Are You Certifiable? 4 Reasons to Get Third-Party Certified
By Polina Pinchevsky | June 20, 2017
Just as brand alignment and community formation occur when customers identify with the values a brand represents, there is a similar opportunity for social impact companies to connect with customers, and it’s on the basis of sustainability and social responsibility product certifications. Third-party certifications reflect values that can provide a compelling reason for your customers to buy—but only if they understand what the certification is and how it aligns to their ideals.
Therein lies the challenge.
Whose job is it to tell the certification story?
The number of certifications are proliferating for a variety of reasons, including the lack of a single set of standards that can be easily translated to a wide variety of industries. This makes it increasingly difficult to educate consumers on what a specific certification represents. Without that education, however, the certification won’t go far in terms of aligning with customer values—or in making a sale.
Who is responsible for creating value and awareness for a certification? (Click to Tweet) Is it the certifying body’s job to educate consumers about what its seal stands for, appealing to their values and influencing their purchasing decisions? Does the responsibility rest solely with the business whose product earns certified status?
The reality is that promoting the value of your certification is a two-way street: the certifying body and the business selling a certified product should educate end users about what the mark stands for. The most powerful impact comes when both the issuer and the bearer of the certification promote it collectively.
What are we measuring, how are we measuring, and who decides?
Most social and sustainability certifications measure compliance with a set of established best practices. Beauty product companies display Leaping Bunny certification to let their customers know their beauty or cleaning products are not tested on animals. Apparel companies that use significant amounts of cotton might consider Fair Trade certification to demonstrate their commitment to fair pay for cotton farmers.
Increasingly, however, there’s talk of certifying on a different basis—the basis of whether or not impact goals are achieved without so much concern for methodology. Essentially, it means a certifying body would say to a company, “You need to meet this target to achieve this certification but how you do it is up to you.”
The nonprofit Future-Fit Foundation advocates for something along those lines. Rather than measure progress relative to past practices or short-term goals, Future Fit measures a company’s progress toward an ideal future state. This state is based on the idea that there are benchmarks, goals and do-no-harm thresholds that any company should eventually reach (i.e. all energy is from renewable sources; operations emit no greenhouse gasses, etc.). Sustainability pioneer The Body Shop is currently working with Future-Fit for its latest round of certifications.
How do we maximize the impact of certification?
Those in the know understand the power of certification, but they are few in number. Even the certifying bodies of well known marks recognize that they can’t rely solely on the support of the social impact community if they want to make substantial change—they have to make their message appealing to the mainstream in order to create a new universal standard.
If large-scale impact of a certification is going to be realized, the certification needs to attract a widespread following of those who appreciate the value it provides and are willing to support it with their dollars. To accomplish that, you must connect your certification’s meaning with your audience’s values.
Making the connection
The tea company Runa serves as a good example of how a company connects certification to their own values, and successfully communicates that connection to customers who share those values. Runa’s focus (their “why”) is to improve the lives of indigenous farmers in the Amazon. They list five certifications that support their “why”—demonstrating that business can benefit the environment, preserve cultural practices and support producers while connecting to consumers worldwide.