How to choose a sustainability accreditation

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

Goodman advised businesses to choose a sustainability accreditation that has a third-party audit for extra transparency (Image Getty)
Goodman advised businesses to choose a sustainability accreditation that has a third-party audit for extra transparency (Image Getty)

Related tags green beauty circular beauty Sustainability sustainable beauty Environment circular economy

As more cosmetics businesses strive to become greener, achieving a sustainability certification can be a great way to differentiate your business and show your customers that you’re an ethical company that prioritises their eco concerns.

From new packaging regulations to changing rules on deforestation, there have been many updates to European and UK environmental policies over the past year and more businesses are now having their green claims held under a microscope​ by both regulatory bodies and their customers.

Go green or go home

In October 2023 at the annual Cosmetics360 show, CosmeticsDesign-Europe spoke to the President of Cosmetics Valley and Secrétaire Général at LVMH Marc-Antoine Jamet who had some advice for beauty and personal care companies ​on the future of the industry: “Unlike some other industries, we are not an industry that will be forgiven if we are not more ecological,” he shared. “Even if you don’t like that, it is very consequential for your company. If you’re not forward-thinking; if you don’t know how to do this, it’s going to be a big issue for your business in the next 5 -10 years.

It’s clear that many consumers are already aware of how sustainable or un-sustainable your products and practices are.

Statista​ recently published the results of a study that was undertaken in 2021 that found 75% of German, 65% of French, 77% of Chinese and 60% of US beauty consumers said they considered the sustainability of beauty and personal care products they bought.

And a 2023 survey from Nielsen IQ found that 62% of US beauty consumers​ said sustainability was now more important than it was two years ago.

Another market intelligence company Euromonitor International has even identified ‘Greenwashed Out’ – consumers becoming tired of companies making dubious green claims – as one of its key trends for this year.   

According to client insight research manager at Euromonitor International, Stephen Dutton, consumers are pushing the responsibility back on businesses and won’t accept empty promises or false narratives.

“All organisations must take ownership of their carbon footprint and prove their positive impact,” he said.

“Offsetting isn’t enough but accurately mapping out your carbon footprint is complex. Businesses need to measure direct and indirect emissions, including upstream and downstream value chains. That’s not only challenging to track but also extensively regulated.”

How to choose a sustainability certification

While it has become clear that beauty and personal care businesses must strive to become greener, it’s not always clear how they can go about doing this. It can also potentially be a labour-intensive and budget-blowing process.  

Accreditation programmes are a good place to start in terms of showcasing your eco-credentials to your customers and your competitors. But there are so many of these and they can vary depending on wherever you are in the world.

“The world needs all the environmentally supportive programs it can get,” said David Goodman, CEO of Edenark – a company that helps SMEs work towards an internationally recognised environmental sustainability certification programme. “But for me, the ISO 14001​ stands out as the gold standard, as it provides a holistic framework Environmental Management System that encompasses all aspects of an organisation's environmental impact and helps it continuously improve.”

ISO itself is an independent, non-governmental international organisation with a membership of 169 national standards bodies. 

If you're struggling to know where to start when choosing a choosing a sustainability accreditation that's best for your business, Goodman shared his advice on the factors to consider when making this decision: 

  • A third-party audit component
    “There are many sustainability programs that deliver a certification based on your ‘word’, says Goodman. For him, this is not enough as there is no-one holding the business accountable to ensure what it says about itself is true.
    “Make sure the programme you choose uses a third party to validate your work,” he advised.
  • Based on a respected and integrated global standard
    “The sustainability industry is maturing and coalescing around few standards,” said Goodman. “The UN has created its 17 sustainability development goals​ and 50% of the world’s economies require sustainability reporting.”

    He pointed out that you don’t want to spend time and money on a certification to find you are not following the same programs and protocols that the leadership groups have adopted. “Don’t pick a program that is not globally respected by, and integrated with, the world leadership groups; and that does not have the ability to integrate the other three legs of the stool – carbon neutrality, ESG and net zero,” he advised.

  • An accreditation that pursues continual (rather than instant) improvement
    Sustainability requires long-term commitment and a lot of effort and if the bar is set too high, there can be a temptation to get frustrated and give up. “You want a programme that lets you come as you are and allows you to continually improve,” advised Goodman. “This will keep everyone happy and committed year after year.”
  • A requirement to give annual updates
    According to Goodman, current equals credible. “Sustainability is not finite; we need to continually improve,” he said.

    He urged not to choose a programme that doesn’t have a date attached to its certification. ​You want to continually improve, see your success, and annually update your certification to show you are current and credible in your actions,” he said.  

  • Puts an emphasis on employee performance/health
    “Sustainability is not just about energy savings or ‘Greening Up’, it is about people, said Goodman. “For most businesses, the employees are one of the biggest costs, one of the biggest risks (mistakes, insurance, law suits) and one of the biggest opportunities (new ideas, collaboration, product knowledge).

    Goodman noted that every organisation suffers from what he called ‘the Big 5’ – insomnia, stress, anxiety, physical pain, mental acuity – and said that businesses are losing 5% of their corporate profit/year to the Big 5

    “Make sure your program has a ‘people piece’ that addresses employee performance, health and happiness,” he advised

  • Focuses on more than just certifying a building
    Goodman advises that you want the certification on your business and not the building your business is in. “Most building certifications only care about building energy, which is hard to market and therefore gives a poor ROI,” he said.
    “You want to be able to say: 'Buy more of my product because we are a certified sustainable business’. You do not get much value from, 'Buy more of my product because we are in an energy efficient building'.”
  • Promotes/markets its certification
    “Historically, most programs and providers have been 100% trained and focused on cost-side measures – energy reduction, carbon reduction, waste reduction, water reduction, travel reduction etc, but we know consumers are searching for certified sustainable companies,” said Goodman.

    “You want a program provider that is built to do the cost-side work AND the revenue-side work; and helps you promote your certification. If you don’t talk about being certified sustainable, they will never know you are.”

  • An affordable price point that gives a positive ROI
    “We could have started with cost, but you need the above seven components at a price you can afford and needs to show a positive and rapid ROI,” explained Goodman.

    He also highlighted that the cost – in both money and time – needs to cover everything: the certification, the third-party audit and your work to become certified.

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