You’ve gotten the most difficult part out of the way; you’ve followed your dreams and started your own small business as a solopreneur! Congratulations! As part of your new brand, you want to show your dedication to green business practices, sustainable products, and promoting healthier workplace environments.
These are admirable goals, but it can be challenging to know where to start. Which green certifications are legitimate and respected? For which green business certifications do you qualify? Can you afford the certification costs or the annual fee? Is a green certification and labeling program worth it for your brand?
We at Sentient Marketing put together a list of some green business certifications, as well as other programs focused on sustainability certifications in various industries. Our hope is for you to use this information and make an informed decision– One that will increase not only the benefits to your own business, but also to the impact of your chosen program.
Why these Certifications?
We wanted to focus our list on ethical certifications that are attainable for business owners who are just starting out or for those running small businesses. We found a range of certifications covering many different ethical values; from human health, energy and environmental design, to supply chain management and green initiatives. This list concentrates on brand or product certifications than factories, farms, and energy efficiency standards. If you are curious about green building certifications for offices or other large spaces, we recommend you look into LEED certified buildings through the Green Building Council here.
How we chose Our Ratings
There are dozens of factors to consider when choosing a green business certification. We have decided to target three important aspects: Affordability, Turnaround, and Community. The Charity Navigator site rating is also included for relevant programs for additional transparency.
‘Affordability’ is an essential point for a small business owner. If the validation process takes more money than you can regularly donate, then it’s not the program for you.
‘Turnaround’ time ties directly into the size of certification programs and, often, how in-depth that certification process can be. A quicker turnaround means your business can start utilizing that verification in your marketing content and your audience messaging all the sooner.
‘Community’ encapsulates the benefits that certifications from accredited third-party organizations bring to your business. This can be a directory of fellow business owners with the same green credentials, or an online marketing guide to utilizing your new certification effectively. Other organizations may offer social media content promotions, or an annual publication for like-minded conscious consumers.
At Sentient Marketing, one of our main values is giving back to charities that focus on environmental benefits. While a ‘green business certification’ or a ‘green business’ is often used as a catch all term for an environmentally responsible product or business; there are many deliberate certification programs you can join to ensure maximum environmental impact.
1% for the Planet
1% for the Planet is a mission driven nonprofit organization that seeks to connect compatible businesses with environmental causes needing support. Business partners agree to donate at least 1% of their annual revenue to a verified environmental charity.
How it works
A green business that signs up for 1% for the Planet can choose to donate based on the revenue of the entire company, a sustainable brand, or even a specific product line. The annual dues scale by business revenue with a minimum fee of $500 for companies making up to $500k annually. The dues count toward the 1% revenue donation.
Charity Navigator: 9/10
The scaling fees make it particularly accessible to smaller businesses. Additionally, for peak environmental performance, businesses can also donate up to half their 1% commitment through charitable volunteering!
The application is simple, and quick. Any additional time is spent connecting green businesses to their ideal causes and sharing how to use the certification effectively.
1% members can look forward to a global network of over 3400 companies and the promise that 1% for the Planet connects businesses with environmental green initiatives that will make the most of their donation. 1 % for the Planet also hosts online events, such as auctions featuring sustainable member products and always promotes environmentally friendly products.
Green Business Bureau
The GBB encourages education and action for companies looking to promote and implement sustainable business practices. They offer online assessment tools and certified businesses can aim for any of the multiple tiers of green certifications they validate.
How it works
Green businesses looking to be certified will complete an initial self-assessment via the free online tool “GBB Eco Assessment” and commit to a corporate sustainability vision statement. The GBB offers four green business certifications: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
Membership pricing scales based on number of employees, starting at $350 a year for 1-10 employees with a monthly payment option also available.
Initial online assessment can take less than a half-hour and if you’re happy with your results, a quick zoom call with GBB to review will get you certified and allow you to show your seal!
Not only does the GBB offer many helpful services for your current green business goals, but they also educate and encourage you to aim higher with their different levels of green certifications and be even better in the future. The GBB also offers an EcoPlanner, an online Carbon Footprint Calculator, and their marketing services to best show your customers, competitors, and employees your dedication to positive environmental impact.
Climate Neutral Certified
The CNC aims to cut carbon emissions in the present rather than making promises for the future. Certified businesses must show that they are working to reduce the greenhouse gas emission from the production and delivery of their products and services. They must also compensate for each ton produced.
How it works
The first step is measuring the output of emissions, then the CNC helps develop a plan to reduce those emissions. Lastly, your company “buys back” the emissions produced with carbon credit or clean energy credits.
There is a minimum fee of $800 and total carbon offset credits should cost less than 1% of a company’s annual revenue with the certification fee costing around half the carbon offset fee.
As the organization takes a detailed look into every business’ emissions and develops a targeted plan to help them create an effective environmental management system, the time commitment to become certified is greater. Depending on the size of your business the certification system can take 3 to 4 months from start to finish.
The knowledgeable support of the CNC in their efforts to help companies reduce carbon emissions going forward is a fantastic resource and certified businesses can be assured they’re getting the latest information in energy efficient production.
This non-profit, green business certification promotes environmentally friendly, sustainable products. They have certified many different industries from personal care to cleaning products, laundry detergents to paper products.
How it works
Your business will apply under the standards that best fit your products. The organization will review your offered information, clarify any further questions and conduct a site review to verify your application.
Charity Navigator 10/10
The lowest fee for a single product or formula is $3500 and the annual fee (after a year of certification) is around $1700.
As the verification process includes a site visit, final certification can take up to 5 months from initial review.
Membership offers use of the respected seal, a Marketing Toolbox for certified businesses, and resources for use of their logo options and various supported promotional materials. Green Seal also encourages certified members to tag them in social media or inform them before major press releases so they can promote your sustainable business!
This category is for the green business certifications regarding consumer product labeling and transparency of ingredients for the conscious customer. Some restrict ingredients that affect human health, or the health of the environment, others focus on whether chemicals are used during the growing or production process of consumer products and encourage the necessity of clearly listed ingredients.
This organization is dedicated to certifying products, educating the public, and supporting other charity events and causes which share their values about the Vegan lifestyle.
How it works
Vegan Certified products are guaranteed not to contain animal or animal by-products or implement the use of animal testing. A business submits one or more products for verification with a$100 non-refundable application fee. There is also an annual licensing fee for the use of their logo.
The scaling licensing fees start at $150 for companies making up to $15k in annual revenue. The application fee is applied to your licensing fee if your product is approved and certified.
Depending on the size of your company and the number of products you would like verified, the turnaround time is estimated to be from 4-8 weeks for full certification.
A clear and recognized logo as well as further educational resources and a spot in the Vegan Certified Business database make this a useful green business certification. They also host multiple outreach campaigns throughout the year.
This green business certification focuses on strict and transparent labeling in regard to GMOs. They are committed to building and preserving non-GMO foods for all who seek them.
How it works
This certification program requires a business to seek third-party verification. Their website contains information on several approved options and any fees will be determined by that third party. The business will sign a licensing agreement and submit product information for certification and be responsible for an annual review.
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This will depend on which third party you choose to get your business certified.
With the addition of a third party, the Non-GMO Project estimates that it will take 3-6 months for a verification to be completed.
The non-GMO butterfly seal is a widely recognized symbol, and the organization offers marketing and promotional advice after businesses have been certified.
The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit organization that tracks chemical safety through consumer product ingredients, agricultural chemicals, and water safety. The EWG mark on certified businesses shows that the product doesn’t contain any “chemicals of concern” and that the business is committed to a transparent ingredient list.
How it works
EWG accepts applications for sustainable personal products, cleaning products, and baby care/diapers. (Full EWG standards document here)
Companies will submit an initial application which EWG will review and follow up with a consultation regarding the ingredients in each product.
Charity Navigator 10/10
There is an application fee, an evaluation fee, and the trademark usage fee which serves as the annual flat fee. Overall cost of participation varies widely based on company size, sales of products, and stage of sustainable development-from hundreds to thousands of dollars per year.
EWG estimates 2-4 weeks for an initial review of a product and from 1 month up to a full year for the full consult duration. The verified license agreement is good for three years.
EWG hosts pop-up events where business owners can talk with EWG scientists, test products, and meet others in the EWG community. The EWG mark signals to customers that your company values and is seeking to advance human health by supporting EWG scientific studies.
These certifications verify that a company or a product is made with animal welfare in mind. This generally means that no animal testing is allowed during any part of the production process.
PETA supports animal welfare by opposing the use of animals as food, fashion, entertainment or in testing.
How it works
An interested business will complete a questionnaire and a statement of assurance. PETA will review both and once accepted, there is an annual certification fee and license agreement. PETA has several certifications under its name: “PETA Animal Test-Free” “PETA Approved Vegan” and a combination of the two.
It is important to note that there is no additional testing required from any independent certification body.
Charity Navigator 8/10
There is a one-time licensing fee of $350 to use the logo and an annual certification fee that depends on the annual revenue of a company. That fee starts at $250 a year for certified companies making up to $15k a year.
If PETA has no follow-up questions about a company’s application, certification will likely be given in days.
The certification includes the logo, but there is also PETA Business Friends which offers many more promotional opportunities from the organization. The lowest paid level is $500 annually.
This organization reviews cosmetics, skincare, and household product to ensure that at no point in the production line was there animal testing.
Note: The Leaping Bunny seal does not guarantee that a product is vegan.
How it works
A company wishing to apply must complete an application, which includes signed declarations from all manufacturers and/or suppliers. All companies must recommit to the program annually to ensure that their supplier monitoring systems are up to date. At any time, an audit can occur where random products are selected, and proof of ingredients/formulations as well as supplier or manufacturer information will be checked.
The only cost associated with the Leaping Bunny program is the optional one-time licensing fee which is based on a company’s gross annual sales. Cost ranges from $500 to $4500. However, there is a free graphic that Leaping Bunny encourages you to use and share on your products should you choose not to license.
The organization processes applications weekly and suggests that most delays come from non-completed forms on the side of the manufacturers/suppliers.
Leaping Bunny offers a wide variety of free marketing opportunities for certified businesses companies that include website promos, product reviews, and social media content promotions. In addition, all approved companies appear on Leaping Bunny’s smartphone app, Cruelty Free, which is available for free download and is updated every 24 hours with the latest list.
Certifications here fall under a wide umbrella. A socially responsible green business certification for us means the program focuses on the human aspect of sustainable development.
Fair Trade USA
Fair Trade Certified companies ensure that no child labor is used during the manufacture of products and supports workers’ rights in regard to safe and fair working conditions, and fair pay.
How it works
A company will apply under the industry standards that best fit their product. This will show the minimum requirements and an independent certification body will verify the application through an annual audit.
At least some cost will depend on your choice of the third-party audit, but additional cost is only determined after application.
There isn’t a lot of information regarding the average amount of time from application to certification, but it is likely to be within the 2–6 months range.
Fair Trade USA has many informational articles and a certified business directory. They host a multitude of charity events all around the world and encourage businesses to get involved.
Fairtrade International focuses on many issues facing the world today. They are best known for their child labor rights, workers’ rights and equitable trade practices throughout the supply chain of several of industries.
How it works
First, a business owner will contact the Fairtrade team, then they will be asked to submit an application with FLOCERT in order to verify use of a certified supply chain. Once approved, the business can add the Fairtrade Mark to its packaging and sign a licensing contract.
Charity Navigator Not Rated
Fairtrade America offers a cost calculator to better estimate your certification costs.
As it is a larger organization, the certification system can take a longer time to navigate. We estimate 4-8 months.
Fairtrade Certified businesses will gain access to useful marketing information, social media content and promotions as well as Fairtrade graphics and statistics for use on their website.
These are green business certifications that look at every ethical and sustainable aspect of an entire business operation or brand. They consider social and environmental performance though environmental design, public transparency, energy efficiency, fair pay, and just about anything else you could want from a certification program.
This organization spreads its influence over many industries to support sustainable practices. They review environmental impact, chemical usage, energy efficiency, fair wages, and agriculture standards.
How it works
Join the Green Business Network to access a member dashboard. There you can complete a profile, and Green America will confirm any preliminary qualifications.
There will then be a more detailed assessment and the certification team will review and follow up–if approved, then you can advertise your Green America seal!
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There are annual dues based on the size of your company. These dues start at $150 for companies of 0-5 employees and go up to $2500 for 251+ employees.
The GA team estimates around a month to be verified if there are no questions and all assessments are completed.
A business certified with Green America will have access to the Green Business Network, a directory of more than 2,000 other sustainable businesses, as well as regular publications, newsletters and events.
B Corp Certification
This organization considers sustainable companies and products on the basis of environmental and social performance.
How it works
A business interested in becoming B Corp certified will need to sign up for the B Impact Assessment. This will ask for relevant information about the business, products, manufacturing processes and much more.
Once a company has a score of 80-85, the assessment can be sent in for review. From there, B Corp will enter the Evaluation stage and the business may have to answer further questions before being fully certified.
There is a $150 fee for submissions as well as an annual fee for B corporations that scales with a company’s annual revenue. This fee starts at $2000 for companies making <$4.9 million.
As a large and busy organization, B Corp certification can take 6-8 months for smaller companies and often up to a full year for others.
Once a company is certified with B Corp, they have many benefits: B Corp Welcome Guide, which shows how best to utilize the new certification to its full potential; The B Hive, a community of other B Corp certified businesses; and exclusive discounts for B Corp products.
Recap: Choosing a Green Business Certification
Not every certification will be right for every business. While there are many benefits to showcasing the values of your brand or company, the important thing is that you are making an impact for good.
At Sentient marketing, we are always looking for new ways to better serve our clients and help all interested businesses aim for ethical and sustainable practices. If you want to learn more about ethical marketing and impact driven missions, check out our Instagram or contact us directly. We look forward to making a difference together!