Sustainability Certification for Companies Opens for Public Comment

Sustainability Certification for Companies Opens for Public Comment

A new standard for green business practices unveiled today by UL Environment and Greener World Media, publishers of GreenBiz.com, has as its aim the ambitious goal of measuring and certifying the sustainability of manufacturing companies. The two organizations released the draft standard for a 45-day public comment period.

"ULE 880 - Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations" is a points-based standard that will feature three levels of certification. The 102 indicators aim to measure and rate the sustainability of an entire business, focusing on the full spectrum of social and environmental sustainability rather than the environment. The standard defines core metrics within five areas:

Sustainability governance: How an organization leads and manages itself in relation to its stakeholders, including employees, investors, regulatory authorities, customers and the communities in which it operates.

Environment: How an organization manages its environmental footprint across its policies, operations, products and services, including its resource use and emissions.

• Workforce: Issues related to employee working conditions, organization culture, benefits and retention.

• Customers and suppliers: Issues related to an organization's policies and practices on product safety, quality, pricing and marketing as well as its supply chain policies and practices.

• Social and community engagement: An organization's impacts on the communities in which it operates in the areas of social equity, ethical conduct and human rights.

"The goal of ULE 880 is to level the playing field for companies, as well as their customers, investors, employees and others, in assessing what it means to be a sustainable business," said Rory Bakke, director of sustainability at Greener World Media and the lead author of the standard. "We believe this standard can go a long way toward helping all parties understand and assess the full spectrum of social and environmental issues of importance to stakeholders today."

In developing ULE 880, Bakke and her team delved deep into the existing standards and frameworks to incorporate the best of what already exists and filling in the missing pieces. "This standard is built upon the trailblazing models of voluntary sustainability reporting frameworks such as GRI, international guidelines that address elements of organizational sustainability, such as many created by ISO, and standards that address specific elements of sustainability such as Social Accountability International's SA 8000 standard on international labor practices," says Bakke.

There are 200 total points available in the draft standard, along with 18 additional "innovation points" for companies that are leading the way for green business practices. Forty points each are allotted to the Governance and Customers and Suppliers categories, 80 for the Environment category, and 20 points each for the Workforce and Social and Community Engagement categories.

Among the areas where innovation points are possible: Supply-chain sustainability efforts, employee wellness programs, Scope 3 greenhouse gas inventories, and building sustainability goals into corporate charters (a move recently undertaken by Intel in response to shareholder actions).

"We intend this standard to be a learning tool as much as a certification process," explains GreenBiz.com executive editor Joel Makower, who worked closely with Bakke in developing ULE 880. "This standard is a means for companies to benchmark themselves on sustainability measures and to identify what specific measures they can take that would be most impactful for their operations and stakeholders."

Applicants for the standard will be audited and third-party verified in order to achieve certification; the process is designed to be rigorous and aspirational, while remaining attainable. Only a small percent of firms that have already undertaken significant green projects will be able to earn the highest level of certification under the standard, and the standard will be reviewed periodically to continually raise the bar for improvement.

As part of the stakeholder comment process, ULE and GreenBiz.com are seeking input from the public as a way of making the certification as effective as possible. Individuals who want to take part in the comment process can register for free with Underwriters Laboratory's Collaborative Standards Development System, an online tool to collect stakeholder feedback and engage in discussions about the standard.

The comment process is open to all. To participate, register at www.greenbiz.com/ratings. The comment period for ULE 880 is open until September 14, 2010.

UL Environment and Greener World Media will develop additional standards, including ULE 881 for service-sector companies, which is already under development.