The project of launching a sustainable brand is a double challenge, as the new business must be viable and profitable but within the sustainable business principles framework.
To help you with this task, with the contribution of Anna Bidard – a CSR and merchandising expert – we put together a guide to major sustainable business standards and certifications.
What does ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ mean?
To start with, we would like to briefly share with you the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which is the founding principle for launching a sustainable brand.
In the simplest way, we can define CSR as businesses being responsible for their actions; for example, for their waste management, (over)use of natural resources, water stress creation or pollution.
CSR is entirely based on the good will actions of business owners and managers and reflects the principle that a successful business is not only profitable but also respectful of people (employees, suppliers, surrounding communities) and the planet (minimizing its impact in terms of energy consumption, water use or pollution creation).
The European Union defines CSR as “the responsibility of enterprises for their impact on society”.
Another concept that you need to grasp to successfully launch a sustainable brand is sustainable development.
The UN World Commission on Environment and Development described sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Sustainable development is based on 3 pillars (3Ps): people, planet and profit. You will quickly notice that any legislation always refers to at least one of these 3Ps.
Sustainable development and CSR standards
To help businesses and brands to implement sustainable development principles into their activity, since 2010, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has been developing and publishing international standards and guidelines relevant to all challenges that any business could face: environmental hazards, social responsibility, national regulations or energy management.
There are several ISO guidelines that you can consider for your business, but we will focus on just a few of the most popular and important ones.
ISO standards are especially valuable if they can be certified by an independent organization.
• ISO 9000 certification for quality management system (QMS)
The ISO 9000 is by far the most popular family in terms of ISO standards. It includes 14 different QM standards with ISO 9001 being the most sought after as it provides certification recognized worldwide.
ISO 9001 can provide you with detailed guidelines to streamline all internal processes. It shows how to increase employees’ efficiency, reduce waste, cut all unnecessary costs and still be able to offer the best possible product or service.
• ISO 14000 is a family of standards related to the environment
It includes multiple standards with ISO 14001 being the most popular and the only one providing worldwide certification.
The ISO 14001 standard promotes the best practice to measure and reduce a company’s environmental impact. It is designed for any type of organization, regardless of its activity or sector.
To obtain the ISO 14000 certification, you will be audited by the ISO Technical Committee. ISO 14001 is a voluntary standard quite popular with companies who want to reduce their impact on the planet.
• ISO 27000
This family of standards concerns IT, aiming to improve security and protect company assets. It is a broad standard, so that the certification can be customized to fit the needs of any business.
• ISO 22000
This standard is focused on the development and implementation of a food safety management system and can help any organization that works within the food chain. With multiple standards, including 22001 for food and drink and 22002 for food manufacturing, this family is used in a variety of organizations directly or indirectly involved with food and beverage. These include restaurants of any kind but also food manufacturers or food transportation services (caterers).
• ISO 50001
One of the newest standards, the energy standard ISO 50001, has become increasingly important since its release in 2011. ISO 50001 is meant to set a standard for an efficient Energy Management System (EMS). In short, it is dedicated to improving the efficiency of energy use, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and optimizing energy costs.
ISO can also provide guidelines without certification.
For example, ISO 26000, the first to have been released in 2010, provides guidance on the principles of social responsibility.
It also describes how to integrate responsible behavior within an organization, whether that organization is private or public, large or small, located in a developed or developing country.
Industry certifications and other international standards
Depending on the nature of your product or service, while launching a sustainable brand, you will be searching for the best raw materials.
There are several standards and certifications that can help you in this task.
For the clothing industry, there are three major certifications available:
• GOTS – Global Organic Textile Standards
It is the most popular and internationally recognized as the strictest organic textile standard.
GOTS can certify every step of a garment’s manufacturing, from its farming to the final product.
To obtain the GOTS “organic” label, a product must:
- Contain at least 95% organic fiber
- Not be treated with bleach, formaldehyde or any other toxic substances
- Be colored with nontoxic dyes
- Be produced in a mill that enforces strict social and environmental standards, treat their employees and planet Earth with deep respect. The GOTS certification means that the products meet the very highest standards.
• OCS 100 – Organic Content Standard
Not quite as severe as the GOTS, OCS tracks and verifies the content of organically grown materials in a final product.
The OCS was developed by Textile Exchange, an international non-profit organization.
The OCS applies to any non-food product containing 5-100% organic material and attests the amount of organic material in a final product.
OCS is considered highly reliable as it tracks the flow of a raw material from the source to the final product and the whole process is certified by an accredited third party.
Both GOTS and OCS are reliable sources of information about the quality and origin of the sourced raw materials.
• FSC – Forest Stewardship Council
Last but not least, there is the interesting FSC standard.
It was developed to accompany the growing use of viscose, rayon, modal and lyocell in the garment industry. For memory, all these fabrics are made out of trees, so their massive production requires forest management and general reforestation.
Thus, the FSC was created to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.
It is also committed to protecting the ancient and endangered forests and to develop innovative fibers.
FSC proves that cellulose fibers coming from well-managed forests can be more environmentally friendly than nylon or polyester, or even cotton.
Along with the clothing industry, jewelry is considered to have harmful effects on the environment (over-exploitation of mines) and on people (life threatening mining in war zones).
Therefore, there are two major certifications that are worth knowing if you are launching a sustainable jewelry brand.
• FAIRMINED™ GOLD CERTIFICATION – Sustainable Development for Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining.
Fairmined certification signals that gold or other precious metals are mined from small-scale and artisanal mines (ASM) following strict requirements for environmental protection, fair labor conditions and economic development in mining communities.
• Responsible jewelry council.
The RJC is the world’s leading standard-setting organization for the entire jewelry and watch industry.
It is a nonprofit UK-based organization. The RJC Code of Practices is the only industry standard covering the entire jewellery and watch supply chain.
Launching a sustainable brand is an exciting challenge, however, it is entirely up to you to choose the legislation and standards you wish to comply with.
Following sustainable principles is optional and the decision is entirely yours, but do know that opting for sustainability, in the long run, will strengthen your clients’ trust and loyalty and make your business better equipped to deal with competition.