The Yin & Yang of ‘Green’ Certifications: What to Watch Out For

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Thinking about pursuing a green certification? Thinking about buying something that has one?

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with the Ithaca, NY, community about green certifications and the new forces in business that are pushing the envelope in sustainability. If you’re thinking about buying a product or doing business with a green certificationor about pursuing one for your own companyask yourself these questions:

  • Is it Rent Seeking? Is it a very expensive certification that is really a key source of income for the certifier? If so, does the certifier have a built-in conflict of interest?
  • Is it Anti-Competitive? Is it put together by a few big players to to keep other smaller businesses from being able to enter the marketplace as more and more businesses and governments pursue green purchasing?
  • Is it Green Vaporware? Is it solving a problem that doesn’t need to be solved – but sounds like some eco-risk you’ve never considered before?
  • Is it Greenwashing? This is the obvious one. Google green business certifications. For $800, you too can be a certified green business — with no effort other than writing a check.
  • Is it Transparent? Who’s behind it? Who designed it? Who is able to give feedback in improving it? Is it evaluated regularly? 
  • Is it Educational? Do companies and non-profits pursuing it really learn something new about sustainable operations or products? Will you learn anything by doing it?
  • Is it Motivational? Will your stakeholders learn something new about sustainability through your efforts? Will talented candidates pick you to work for over your competitors because they believe you have a better company?
‘Green’ and ‘sustainable’ certifications should be like getting into shape: a balanced plan that makes your organization healthier, is motivating, and sustainable (no pun intended) in the long run — not like an expensive diet pill with secret ingredients that you see on 3am infomercials.
And perhaps when your customers and vendors see what awesome shape you’re in, they’ll be inspired to hit the sustainability track, too. 


Chris Carmody likes to hack problems that require the collective effort of markets, higher ed, and philanthropy to solve. He is Executive Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development, based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Region (Durham-Chapel Hill-Raleigh). You can catch him on Twitter @ChrisCarmody


Chris has spent over 20 years helping communities utilize sustainability, social entrepreneurship, and philanthropy as catalysts for economic growth. Chris serves as Executive Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and the Green Plus™ -- a program dedicated to helping America's...
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