Guide to Sustainable Certifications for Ecommerce Brands

by | Apr 21, 2021

Sustainable Certifications - Thooja

Sustainability is in style. Increasing awareness of climate change and global warming has led to more customers swapping their disposable, short-life products with longer-lasting, environmentally friendly alternatives. The has never been a better time for a sustainable brand to enter the market and start building a relationship with a climate-conscious audience.

Naturally, the higher demand for environmental and ethically conscious brands has led to a growing number of products being marketed with terms like ‘sustainable’, ‘organic’, and ‘green’. Essentially, any product can be called environmentally friendly, even if it doesn’t really have any environmental benefits at all. This is known as greenwashing and consumers are becoming increasingly savvy to the false advertising of ‘green’ products.

Greenwashing means that labeling a product or brand as sustainable without proof now means very little to your customers. Luckily, there is a way for brands to guarantee that their products are genuinely less harmful, or even beneficial, to the environment. A green certification from an independent third-party organization lets your customers know that the products they are buying can be trusted.

How a Sustainable Certification can Benefit Ecommerce Brands

Sustainability is not only great for the planet; it is now also great for business. There’s no doubt that producing sustainable and ethical products is almost always more expensive than similar non-conscious products. Sustainable certifications can also come at a high price. However, a green certification is an investment with a high return. A Nielson 2015 report showed that 73 percent of Millennial shoppers, born between 1977 and 1995 would pay higher prices for sustainable products. A later report, “The State of Consumer Spending: Gen Z Shoppers Demand Sustainability” found that 62% of participants, born between 1997 and 2012, would prefer to choose a sustainable brand.

Standing out in the market is a common goal for all brands and products. And, with an ever-increasing market of climate concerned consumers, sustainable products are more popular than ever. Unfortunately, with the recent boom of sustainable brands and greenwashed marketing, simply slapping a sustainable label on your products will no longer be enough to differentiate them from the crowd. As environmental responsibility becomes more important to your customers, sustainable certifications become an essential tool to prove commitment to sustainability.

A sustainable certification is a fast and easy way of telling customers that your product is better than cheaper alternatives and worth the higher price tag. Through certifications, customers can easily find the brands and products that have values aligning with their own. It also eliminates suspicions of false ‘green’ marketing and cultivates a trusting and transparent relationship with customers.

Choosing a Sustainable Certification

A genuinely sustainable product or brand should easily be able to meet the standards for several sustainable certifications. Despite this, filling your packaging with multiple different certification logos is unnecessary and can be expensive. Instead, businesses and brands should be aiming for the few sustainable certifications that best represent their company values.

When choosing a green certification, the first thing to think about is which certification offers the perfect combination of being both appealing to your customers and aligned with your brand values. The certifications worth paying for are the ones that represent your intentions behind providing a product or service. Look for the most appropriate option that sells your products and resonates with your target market.

The type of sustainable certification your brand deserves depends heavily on the size and type of business you have. Certifications are available for all areas of sustainability from organic materials to renewable energy. They can also be awarded for the entire business, a section of the business, or even for just a single product. Each certifying body will have a different set of requirements that your brand or product has to meet. There will also be a range in cost, application processes, and renewal periods. There are thousands of sustainability certifications available, with standards and requirements that match your brand or product. Here are some of the most widely recognized and trustworthy options:

It’s also important to consider which certifying body is awarding certificates and how reputable they are. Not all sustainable certifications are created equally.  Some certifications are much easier to get with lower standards and less vigorous testing. Unfortunately, since many non-sustainable or greenwashed brands will also be getting these certifications, they count for very little. Sustainable, valuable certifications should be granted by a third-party organization like a non-profit, government, or industry association. They should have clear guidelines for certification that have been developed by experts in the field and be free from financial conflicts of interest.

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

This worldwide certification is only awarded to organic fibers and textiles that comply with a strict set of criteria. The third-party certifying body is working towards a 100% organic textile future and only awards products that meet enough of the environmental and social standards. The GOTS assessment process takes into account the raw materials, chemicals used, waste, contamination risk, processing, production, manufacture, packaging, and trade of fibers and textiles. The third-party certifying body only awards products that meet enough of the environmental and social standards

Ideal For: Clothing, textiles and products made with organic fibres.

How to Get Certified: After applying for the GOTS certification, the entire manufacturing process of a product will be subject to on-site inspection.

Who’s Certified? The American sustainable clothing brand Pact use GOTS cotton for many of their products. Similarly, the luxury bedding brand Boll & Branch (that specialize in organic cotton sheets) are GOTS certified.

Positive Luxury

The Positive Luxury certification comes in form of the favorable Butterfly Mark. It is one of the more exclusive third-party sustainability certificates and only awarded to luxury brands that demonstrate ethical and sustainable behavior in almost all areas. To be accredited and able to display the Butterfly Mark on websites and packaging, a brand must prove it is meeting environmental standards with responsible sourcing and no harsh chemicals. Additionally, the brand will be judged on its positive social impact including taxation, charitability, diversity and inclusion, and equal pay. The Butterfly Mark is harder to achieve but will earn you a place on the list of most trusted luxury brands.

Ideal For: Luxury brands able to demonstrate high levels of commitment to environmental and social justice.

How to Get Certified: After applying for the Butterfly Mark, a brand will be examined via robust questionnaires and assessments on the governance of business, social structures, environmental structures, and innovation. Answers must be corroborated with documented proof and if a brand meets 80% of the criteria, they will receive the prestigious Butterfly Mark.

Who’s Certified? The well-known, natural skincare brand Kiehl’s, displays the butterfly mark on some of its products. The jewelers Garrard have also been certified due to their responsibly sourced diamonds and recycled gold policies.

1% for the Planet

The idea behind this global certification is for companies, organizations, and individuals to give back 1% of their sales profits to help the planet.  Members are connected with approved, non-profit partners that share their values and focus on environmental issues. Every product uses some amount of finite planetary resources, which is why companies are taking the responsibility of funding restoration. A certification from 1% for the Planet lets your customers know that fraction of their money will be dedicated to meaningful environmental solutions.

Ideal For: Any business or individual that is willing to pledge 1% of their gross sales to an environmentally focused non-profit.

How to Get Certified: Join as a business or individual by completing the application forms and speaking to an account manager.

Who’s Certified? One Eleven Watches, a company making solar-powered watches inspired by nature. CoffeeSock, an innovative business that provides sustainable coffee-making alternatives.

Certified B Corporation

The coveted B Corp status is reserved for businesses that meet the high standards of the B Lab certifying body. The goal of this certification is for businesses to be a force of environmental and social justice. They intend to “balance profit and purpose” for an overall more equal and less exploitative economy. To be considered a B Corp, a business will be judged on how it interacts with suppliers, community, employees, and the environment. If the business shows an acceptable level of environmental and social impact at all stages of the business model, it can be considered a B Corp.

Ideal For: Overall businesses (not products) that display high standards of social and environmental behaviour.

How to Get Certified: Companies will first have to complete an Impact Assessment that questions their environmental and social performance. If they achieve a minimum score of 80, they will have to sign the B Corp Agreement and pay a fee.

Who’s Certified? P.L.A.Y is a certified B Corp that makes eco-friendly pet beds and toys. Another B Corp member is Palto, a business making packaging out of sustainable and biodegradable materials.

STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEXÒ

Products that achieve the Standard 100 OEKO-TEXÒ label are guaranteed to be free from all harmful substances that could affect both human and ecological health. These include heavy metals, carcinogens, and toxic chemicals. The Standard 100 label is one of multiple internationally recognized OEKO-TEXÒ labels that a product can be certified with. Unlike other textile-based certifications, the Standard 100 label includes all aspects of a product such as zippers, buttons, thread, prints, and linings. Every aspect of a product is checked against a comprehensive, detailed catalog of harmful substances. This way, customers know that the products they are buying are completely free from damaging substances.

Ideal For: Products in the textile industry that are made entirely without harmful substances. Includes the fashion industry, household fabrics and upholstery.

How to Get Certified: Companies must complete the application form and self-passement with relevant corroborative documents and contact the relevant OEKO-TEXÒ institute. A sample of the product and the chemicals involved in manufacture are sent to the institute where they will be assessed.

Who’s Certified? The Standard 100 label is a favorite for manufacturers like Cansew Inc who produce sewing supplies and accessories. The bedding brand Cuddledown also has a few products that have been awarded this certification.

Leaping Bunny

Leaping Bunny is the internationally recognizable and largely preferred symbol for cruelty-free products. The certifying body, Cruelty Free International, is a non-profit that aims to end animal testing and systematic animal cruelty worldwide.  The Leaping Bunny certification is only awarded to products that have passed the rigorous assessment process. Animal testing is not permitted at any stage, including the manufacture of ingredients.

Ideal For: Most appropriate for personal care and cosmetic products as well as household and cleaning products.

How to Get Certified: At a given date, the entire company must prove to be aligned with the Leaping Bunny criteria. The supply chain process is then audited carefully to ensure no animals are used at any stage of production.

Who’s Certified? Soganics have achieved the Leaping Bunny certification for their environmentally friendly and conscious cleaning products. Another Leaping Bunny member is Burt’s Bees, producers of natural cosmetics and personal care.

Rainforest Alliance Certified

The Rainforest Alliance works on the core principle of supporting social, economic, and environmental sustainability. They focus on helping farmers operate organically with environmental management and minimal climate destruction or deforestation. The Rainforest Alliance also focuses on improving the lives of farmers with a fair rate of pay and a good working environment. Products with organic materials that come from farms certified by the Rainforest Alliance are able to bear the world-famous frog logo.

Ideal For: Agriculture products including herbs and spices, forestry products like paper and cardboard packaging, tourism businesses that are recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

How to Get Certified: The new 2020 certification program outlines the latest standards that businesses have to meet to get certified. Farms for the raw materials are audited to ensure that meet the required standards.

Who’s Certified? The Rainforest Alliance Certification has been granted to coffee beans from Green Farm Coffee and to the tea life farms that provide the tea in Teapigs.

The Green Business Bureau

The Green Business Bureau (GBB) is a favorite among smaller companies and operates on a novel process. As the Green Business Bureau is for all businesses that want to demonstrate their sustainability, its assessment criteria are customizable and specific to each company. Businesses can sign up for the GBB certification process and receive points for the initiative-based activities they complete. Each business can focus on a specific area of sustainability actions and there is ongoing advice and guidance on how to approach and complete new initiatives so that companies are improving all the time.

Ideal For: Small and medium-sized businesses and companies that want recognition for the efforts in sustainability made and guidance on how to make their organizations increasingly more sustainable.

How to Get Certified: Complete the GBB comprehensive sustainability assessment to ensure all prerequisite conditions are met and to find out areas in need of improvement.

Who’s Certified? Great for smaller businesses such as the American-based Eco Green Office Cleaning Services, and Virimodo, a solutions-focused web and app company that aims to lower carbon emissions in cities.

Wrapping Up

Once you’ve found the ideal sustainable certification for your brand or product, don’t be afraid to show it off! Customers getting to grips with identifying green products will be grateful for the green certifications that let them know they are getting a product that is genuinely better for the environment. Display your certifications with pride on packaging and websites along with information about how exactly your product or brand is benefitting the planet. The more detailed information you have, the more legitimate your product will seem.