The little business that should
Picture the scene. You are a small business that wants to become recognizably and credibly more sustainable. It’s a classic tale. Your leadership knows it’s crucial to reduce the organization’s impact on the planet but needs to know where to start. So, they reach out to employees and ask for ideas. There are tons of great initiatives, but your leadership still feels they are at risk of making piecemeal changes without fully operating sustainably and with integrity. After more research, aiming for a standard seems like a good framework for managing your environmental impacts. However, the requirements are complex, and a consultant is too expensive.
Does this sound familiar? Do you, too, want to align with an industry or global standard but don’t know quite where to start?
Don’t worry; the Toolbox is on hand to guide you and your team through the process. Alongside the tools and our 1:1 support, this article will give you an overview of how to navigate standards and certifications; specifically, ISO and B-Corp, choose which one is right for you, and learn how to integrate its requirements using The Toolbox, to become a leader in sustainability within your industry.
If you need a quick overview of the pros, cons, and process, skip to the table at the bottom of the article. Otherwise, continue reading for the deep dive.
Let’s start with ISO. ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization. It’s a group of more than 160 countries that work together to create and promote international standards. Each member country has its own standards body, and they all collaborate on making standards for things like technology, scientific testing processes, and of course, environmental and sustainable management. ISO creates documents that detail these standards. Businesses and organizations then adapt their own strategies to meet these specifications.
The ISO standards we’re looking at in this article are divided into ten sections called clauses. The first three clauses explain what the standard is about, covering the definitions of important terms used in the standard. The remaining seven clauses describe the requirements to meet the standard. These requirements include understanding the organization’s context (clause 4), strong leadership (clause 5), planning (clause 6), support (clause 7), operations (clause 8), evaluation (clause 9), and continuous improvement (clause 10).
Our first standard is ISO 14001. A popular benchmark around the world, ISO14001 helps businesses create environmental management systems to control and ultimately reduce their impact. It was first published in 1996, responding to increasing demand for organizations to demonstrate their environmental responsibility. The standard required organizations to set environmental policies and objectives, and focus on managing their negative impact on the environment, mainly pollution control.
Today, ISO 14001 has improved baseline requirements, particularly around compliance, and includes deeper criteria on how policies are actioned and integrated. Moreover, organizations must today differentiate between aspects they have direct control over and those they can influence (see The Toolbox Issues Matrix template – Step 4) and are required to act as ‘Change Agents’ to leverage systemic change down their supply chains (see Sustainable Sourcing Code template – Step 6).
ISO 2012.1 is a system for sustainable events management. Adopted as an ISO Standard after the 2012 Olympic Games, organizations can apply it to any event they conduct, or like ISO 14001, it can be integrated into the heart of a business and applied to each event from there. The ISO 2012.1 standard adopts a management systems approach and offers a framework that facilitates the identification of potentially negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of events. Organizers can use this framework to reduce or eliminate such impacts in their event planning and delivery processes.
By implementing ISO 2012.1 or ISO 14001, your organization can embed sustainability in crucial areas such as facility or venue selection, transport, recycling and circularity, creating a sustainable food strategy, promoting healthy living, and creating skills, employment, and business legacies. The standard can also reduce costs, carbon emissions, and waste, manage the biodiversity of venues and facilities, and foster a diverse and inclusive workforce.
If you’re interested in obtaining an ISO certification, here is how The Toolbox can support you:
- 📑 Understand the standard and reference it in your policy: Before starting the certification process, it’s essential to understand the requirements of the ISO standard. You can find the standards on the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) website. Alongside the standard, you can use this handy checklist from PWC for ISO 14001 or this guidance from greenshoot pacific for ISO 2012.1. As you start your sustainability program, you can integrate these requirements into your sustainability policy in Step 2 of The Toolbox. In doing so, you can then use the policy to discuss potential collaborations to meet requirements with suppliers and stakeholders using the tools in Step 3: Engaging with Stakeholders.
- 🔍 Assess your current sustainability management practices: The next step is to review operation and management practices and identify any gaps between your existing operations and the requirements of the standard using the Issues Matrix in Step 4 and set targets to address those issues using the Goals and Targets template in Step 5.
- 🗺️ Develop an action plan: Once you’ve identified the gaps and set targets, you can develop a plan to address them using Step 6: Planning and Implementing a Sustainability Program. Devise initiatives to implement the necessary changes required to meet the standard over the course of your next reporting cycle.
- 🛠️ Implement the standard: Put your plan into action and implement the changes you’ve identified, tracking your progress with our range of trackers in Step 7: Assessing Progress.
- ⚖️ Conduct an internal audit: Once you feel your organization is up to scratch, you should start by auditing yourself for compliance to ensure you meet the standard’s requirements. Using The Toolbox, you can reassess how you have addressed the gaps outlined in your Issues Matrix, the legal obligations, and the non-conformance register, then use the internal audit template in Step 7: Assessing Progress to complete the first-party verification.
After that, you can initiate a second-party verification. This is when you bring in another affiliated organization to audit your organization. You are only fully certified when your organization has done a third-party verification. This is when a completely independent body audits your organization to ensure you evenhandedly meet the standard’s requirements. Third-party audits typically take place annually and can last for months. ISO doesn’t conduct third-party audits nor accredit compliance against standards, so your organization should research and choose a certification body with processes best suited to your operations. The third-party auditor should be certified by a legitimate internationally recognized accreditation body, such as those registered with the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), ensuring that your organization’s certification will be recognized globally.
ISO Standards: The pros and cons
Getting certified can take your business from environmental rookie to sustainability champ! It shows that you are committed to quality, competence, and credibility, which is great for your reputation and puts you head and shoulders above competitors in your industry. Not only that, but certification can also help you improve your processes, increase efficiency, and save money, all contributing to that bottom line. Adhering to standards can also boost reputation, attract new customers and keep existing clients coming back for more. For instance, according to Unilever, their purpose-driven brands are growing more than twice the rate of the rest of their portfolio.
Being ISO-certified can open up new markets and opportunities for your business. Many organizations, like the energy giant SSE or manufacturers such as LG Electronics, BASF, or Samsung, require ISO certification for new suppliers to do business with them.
Of course, we do all this mainly to reduce environmental impact and create a safer work environment. Applying your organization to the requirements of the standard now makes you more prepared for future mandatory environmental or social regulation and reduces your risk of negatively impacting your stakeholders. The Toolbox also believes that with third-party verification, ISO standards show that you objectively care about sustainability and safety, which is becoming an increasingly significant consideration for employees and customers.
Sounds good, right? Let’s get going! Well, hold your horses just a minute. There are just a couple of downsides to consider. The disadvantages of certification are primarily cost and time.
Costs vary widely depending on how much external expertise is needed, but they can easily eclipse $50,000 for a mid-sized company with no quality system actively in place. However, pricing varies by the company’s size. If an organization is canny, it will significantly reduce costs by taking on much preparation work by using The Toolbox. In turn, it can negotiate down the number of audit days, which can substantially impact the certification cost. Be sure to look at the total three-year cost for third-party audits, not just the one-year cycle, as some certification bodies have higher ongoing costs than others.
It’s important to note that each certification body may have specific requirements and procedures for certification, so it’s essential to research and choose a reputable certification body that meets your particular needs. You may save money and decide to comply with ISO standards and just continue to make second-party audits with stakeholders without seeking third-party certification. You will be able to market your achievements, but explicitly marketing compliance without third-party verification could land you in a big pool of greenwash. Only organizations that are certified by an accredited certification body can legally advertise that achievement.
With that in perspective, it’s important to note that standards only go so far as to outline the minimum requirements to ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of your products, services, and systems. By focusing your resources on moving beyond ISO standards rather than verifying your compliance, your organization can position itself as regenerative rather than sustainable, applying management techniques to sustain operations and be restorative, creating benefits for all stakeholders.
“The ISOs sound great, but my organization is still changing and fluid, and we want to ensure we are best leveraging positive change as world leaders,” I hear you cry. Well, B-Corp certification is a third-party certification that is designed by for-profit companies, for for-profit companies and verifies performance against world-leading environmental standards and social sustainability indicators. Becoming a B-Corp certified company is a very rigorous process requiring a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. However, B-Corp certification can help your business differentiate itself from competitors, as it’s more stringent than ISO, attracting socially conscious investors and customers and demonstrating outstanding commitment to positively impacting the world.
To gain and maintain certification, organizations must receive a minimum score of 80 from an assessment on specific requirements for ten topics.
These topics are:
- 🎯 Purpose & Stakeholder Governance
- 👷♀️ Worker Engagement
- 💰 Fair Wages
- 🏳️🌈 Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
- ✊ Human Rights
- 🌍 Climate Action
- 🌱 Circularity & Environmental Stewardship
- 🤝 Collective Action
- 📈 Impact Management
- ❗ Risk Standards
Each assessment criterion under the ten topics has a different weighting. Your organization can strategize to make swift and impactful change by meeting the criterion with the biggest weighting or the lowest-hanging fruit. At the time of writing this article, the exact requirements are being renewed and are in the consultation phase and will be outlined later this year. We know they will still follow the same ten-topic format, ensuring a positive impact across various activities and concerns.
Discover how The Toolbox can support you in the steps to becoming B-Corp certified;
- 📑Understand the requirements of the 10 topics and reference them in your policy: Integrate the B-Corp requirements into your sustainability policy in Step 2 of The Toolbox and collaborate with suppliers and stakeholders to meet them using the tools in Step 3: Engaging with Stakeholders;
- 🔍Assess your current sustainability management practices: Identify any gaps between your current practices and the requirements of the standard using the Issues Matrix in Step 4 and set targets to address those issues using the Goals and Targets template in Step 5;
- 🗺️Create an action plan: Creat your road map using Step 6: Planning and Implementing a Sustainability program
- 🛠️Implement the necessary changes you’ve identified, tracking your progress with our range of trackers in Step 7: Assessing Progress.
- ⚖️ Conduct an Internal Audit: Using the B-Impact Assessment, once you feel fully fledged as a B-corp business, you can assess your organization’s performance against the B-Corp standards. This free online tool measures your company’s impact on its workers, community, environment, and stakeholders against the B-Corp criteria.
After receiving positive results from the B-Impact Assessment, you can submit your application to B-Lab, the nonprofit organization that certifies B-Corps. B-Lab will review your application as a third-party audit. They may require additional documentation and evidence to verify your company’s social and environmental impact, so stay diligent in tracking your implementation efforts. If your company meets the B-Corp standards and passes the verification process, you’ll be certified as a B-Corp. Woo-hoo! You will receive a certificate, be included in their list of registered B-Corps, and will be able to market your organization using the B-corp ensign.
B-Corp: The Pros and Cons
The Pros and Cons of B-Corp certification are very similar to ISO certification in that the marketable benefits need to be weighed up against the cost of the assessment. However, the B-Corp standards are more stringent, cheaper to audit, and arguably more and more marketable as a brand than ISO. Also, being certified comes with some great community benefits and perks, such as access for employees to discounts from other B-Corps or academic loan forgiveness (This means that employees of B-Corps with student loans may be able to get support in paying them off from the B-Corp community).
On the other hand, there are some potential downsides to consider. For example, unlike ISO, B-Lab certification has no legal status, and organizations need to pay annual administrative and legal fees depending on your company’s revenue. Additionally, B-Lab’s standards aren’t necessarily based on international standards, which means they haven’t been peer-assessed in different markets for social responsibility. Finally, B-corp initiatives have come under scrutiny for being focused on point scoring, benefitting corporate interests over those of other stakeholders, and in turn, often face more scrutiny than international standards.
The little business that could!
As you make your choices and aim for a certification, remember free one-to-one guidance is available from The Toolbox team.
Starting processes is never easy, but by aligning your organization to a standard or certification, you and your team can continuously learn valuable lessons, build on achievements, and gain skills. Start today, and you will be more equipped than ever to become a force of good on our planet’s journey towards a better, more prosperous, equitable, and environmentally-safe future for all.
Pros and Cons Table
|ISO||– Certification shows commitment to quality, competence, and credibility, which is great for your reputation and puts you ahead of competitors in your industry.|
– Certification can help you improve your processes, boost efficiency, and save money, contributing to a bigger bottom line.
– Adhering to standards prioritizes customer satisfaction, helping you attract and retain new customers.
– Being ISO-certified can open up new markets and opportunities for your business.
– Certification reduces the risk of causing grief to your stakeholders.Using The Toolbox can reduce costs by taking on much of the preparation work
|– Costs vary widely. It can easily eclipse $50,000 for a mid-sized company with no quality system actively in place.|
– Each certification body has specific requirements and procedures for certification, so it can be time-consuming to research and choose a certification body that meets your particular needs.
– You cant legally claim compliance with ISO standards without seeking third-party certification.
– Standards only outline the minimum requirements to ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of your products, services, and systems.
|📑 Understand the ISO or B-corp requirements and reference them in your policy|
(Step 2: Create a sustainability policy)
Discuss potential collaborations with suppliers and stakeholders to meet requirements.
(Step 3: Engaging with Stakeholders.)
🔍 Assess your current environmental management practices and identify any gaps between your existing operations and the requirements of the standard or certification (Step 4 Issues Matrix)
Set targets to address issues (Step 5: Goals and Targets template)
🗺️ Develop an action plan
(Step 6: Planning and Implementing a sustainability program)
🛠️ Implement the standard: Put your plan into action and track progress
(Step 7: Assessing Progress.)
⚖️ Conduct an internal audit: (Step 7: Internal audit template or B-Impact Assessment)Verify compliance with a legitimate ISO accreditation body or B-labs in a Third Party Audit
|B- Corp ||– B-Corp certification has similar marketable benefits to ISO certification.|
– B-Corp brand and movement are arguably stronger and more recognizable to consumers.
– B-Corp standards are more stringent
– B-labs auditing is cheaper than ISOBeing certified brings great community benefits and employee perks, such as discounts from other B-Corps or academic loan forgiveness.
|– B Lab certification has no legal status, unlike ISO certification.|
– Organizations must pay annual administrative and legal fees depending on their revenue.
– B-Corp standards aren’t necessarily based on international standards and haven’t been peer-assessed in different markets for social responsibility.
– B-corp initiatives often face more scrutiny than international standards and have been seen to focus on point scoring and benefitting corporate interests over those of other stakeholders.
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