Product Sustainability Certifications

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What It Is

Sustainability certifications are generally third party assessments of products where the certifying organization evaluates the products against a number of specific agreed upon standards. Often these certifications are not required, but may be weighed by customers when comparing their product choices and options. A number of these accreditations focus on the triple bottom line; looking at environmental quality, social quality, and economic prosperity. 

There are wide ranges of certification options that cover a number of varying products including wood, vehicles, buildings, power, and general consumer products. Some of the better-known and prestigious certifications include: ENERGY STAR, WaterSense, Cradle to Cradle Certified, Green Seal, Certified Organic, Fair Trade Certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified, and Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI). 


Why It Matters

Product sustainability certifications can be useful to an organization to evaluate products they used and the products they produce. Companies should strive to not only create products that can be certified by the varying certification agencies, but companies should also look for materials and office equipment that are certified.

By purchasing products that are certified, organizations are able to save money and perform at more efficient levels. For example, using ENERGY STAR certified computers, printers, break room refrigerators, shredders, and other office electronics requires less energy than non-certified products, thus reducing company costs. Taking advantage of WaterSense certified products will also help to save money by consuming less water without requiring major retrofits.

Organizations that create sustainable products also benefit from the certification process. Customers and employees alike value organizations that put an emphasis on environmental sustainability. Additionally, the ability to earn a certification seal on a product enhances the products marketability and expands potential consumers.


Getting Started

To cut costs and improve sustainability within the office:

  • Step One: Identify office products that can be replaced by products that are certified as sustainable.
  • Step Two: Research product options and certifications.
  • Step Three: Develop criteria and transition plan for replacement of products.
  • Step Four: Make an educated purchase.


Step One

Create a list of office supplies that organization should consider replacing with sustainable certified products.  Pay particular attention to computer products, small electronics, paper, and water resources, as there are many different categories of certifications for these types of products.

Step Two

Investigate environmentally friendly replacement options for office supplies identified in step 1. Compare costs of products and possible savings differences.  These products can be identified through certification websites (ENERGY STAR, for instance, allows users to peruse products that have earned ENERGY STAR qualification)

Step Three

If operating on a tight budget, rather than switching over to environmentally friendly office supplies all at once, it may be more manageable to make the transition slowly. Therefore it is important to identify which office supplies you can afford to replace, or which are most important to replace for energy and utility-saving purposes, to produce the most savings at the lowest cost.  It could be helpful to create a transition map to guide what should be replaced when.

Step Four

Follow the plan created in Step 3 to implement change to environmentally friendly office supplies. A majority of office supplies stores carry a wide range of environmentally friendly products so be sure to find the product that best suits your business’s needs.


Going Further

Businesses that manufacture products can apply to certify those products. To certify manufactured products:

  1. Step One: Research available certifications.
  2. Step Two: Identify which certifications can apply to products.
  3. Step Three: Follow certification steps for selected method.


Step One

Utilize the list of certifications included at the end of this article to gather more information about available certifications. 

Step Two

After conducting thorough research about the types of certifications, identify certifications that may apply to the products of the organization.  Consider the difficulty of achieving the certification and probability of being able to follow through on the process.

Step Three

After identifying the proper certification method go to the certifying organization and follow the steps and criteria provided on their websites. Links are included for the certification organization listed within the descriptions.


Case Study

Business of Sustainable Forestry Case Study – Industry Context by Diana Propper De Callejon, Tony Lent, Michael Skelly, and Charles Webster. This book takes a deeper look at the forest industry—more specifically looking at the pulp and paper industry, engineered wood products, and sawnwood products—and the impact of sustainability certified wood products on the market.

Nike’s environment sustainability proposal

In an effort to improve its environmental impact and decrease its carbon footprint, sports apparel company Nike outsourced the production of retail bags to manufacturer that utilize Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper. The bags were printed on FSC certified printers using soy based ink. Nike uses the FSC logo on retail bags in the United States and Singapore.[1]


Resources for More Information

  • Certifiably Sustainable? The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems by Committee on Certification of Sustainable Products and Services, National Research Council
  • ENERGY STAR: An international standard for energy efficient consumer products overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Products such as computers, kitchen appliances, and lighting that are deemed to meet the standards, receive the Energy Star logo. Generally, Energy Star certified products use 20 -30% less energy than required federal standards.[2]
  • WaterSense: A program sponsored by the EPA designed to encourage water efficiency in the United States. If a manufacturer creates a product that meets the WaterSense standards, the product will receive the WaterSense label on the product. This demarcation helps consumers to select products that use less water without sacrificing convenience and requiring major changes.
  • Cradle to Cradle Certified: Uses the cradle to cradle framework to assess a product’s safety to humans and the environmental design for future life cycles. There are multiple levels of certification ranging from basic to platinum based on which requirements are met. Products from any industry that are sold to consumers or other businesses are eligible for this certification.
  • Green Seal: Green Seal provides science-based, independent guidance to organizations and consumers regarding the impacts products have on the environment and human health, in addition to certifying a product’s quality and performance. It takes a life-cycle approach by evaluating a product from raw materials through recycling and disposal of the product. Products that pass the stringent analysis receive the Green Seal, meaning that they perform on par or better as others in its class. For more information, see also Green Seal certification steps and Green Seal Standards
  • USDA Organic Certified: A process that certifies food and other agricultural products as organic, meaning “produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” Standards differ by country, in the United States the products made with entirely organic goods are labeled “100% organic,” products that contain 95% organic materials are labeled “organic,” and products that contain a minimum of 70% organic material can be labeled “made with organic ingredients.” The first two categories can display the USDA organic seal.[3]
  • Fair Trade Certified: Certifies that products meet environmental, labor, and developmental standards. Fairtrade International (FLO) oversees the process standards, and FLO-CERT oversees the certification process. Organizations can apply for licenses to use the Fair Trade Certified Mark for products that meet the FLO standards. Fair Trade USA uses slightly different, less rigorous standards than FLO.[4]
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified: Appears on products that meet crop standards that encourage sustainable agriculture and conserve biodiversity. The farms must meet both environmental and social standards to become certified. The certification supports sustainable agriculture, social responsibility and integrated pest management. The Rainforest Alliance is an independent evaluation organization.[5]
  • Forest Stewardship Council Certified: FSC promotes responsible management of the world’s forests. The council sets standard and certifies products based on how they are grown and harvested. In order to attain certification, FSC has 10 principles and 56 related criteria, this helps to ensure that forests are managed responsibly.[6]
  • Sustainable Forest Initiative: SFI is a third-party certification program that uses forestry standards covering biodiversity, species at risk, sustainable harvest levels, and water quality.[7] SFI has certified more than 181 million acres of land in the United States and Canada.[8] SFI is considered less stringent than FSC certification.[9]
  • National Center for Sustainability Standards
  • Greener Choices: Helps identify what product labels mean and provides label report cards.



Changing to use sustainable certified products within the office is an easy and effective technique to begin to improve your businesses sustainability, cost savings, and public perception. Additionally, having your company’s products certified as sustainable will help improve the organizations image and decrease your carbon footprint. Switching to eco-friendly products can help your business and your customers simultaneously.  There are many different certification bodies and standards currently available, so be sure to know which are most applicable and attainable for your business.



Carbon footprint: Greenhouse gas emissions caused by organization, event, product, or person

Life Cycle Assessment: Assesses the environmental impact associated with each stage of a product’s life cycle from creation to disposal.

Cradle to cradle: A method of accounting for all the raw materials used to make a product from its input during the manufacturing process to its place in the waste stream.

Organic: Products produced without using modern synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and are grown in a way that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.



[1] Ravi Krishnani, “The Swoosh goes green– Environment Sustainability Proposal by Nike,” Business Today,, accessed 6 August 2013.

[2] Alina Tugend, “If Your Appliances Are Avocado, They Probably Aren’t Green,” New York Times, 10 May 2008,, accessed 6 August 2013.

[3] “National Organic Program,” United States Department of Agriculture, 4 April 2013,, accessed 6 August 2013.

[4] “Certification and Your Business,” Fair Trade USA,, accessed 6 August 2013.

[5] “Standards for Sustainable Agriculture,” Rainforest Alliance,, accessed 6 August 2013.

[6] “Homepage,” Forest Stewardship Council,, accessed 6 August 2013.

[7] “SFI Standard,” Sustainable Forestry Initiative,, accessed 6 August 2013.

[8] “SFI Newsletter,” Sustainable Forestry Initiative, September 2011,, accessed 6 August 2013.

[9] Christine MacDonald, “SFC vs. FSI,” Architecture Week, 12 August 2009,, accessed 6 August 2013.

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