Environmental Certifications: An Overview

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In a society that is increasingly aware of the environmental impact of business as usual, environmental certifications are becoming ever more popular as organizations attempt to develop measures for sustainability and eco-friendliness. With over 600 environmental certifications worldwide (approximately 80 originating in the US), corporations, governmental bodies, and nonprofits have an ever-expanding list of green labels from which to choose.

Types of Environmental Certifications

Given the diverse environmental issues and number of stakeholders involved in our capitalist society, it is no surprise that there are environmental certifications for every stage of the value chain and every industry and service offering. To give you an idea of the wide range of environmental certification approaches, here is a list of possibilities:

• Resource sourcing and extraction
• Life cycle analysis for manufacturing and industrial processes
• Agricultural systems and geographical area certifications
• Product and retail environmental impact assessments
• Business policies and procedures for organizational certifications
• Construction and building operations
• Educational programs and curriculum development
• Professional designations and certifications for individuals
• End of life disposal and recycling certifications

Of course, the number of environmental issues covered by these environmental certification approaches is just as diverse and can encompass one or several of the following concerns:

• Air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
• Chemical and toxics consumption and disposal
• Energy efficiency
• Extraction of raw materials such as timber, metals, fossil fuels, minerals, and other organic and inorganic resources
• Food safety
• Habitat protection and restoration
• Indoor air quality
• Resource recycling and solid waste disposal
• Water and soil pollution
• Water efficiency

The Purpose and Benefits of Environmental Certifications

More and more, businesses, consumers, and especially governmental organizations are demanding environmental certifications as a way of measuring sustainability and being able to identify the greener products, services, businesses, and individuals. Environmental certifications serve many purposes for organizations and individuals alike:

• Establish credibility and verifiability of environmental claims
• Provide benchmarks which are used for making comparisons
• Enhance differentiation and marketability
• Increase financial viability and profitability
• Provide a standard for assessing eligibility for financial benefits such as scholarships, rebates, and tax incentives

In the end, any environmental certification should lead to a reduction in environmental impact, which in turn will benefit the planet and we humans who depend on it.

In almost every situation, there is a right way to do something or a wrong way. Many employment situations involve an either ethical or unethical way to gain monetary benefits. In a similar manner, there are major challenges and many opportunities that confront the ethics of an environmental professional.

For an environmental professional’s job, the important yardstick to measure success should be the person’s ethics and the mission of working towards the betterment of the environment. Such betterment can only be achieved if a person has a strong work ethic. This, of course, invariably creates challenges:

• Decision making is the major challenge for all environmental professionals. If a person accepts orders and proceeds further to conduct unethical or illegal work, he or she may feel safe at present but in the future, such a person could end up with serious consequences. To overcome such challenges, the environmental professional needs to maintain an open-minded approach, where educating the supervisor and employees about the unethical work before starting on it is the first step.

• Educating all the employees is a major challenge that the environmental professional will often face, as only a few employees may understand and follow directions. This can be overcome by having strict rules and policies in place right from the start.

• There are situations where a professional will stop being ethical for the benefit of some perceived relationship. To overcome any misconception, the professional must concentrate on thinking rationally: doing work for a friend that could give them liability is not the work of a friend, and asking it is less so.
Rational thinking will also help in overcoming the selfish thought of personal benefit.

• The type of challenges faced daily by an environmental professional provides many opportunities for personal benefits. Indeed, taking the time to understand the situation and striving to act responsibly is the most tried and true method of gaining the kind of professional repute that leads to success in this business.

Christopher Young is the director of operations for the National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP), Glenview, IL, an internationally recognized professional environmental certifications organization that specializes in credentialing environmental health and safety and homeland protection professionals. Chris is a certified registered environmental manager and has extensive experience in environmental management, inspections, auditing and project management. He is also a columnist of POLLUTION ENGINEERING Magazine, the leading magazine in the field.

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