Certification Schemes in Properly Managing our Environment

One major question I seem to struggle with all the time is how to know whether or not we are making smart choices as consumers.

How do we know whether or not the fish we are eating comes from an over fished lake or river? How do we know if the Ikea table we bought is made from wood sourced from a logging company contributing to deforestation?

To answer this question, lots of organizations have come up with certification schemes to help show customers, with a “seal of approval” label, that products are fair trade, sources responsibly, etc.  Unfortunately, not all of these certifications may be as credible as one would hope.

Here are a few things to look for:

Compatibility with international frameworks for certification accreditation and standard setting.

Accreditation Service International, for example, is a third party accreditation agency certifying the standards and integrity of other certification schemes.

Globally applicable principles that balance economic, ecological, and social principles.

This gives the standards a well rounded picture, and gives all stakeholders a balanced scheme taking into consideration everyone’s needs.

Meaningful and equitable participation of all major stakeholders in governance and standard setting.

This allows all stakeholders to have an equitable voice in standards and approve all decisions made to change these standards in the future.

Objective and measurable performance indicators that are adapted to the local conditions.

Transparency in decision making and reporting.

All reports should be made available online, but on the certifying organization’s website, and on the website of the corporation or land owner that has been audited.  This includes the full report given by the auditor, not just the certification grade, or seal granted.

A certification process that is free of conflicts of interest amongst parties involved.

Reliable assessment of the performance of the management of the natural resource and its “chain of custody”

Ensuring that the resource is not mixed with other non-certified resources before it makes it to its buyer.

Ease of access and cost-effectiveness for all parties involved in the certification process.

Voluntary participation.

Not all certification schemes  have rigorous standards, nor do they have proper auditing processes. One way to check the integrity of a certification scheme is to see whether or not its stakeholders approve of the scheme.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), for example, has done a good job at making sure that they include all of their stakeholders throughout the process.  Stakeholders are a part of the decision-making process and the auditing process. FSC publicly announces expected audit dates one month prior to the actual assessment. This allows stakeholders to offer any information or concerns they may have regarding the company being audited to the auditor.  Sometimes, stakeholders are even invited along on the actual audit. This transparency allows the organization to maintain is credibility and rigor in the sector.  Here is Greenpeace’s opinion of FSC’s work.

Certification schemes can be a very useful tool in helping to sustainably manage natural resources, but they must be credible, equitable, transparent, and accountable.

We must be wary of the green labels we find on our products.  Not all of them may be as credible as we may hope.


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