Editor’s note: This is part of a series on closing the sustainability skills gap with the resources we have available right now. Read the previous articles in this series, which cover training on climate literacy, scaling corporate climate literacy, corporate sustainability strategy, measuring and managing GHG emissions, climate and net-zero strategy, regenerative agriculture, circular economy, free training and the sustainability certifications available in 2021 and 2023.
Certifications play a specific role in our professional journeys. They carry more gravitas than general training programs do because they require us to prove our knowledge, usually by passing a rigorous test or completing a significant project, and the well-known certifications are shorthand for a specific set of skills backed by the credibility of the issuing organizations.
I’ve written extensively about sustainability certifications in 2021 and 2023; the certifications landscape has continued to evolve and expand, and pursuing professional certifications remains the preferred way of building and demonstrating sustainability expertise for many job seekers, so it is time to revisit our list.
In previous years, I’ve discussed how to pick the best certification for your unique situation and I’ve covered the role that certifications should play in your overall skill-building strategy. For this 2024 installation, I simply want to encourage you to become a connoisseur of certification quality. We’re formalizing more tools and frameworks for different solutions areas such as nature-related disclosure and social equity in buildings all the time, and the professional certifications are following quickly after.
The below list includes 46 professional certifications across nine subcategories of sustainability. I’ve done my very best to find and shine a light on reputable, high-quality experiences. But with these, as with any other certification you may come across, I entreat you to do your due diligence. Is the accrediting organization a well-respected professional association or training organization? What frameworks is the certification based on? What specific skills or knowledge will this certification prove you have? How? Asking yourself these questions will help you to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The focus of this list is on professional certifications for practitioners and does not include certifications for products (such as Forest Stewardship Council or Cradle to Cradle) or for companies (such as B Corp). It also doesn’t include professional training that does not earn a credential (there are over 100 resources for that in the training series mentioned at the top of this article and on the Education page of my website), graduate programs or university-based certificates.
Is the accrediting organization a well-respected professional association or training organization? What frameworks is the certification based on? What specific skills or knowledge will this certification prove you have? How?
As is often the case with these types of lists, I’m sure I've missed some. If your favorite certification isn’t included here, I warmly invite you to join the conversation on LinkedIn to tell me and your fellow readers about it. Thanks in advance for your help with bringing these resources out into the open so that more people can get to work on advancing sustainable business practices.
Core corporate sustainability certifications
These certifications are focused on demonstrating that you have expertise with the foundational components of the work done on most corporate sustainability teams including general strategy, decarbonization, reporting and supply chain.
Sustainability and climate professional certifications
These certifications provide an opportunity to demonstrate you are a sustainability professional capable of performing broader strategy and implementation work across multiple functions, industries and regions. There are additional non-certification-based options listed in this article on sustainability strategy training.
- The International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP): Sustainability Excellence Associate (SEA) and Sustainability Excellence Professional (SEP)
- The Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO): Certified Climate Change — Professional (CC-P) Candidate and Certified Climate Change Professional (CC-P)
- The Association of Energy Engineers (AEE): Certified Sustainable Development Professional
Energy and decarbonization certifications
These certifications are related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the energy your organization uses through energy efficiency, renewable energy or offsets. There are additional non-certification based options listed in these articles on measuring and managing GHG emissions and climate and net-zero strategy.
- Renewable Energy Institute (REI): Accredited Master in Renewable Energy Award
- Association of Energy Engineers (AEE): Certified Energy Manager, Renewable Energy Professional Certification and Certified Energy Procurement Professional
- GHG Institute: Diploma in Carbon Management
- Voiz Academy: Certified Decarbonization Analyst and Certified Net-Zero Analyst
- Sustainability Academy: Certificate on Carbon Reduction and Net-Zero Strategies
Sustainability and ESG reporting certifications
These certifications provide an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of one of the leading global reporting and disclosure standards. You may be surprised to see that some household names in reporting have been removed from the list this year. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Standards, the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) Framework, the International <IR> Framework and the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) Recommendations have all been folded into the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation’s Sustainability Disclosure Standards, IFRS S1 and IFRS S2, officially published in 2023.
You may also be wondering if there are any certifications coming out related to the new European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS), which took effect Jan. 1. Because the IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards and ESRS are still so new, we’ll probably have a bit of a wait before any full-fledged professional certification programs become available for them, but there are some trainings that I’ve included links to below.
- Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): GRI Professional Certification; the GRI Academy also offers a course on how to leverage the GRI standards for success with ESRS.
- CDP does not offer a professional credential, but training is available on the CDP Workshops page and through accredited training partners such as ISOS Group.
- There is no professional credential available for the IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards yet, but there is an e-learning course in the works. In the meantime, the IFRS website encourages practitioners to pursue the Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting (FSA) Credential as the new standards were heavily influenced by the SASB Standards the FSA credential is based on.
Supply chain and procurement
These certifications allow you to demonstrate that you have the knowledge, tools and strategic approach needed to develop and reach meaningful greenhouse gas reduction goals in partnership with suppliers.
- Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council: Climate Foundations Certificate
- Association for Supply Chain Management: Supply Chain Resilience Certificate
- International Supply Chain Education Alliance: Certified Sustainable Supply Chain Professional
These certifications are focused on demonstrating expertise with a specific area within sustainability such as ESG and sustainable finance, governance, risk, circular economy, the built environment, water and hospitality.
ESG and sustainable finance, governance and risk
These certifications are related in that they’re all within the realm of finance, governance and risk management, but they each cater to distinctly different audiences. Some (CFA, EFFAS) are specifically for financial professionals who want to incorporate ESG criteria into how financial decisions are made, some (GARP, Competent Boards, Corporate Governance Institute) are more focused on the corporate governance and risk management side of things, and still others (CFI, Chartered Banker) combine these objectives.
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute: Certificate in ESG Investing
- Corporate Finance Institute (CFI): ESG Certificate
- The European Federation of Financial Analyst Societies (EFFAS): Certified ESG Analyst
- Chartered Banker Institute: Certificate in Green and Sustainable Finance
- Global Association of Risk Professionals: Sustainability and Climate Risk Certificate
- Competent Boards: ESG Certificate
- The Corporate Governance Institute: Best Practice in ESG and Risk Management Certificate
Circular economy, product and packaging certifications
These certifications share a common goal: design things (products, packaging or processes) with sustainability in mind. The circular economy involves active work and decision-making at every point along a product’s journey with the goal of keeping materials circulating at their highest value for as long as possible. The life-cycle assessment, product stewardship and biomimicry certifications support better decision-making specifically at the point of design. There are additional non-certification-based options listed in this article on training for circularity.
- Circular Economy Institute: Circular Economy Specialist Certification
- Circular Economy Alliance: Circular Economy Manager Advanced Certification
- American Center for Life Cycle Assessment: Life Cycle Assessment Certified Professional
- Product Stewardship Society: Certified Professional Product Steward
- Learn Biomimicry: Biomimicry Practitioner Certificate
Facility, building and design standard certification
Each of these standards has its own nuanced definition of what makes a building sustainable and approach for how building certification is achieved. A professional certification in any of these standards demonstrates that you understand the certification process and requirements for that particular facility, building or design standard. You can read the 2023 certifications article for more details about the differences between each standard.
- U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): LEED Green Associate and LEED AP with specialty
- The Green Building Initiative: Green Globes Emerging Professional and Green Globes Professional
- The International Living Future Institute (IFLI): Living Future Accreditation
- The International WELL Building Institute: WELL Accredited Professional
- The Center for Active Design: Fitwel Ambassador Accreditation
- The Social Equity Assessment Method (SEAM): SEAM AP Accreditation
- Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Green Roof and Wall Program: Green Roof Professional Accreditation
- The Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) Rating System: TRUE Advisor Certification for zero-waste facilities
Effective water management has become a critical issue for many organizations around the globe. These certifications allow you to demonstrate your ability to develop and implement strategies for meaningful water efficiency and stewardship.
- Association of Energy Engineers: Certified Water Efficiency Professional
- Alliance for Water Stewardship: AWS Professional — Foundation, Advanced, and Specialist levels
- SDG Academy: Professional Certificate in Sustainable Water Management
These certifications focus on strategies for more sustainable tourism, travel and events. The certificate in sustainable business travel would likely be particularly helpful if your organization is pursuing Scope 3 reductions goals.
- Global Sustainable Tourism Council: Certificate in Sustainable Tourism and Certificate in Sustainable Business Travel
- Events Industry Council: Sustainable Event Professional Certificate
As in previous years, I scoured the internet, LinkedIn and my personal networks but wasn’t able to find professional certifications related to popular topics including equity and social justice or human rights in the supply chain. I was hoping to find the human rights equivalent to LEED — does it exist? If so, please let me know. If not, how did you (or do you plan to) get smart on these topics? What frameworks do you rely on to get your work done?
Please join the conversation on LinkedIn to let me and your fellow readers know what else is out there.