Sustainability certification programs are a tried and tested way to make social or environmental claims about your brand and its products. They turn complex information into a set of standardised criteria and provide a roadmap of practices to implement in order to get certified.
To add a layer of credibility, sustainability certifications are led by third-party organisations. By embedding such certifications into your sustainability strategy, you can be sure your claims have been independently verified and substantiated, which gives you confidence to share your progress with customers without the risk of greenwashing.
What’s more, sustainability certifications also carry huge weight with today’s eco-conscious consumers. Our research found that more than four in five (85%) trust an independent verifier, making it the most highly trusted source of sustainability information when consumers are in purchasing mode.
To help you build consumer trust through transparent sustainability, we’ve shortlisted some of today's top sustainability certifications for businesses and how to get started.
Top sustainability certifications for consumer goods businesses
The following sustainability certifications can be applied to any business in any vertical within consumer goods:
1. B Corporation
What is it? Known to many simply as B Corp, this certification is for businesses that place purpose at the core of their business. You’ll need to demonstrate a continuous positive impact on the environment, community, customers, suppliers, employees, and shareholders in order to meet the high standards required. Find out more via B Lab.
Tell me more: Over 6000 companies hold the B Corp certification, representing 80+ countries and 150+ industries. Once certified, the B Corp community offers a global network of like-minded businesses that share best practices, collaborate, and support each other.
How to get started? The first step towards B Corp certification is to take the B Impact Assessment. It's a free and confidential tool for mapping your positive impact across its priority themes. Once you’ve received a score of 80 or above, you are one step closer to the full B Corp certification.
What is it? The Living Wage Foundation accreditation demonstrates that all employees are paid a ‘living wage’ which is an hourly rate calculated on the real cost of living. You’ll need to prove that directly employed staff receive a ‘living wage’ plus proof of a plan that includes third-party party contracted staff.
Tell me more: A ‘living wage’ represents the amount necessary to have a minimum standard of acceptable living. The rate will vary by location and currency, take a look at the Global Living Wage network to get the latest criteria. There are over 13,000 Living Wage Foundation accredited businesses in the UK alone.
How to get started? Start by paying all employees the ‘living wage’ (or ‘London living wage’ for London-based employees) and write a plan that shows how this will extend to all third-party contractors (including security, cleaners, and catering staff) if it doesn’t already. Next, contact Living Wage Foundation directly to complete their accreditation form.
What is it? The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification sets apart businesses based on their sourcing of wood- and paper-based products by ensuring the materials come from recycled sources and/or well-managed forests. Since its creation, this sustainability certification has protected 150M hectares of land.
Tell me more: Businesses from 80+ countries use FSC’s certification to demonstrate the use of sustainable forest-based materials. The certification should be applied to businesses throughout the supply chain, from manufacturers to retailers, and is valid for 5 years.
How to get started? For the certification to be relevant, you’ll need to be using FSC-certified materials such as paper and packaging. Once you’ve sourced and used these items, contact your local FSC team who can introduce you to the certification process specific to your business and region. FSC also offers online and in-person training to introduce the FSC system so you can suss out its relevance.
What is it? The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification is a set of global standards that must be met in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). The criteria protects the environment and the communities within palm oil-producing regions, taking into account biodiversity, deforestation, cultural needs, use of pesticides, and ecosystems.
Tell me more: The RSPO certificate allows businesses to prove they are producing, sourcing and/or using sustainable palm oil within their products. The certification protects natural habitats and smallholder producers and is valid for 5 years.
How to get started? Before becoming RSPO certified, ensure that the palm oil you’re sourcing is RSPO certified. You’ll then need to become an RSPO member by following these steps and completing the relevant certification assessment depending on your position in the supply chain, from producers to manufacturers to retailers.
Top sustainability certifications for beauty & wellness businesses
There are a number of sustainability certifications for beauty & wellness businesses. We’ve shortlisted the top 3 to consider.
5. The Vegan Trademark
What is it? The Vegan Society established its Vegan Trademark to certify a product that hasn’t been tested on animals and does not use animal-derived ingredients or by-products. The product must meet the standards set by The Vegan Society before the certification is awarded, ensuring the claim is authentic and valid.
Tell me more: There are over 65,000 Vegan Trademark certified products internationally. It’s important to note that the trademark only applies to products, The Vegan Society doesn’t certify the whole business or brand.
How to get started?Watch this webinar for an introduction to the trademark and its criteria. When you’re ready, get in touch with The Vegan Society directly and you’ll be assigned Trademark Officer who audits your products and supply chain where relevant. The whole process usually takes 1-3 months.
What is it? The Good Face Project uses leading technology to help businesses screen their products for potentially harmful ingredients. They’ve developed the Good Face Index which holds data on 100,000+ ingredients and is the basis of its Forbidden Toxins list. To be Good Face Project Approved, you’ll need to prove you meet its safety standards and do not use any chemicals from its Forbidden Toxins list.
Tell me more: Chemicals that will prevent your business from getting the Good Face Projected Approved seal include BHA, parabens and SLS. The Good Face Index combines scientific studies, international regulations, and the latest sustainability standards to help brands find the safest ingredients.
How to get started? Pull together your INCI ingredients lists and product formulations then book a demo with the Good Face Project team who will show you how to use its platform. Take inspiration from other Approved products as here.
What is it? The internationally recognised COSMOS Organic standard helps businesses prove that their products are genuinely organic. The certification’s principles protect the environment and wildlife, as well as animal welfare. You’ll need to prove 95% of the plant-based ingredients are organic and at least 20% of the ingredients are organic across the whole formula.
Tell me more: Animal, human, soil, and plant health are the foundations of the COSMOS Organic standard which applies to 56,000+ products globally. It sets out guidance to avoid animal testing, GM ingredients, parabens, and synthetic colours or dyes, and insists manufacturing methods respect the organic standard.
How to get started? COSMOS has appointed 12 certification bodies to uphold the standard on its behalf, including its founders BDIH, Cosmebio, Ecocert, ICEA, and the Soil Association. Identify the body that best suits your business and location, then get in touch to obtain the relevant paperwork and arrange an audit.
Top sustainability certifications for food & drink businesses
Within the food & drink industry, these sustainability certifications help F&B businesses to prove their positive impact:
What is it? Fairtrade aims to create fairer terms of trade between farmers and buyers. Its certification focuses on three main areas: economic, environmental, and social, for a more sustainable and transparent supply chain. For products to be awarded the Fairtrade Mark, you’ll need to demonstrate you meet the core requirements, for example, paying the Fairtrade ‘Minimum’ price for the relevant material or ingredient as well as the Fairtrade premium that goes directly to the producing communities.
Tell me more: There are over 37,000 Fairtrade-certified products that are sold across 143+ different countries. The scheme involves 2+ million farmers and workers worldwide and for the certification to remain valid, the Fairtrade stands must be met by producers, traders, and manufacturers throughout the supply chain.
How to get started? Firstly, check that your product and/or its ingredients are within the Fairtrade product list otherwise you’ll be unable to get certified. You’ll then need to contact FLOCERT, Fairtrade’s appointed independent auditor who will run you through the process and assess you against the relevant compliance criteria.
Audit type: Paper and In-Person (includes unannounced audits)
What is it? The Rainforest Alliance aims to protect forests and their communities, by using sustainable agriculture to improve the livelihoods of farmers. This sustainability certification requires your business to meet environmental and social standards, for example, proving a product or ingredient was grown on a Rainforest Alliance-certified farm.
Tell me more: One of the most widely recognised environmental sustainability certifications, The Rainforest Alliance is used in 70+ countries and is valid for 3 years. The certification logo features a red-eyed tree frog.
How to get started? Fill out the Rainforest Alliance’s Get Started form which asks for information about your industry, business role (farmer or buyer), and which product you wish to certify. You can get a headstart by checking if anyone in your supply chain is already certified.
What is it? The Soil Association Organic certification ensures that every part of the supply chain, from farmers to packers to manufacturers to retailers, has proven they meet the organic standards set by the Soil Association. The certification requirements include measures to safeguard the environment, animal welfare, and compliance with EU Organic Regulation.
Tell me more: The Soil Association Organic certification is one the largest of its kind and currently licenses over 70% of the organic food sold in the UK alone. The certification is most prevalent in the food industry but can be extended to health & beauty and fashion & textiles.
How do I get started? Before starting your journey to Soil Association Organic, read through the standards that you’ll be expected to meet and demonstrate.When ready, complete the application form and you’ll be assigned a Certification Officer to guide you through the process which typically takes 10-12 weeks.
Why social and environmental sustainability certifications matter
Sustainability certifications can be used by businesses at any stage of their journey. They offer reassurance to businesses and customers alike that social or environmental impact claims are authentic and based on third-party validation.
Make sure you select a sustainability certification that has a robust audit system (like those listed above), as those with weak verification processes are coming under increased scrutiny from regulators and campaigners alike.