based tool), is open to everyone (you must register in order to receive access to the commenting tool), and is transparent (all comments and their authors are publicly viewable).

So, as we reach the halfway mark on the 45-day comment period, how's it going?

To date, nearly 600 individuals have registered to comment -- the largest public stakeholder response Underwriters Laboratories has had on any standard in its 116-year history. The registrants have come from 25 countries and six continents. (Apparently, no one in Antarctica is interested.) They represent a diverse range of organizations, including large companies (about 20 percent of the Fortune 500), smaller firms, national and subnational government agencies from around the world, nongovernmental organizations, academics, trade associations, and others.

All in all, a terrific turnout.

"It's generated a huge amounts of interest," says Craig Coulter, one of the project leads at UL Environment. "There's a great demand both for the content of what we're trying establish in the sustainability realm, and the excitement around UL's involvement in this space."