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How to Know if a Company Is Actually “Green”

For businesses to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, there are a few gold-standards. Here is what you’ll want to look for

The term ‘green’ has a definition as liberal as a company wants it to be. Do they recycle paper or are they a certified B-corp? What is their carbon footprint? What steps are they taking toward future sustainability? While ‘green’ has no universal definitions or compliance standards, there are standards businesses can achieve to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. 

As an educated consumer, choose to support and work with businesses who focus on environmental stewardship and social responsibility. While there are hundreds of labels that indicate everything from organic production to a living wage for workers, for businesses to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability — how ‘green’ they are — there are a few gold-standards. Here is what you’ll want to look for:

B-Corp

A certified B-corporation is a company that considers the impact of their decisions on their workers, suppliers, community, and environment. There are currently just under 4000 certified B corporations world-wide in 150 industries, with an updated database available online. This is currently the gold-standard of ‘green’ business.

Other certifications

Dow Jones Sustainability Index

Another way to check the ‘green’ status of a corporation, if it is publicly traded, is to see if it is in The Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI). The DJSI includes the top 10% of the 2,500 largest companies in the S&P Global index who submit sustainability information. 

ASSET4 ESG

For a more comprehensive option, the ASSET4 ESG is a Thomsan Reuters database with social responsibility data on more than 4,600 public companies worldwide, including many of the largest companies in the US. This is an excellent resource specifically for social responsibility ‘green’ data. 

Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies

The Global 100 list is published by Corporate Knights in Toronto and takes into account environmental, social, and overall sustainability, as well as revenues and market advantage. The Global 100 is updated annually.

STARS

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (called AASHE or STARS) is the most comprehensive sustainability certification of self-reporting for universities of all sizes. When working in B2B transactions with universities, this certification is the most relevant.

Small, local and ethical

Sometimes a company is too small to afford any of the standard certifications — from the certified organic label to the B-corp certification. Get to know small local business owners and learn about their practices. 

If they demonstrate commitment to a low carbon footprint or carbon-neutral operations, organic or sustainable practices, zero plastic, alternative energy sources, and giving back to the community, they are a great example of grassroots ‘green’ businesses.

LEED Platinum-certified buildings

While a company may still be working toward B-corp certification, one big indication of commitment to sustainability is offices in a LEED certified building. A significant portion of most businesses’ greenhouse gas emissions come from carbon outputs related to the buildings and offices. LEED certified buildings are built on the core values health, safety, and sustainability through sustainable development.  

Check ‘green’ status

To see if a particular company is ‘green’ you can also search for the company’s name plus the phrase “social responsibility report” or “sustainability report”. Check for sustainability awards and accolades, any of the certifications mentioned above, and specific steps taken towards sustainability. 

Look for social responsibility, environmental sustainability, certifications, energy sources, and carbon emissions. Some publicly-traded companies now include their carbon footprint and other sustainability details in their annual Securities and Exchange Commission filings, and are available online. 

What to look for when shopping

When shopping for consumer products, ignore any general claims such as “environmentally friendly” or “eco” and focus on the labels with clear standards to indicate a commitment to sustainability. A few of these labels in the US include:

  • Energy Star (for energy efficiency)
  • USDA Certified Organic (for organic products)
  • Green Seal (for general sustainability)
  • Forest Stewardship Council (for products from responsibly-managed forests)
  • Oeko-tex (for sustainably produced textiles)
  • Carbonfree or CarbonNeutral labels (for reduced or off-set carbon emissions)
  • WindMade (for products from companies that get at least 75% of their energy from renewable sources).

Putting it all together

We are in the midst of an environmental revolution in which consumers demand more ‘green’ products, and businesses scramble to meet these demands. A sustainable company is not only doing the most for the environment, but improving their bottom line. The power is in the hands of the consumers to research and support those companies who have taken significant steps to not just ‘green-wash’ their products, but create a sustainable business model and product. 

Whether you choose products from large corporations or small local businesses, a little research can ensure you support ‘green’ businesses who are doing the most to promote sustainability, reduce carbon emissions, give back to the community, and improve environmental stewardship. 

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